Angus Reid: 6 Peaks
The work of Edinburgh-based poet, filmmaker and artist Angus Reid deserves to be better known. This installation (at the Axolotl Gallery which is, sadly, soon to close) presents a journey – emotional, physical and spiritual. At its core is the idea of love, loss and redemption.
Lasy year, ccompanied by his teenage daughter, Reid traversed all six peaks of the Pentland Hills, which run in a north-east to south-west axis for around 10 miles, due south of Edinburgh. Although the walk itself was arduous, it was neither dangerous nor overwhelming – and was completed in around 4 or 5 hours.
But unlike the Munro-bagging, sporty mentality of most competitive hill walkers, Reid’s purpose was altogether different – and exceptional.
The notion of poetry framing and informing landscape (and vice versa) is not new – indeed, the idea arguably lay at the core of Romanticism as espoused by Wordsworth and Coleridge in their famous walks in Cumbria and elsewhere. Somehow the process of walking became poetic and, in a sense, the landscape breathed poetry into being. The peaks, valleys, wind, rain and sunshine somehow generated the stuff of metre, rhythm, rhyme and syntax.
Reid’s poetic form is unusual, if not unique. Each of his seven 140-syllable sonnets has been literally bisected by a verticle typographical line, using left and right justification. These sonnets form part of a much longer series a book of days in the tradition of Petrarch.
The first lines of 118/365 read:
It took six peaks to walk away from you
and each was a hard climb in the fierce wind
the topography of a changing heart
the making of a distance between us
The process of writing is thus inextricably linked with walking, thinking – and feeling. The landscape moulds the poet’s thoughts and the thoughts become bound to the path he is walking.
As if to emphasise this, the name of each peak – Caerketton, Allermuir, Castle Law, Turn House, Carn Ethy –is embedded as an mesostic, in highlighted font, within the text of each poem. The last peak is Scald Law. It may be toponymical happenstance but the Old Norse (and contemporary Icelandic) term for ‘poet’ is skald.
Reid underscores his approach with bold, stark, stylised silhouettes of the Pentland peaks. (It’s worth remembering that, etymologically, the root of ‘topography’ is ‘writing about place’). Although formalised, these hills are recognisable and resonate with reality. Around the walls of this exquisitely proportioned Georgian drawing room, image follows word, just as thought follows form.
Reid gave a bold and moving performance of this quiet, elegiac, celebratory sequence that was full of bardic dignity and lyrical poise.
These were not merely spoken words but images, thoughts, feelings and ideas – merged and forged in a walk through the poet’s mind.