Riddle me this

Riddle me this, AF with Hanna Tuulikki, 2012

I was recently invited to be part of a secret project in Preston, giving away free postcards within the city. The theme of secrecy brought riddles to mind, and the tradition of riddling within folk culture – famous examples are ‘Captain Wedderburn's Courtship’, and it’s kin, ‘Riddles Wisely Expounded’, as in Jean Redpath’s version.

The text for the postcard is part found, part newly composed. The answers to the riddles can be found below, and on the project blog.

bower-boudoir, AF, 2013

Another reason that my thoughts turned towards riddling and cryptic forms of knowledge was a new project curated by Ordinary Culture – you can see more on the project here – that I have been working on, for a small wood in Nottinghamshire, a few miles north-west of Newark. 

‘all elegy / is stilled motion’
photograph & poem, AF, 2012

Within the wood are concealed a number of nodding donkey pumps, as this was the site of the first oilfield in the British Isles, a reminder that every technology is capable of becoming pastoral, over time. 

The name ‘Duke’s’ brings to mind all the men of high status who are fooled by poor-folk, typically women seeking to preserve their right to love and fuck whomsoever they choose. 

Riddles are cunning, true to the cryptic nature of Nature, which loves to hide, which thrives embedded. In this spirit, the project for Duke’s Wood is resolving itself into another secret form, or form of secret, the bower. I hope to construct one of these shelters within the wood, of which more anon.

word-bower, drawing, AF, 2013

Returning to the subject of riddles, during the road north Ken and I composed a series of poems in homage to Paul Celan’s ‘Questions and Answers’, which were written in Rumanian, in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, under the influence of Surrealism.

   What is the poet's loneliness ? 
   A circus act not included in the program

The form attempts definition, but, as with a riddle, it depends upon an image, sometimes fey or askance. A riddle is a twist, which reveals itself to be natural. 

photograph Hanna Tuulikki, 2013

These examples were written in collaboration with Heather Yeung & Davy Polmadie. The river being a ‘flower’ is a pun familiar to every cryptic crosswordsmith – one that Sandy Balfour taught me many years ago.

Questions & Answers, after Paul Celan

   what is a garden?

   a garden is culture
   and labour

   which produces an annual 
   surplus of colour

   what is a hut?

   a hut is four thin walls
   nailed around a stove

   what is a river?

   a river is a flower
   with its roots in the hills

   what is a loch?

   a loch is an acre
   of crofted water

   a swan's looking-glass
   the moorhen's delight

   what is the sea?
   if the sea knew
   what it was

   it wouldn’t keep
   coming back

   what is an air-bed?

   an air-bed is something
   that lets you down

   all night long

   what is the moon?

   the moon is a coin
   which slots into the hill

   what is illness?

   illness is strangeness
   felt inside us

   what is water?

   water is what
   the earth wears

   what is tea?

   tea is something
   old and brown
   to fish in

AF, with contributions from Davy Polmadie
& Heather Yeung

Riddle me this, Solutions

Riddle me this, AF with Hanna Tuulikki, 2012

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