This is one of 14 conspectus viewpoints, conceived and designed for Còmhlan Bheantann | A Company of Mountains, a poetic mapping of the Isle of Skye that I have been working on for the past two years, in collaboration with many people. A booklet which lists all of the contributors will be available in May. The project was commissioned by ATLAS, Skye.
The central circle marks the point where you stand, in this case on the summit of Dùn Caan, Raasay, with a view of the Skye Cuillin, the mainland massif of Liathach, Beinn Allighinn and Beinn Eighe, and the Trotternish Ridge.
The darkest portion of each name represents the peak of the mountain.
I have sketched out some thoughts on how this form, or practice, of aligning a view, sitting, looking, naming, developed out of another journey project, the road north, in another post. For now, this is just an introduction to the conspectus form.
A conspectus is a poem of function, a poem of seeing, for use, in situ.
A conspectus takes the abstracted modelling of the world – monde, ocean, sky, mountain, cité – that was the primary achievement of Concrete poetry and returns it, once again, to the locality of things.
A conspectus is a contemporary renewal of the Neolithic culture of viewing; it favours the outlook of dùns, and suidhe, or 'seats', and proposes a little less walking and a little more looking.
A conspectus is a circle poem but, true to the arcuate skyline, it lets slip the perfection of a single linear arc.
A conspectus appears to follow the supposed objectivity of cartography; it is in fact entirely subjective. As everyone knows, a little hill that is nearby is larger than a great mountain that is far away – as here, with Ben Lee and Liathach, whose names, not their forms, I have interpreted typographically.
A conspectus allows names to have pre-eminence over topography, though the names themselves are contested, being Gaelic much overwritten by or interfused with Norse, then English, the tongue of the mapmakers. We adopted the names as they appear on OS maps, with all the paradoxes and contradictions that follow from that. The Gaelic itself will have overwritten earlier languages. The conspectus poems also reflect the fact that big mountains may have small names – Marsco – and little hills may have long names – Meall Acairseid.
A conspectus may help you to begin to know where you are, in terms of names, which are also conflicted memories and partial portraits, while bearing in mind that mountains have no names to mountains.
diagram, Alfred Wainwright
On seeing the conspectus Richard Skelton guided me to Wainwright's diagrams, proof of the impulse, or need, to be aligned.
Còmhlan Bheanntan | A Company of Mountains features 14 conspectuses, accompanied by word-mntn drawings and poetic mappings. The project will launch on the weekend of May 18-19, on Skye, at an event organized by Atlas, panorama.
The title of the project is taken from Sorley MacLean's poem ‘Ceann Loch Aeoineart’.
I would particularly like to thank Luke Allan, Gavin Morrison, Maoilios Caimbeil and Emma Nicolson for their contributions throughout the project.
conspectus designs: Alec Finlay and my longstanding collaborators Studio LR.