Saturday, 31 August 2013


Residual Condition by Boo Saville


We have no prairies 
To slice a big sun at evening-- 
Everywhere the eye concedes to 
Encrouching horizon, 

Is wooed into the cyclops' eye 
Of a tarn. Our unfenced country 
Is bog that keeps crusting 
Between the sights of the sun. 

They've taken the skeleton 
Of the Great Irish Elk 
Out of the peat, set it up 
An astounding crate full of air. 

Butter sunk under 
More than a hundred years 
Was recovered salty and white. 
The ground itself is kind, black butter 

Melting and opening underfoot, 
Missing its last definition 
By millions of years. 
They'll never dig coal here, 

Only the waterlogged trunks 
Of great firs, soft as pulp. 
Our pioneers keep striking 
Inwards and downwards, 

Every layer they strip 
Seems camped on before. 
The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage. 
The wet centre is bottomless. 

-Seamus Heaney

This is my favourite poem by Heaney, for the lines Butter sunk under/ More than a hundred years / Was recovered salty and white. I have never seen the bogland he describes, but somehow it stirs a deep ancestral memory, buried like the bodies- butter sunk- that are fished out by our pioneers. My ancestors were peat cutters.

Three years ago wandering east London in a mushroom haze I happened upon an exhibition by the artist Boo Saville at Trolley Gallery on Redchurch Street (sadly no longer there). The title of that exhibition was Butter Sunk, and consisted principally of biro drawings of bog men (see above).

A year or so later and I happened to be at Spitalfields market, no too far from Redchurch Street, traded a copy of The Myth of Sisyphus for P.V Glob's The Bog People, an amazing catalogue of immortal remains.

In ...Sisyphus Camus addresses the principal of absurdity: namely our search for meaning in a Universe that is apparently meaningless. We all desire immortality, yet we all die. After death most of us remain as some kind of shadow, a slip of memory for a time at least, until ultimately we are forgotten. For men and women like Heaney (and there are but few) their work survives them, long after their flesh has withered. The bog people attained a different kind of immortality: their deeds, words and names are long forgotten but their flesh remains.

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