Subsong is a 15-part poem about geology and birdsong published by the National Trust in partnership with Falmouth University.
Illustrated by Antonia Glücksman, Subsong is a dream poem, taking dream to mean (as it once did in medieval English) a rowdy, outdoor kind of noise made by musicians and brawlers and birds.
The poem is composed from field notes and songs made for being alone, started while while exploring the coastline between Bolt Head and Bolt Tail where outcrops of serrated glittering schist are the oldest rocks in Devon and among the oldest in the South West.
The saw-tooth profile of the East Soar headland conjures up a birder’s sonogram, a picture of sound where the frequencies are split into scribbly layers, the darkest of which — the fundamental — records the note we hear (or we think we hear) while, almost inaudibly, the voice is splitting at vertical intervals into harmonics.
Just as schist means ‘to split’, these are poems for two voices, both of them yours, written to be read aloud to yourself, a slow sing-a-long accompaniment for being outdoors.
An extract from Subsong, ‘Spectral Glide’ was performed on BBC Radio 4’s The Echo Chamber, in conversation with Sean Borodale and Paul Farley. This episode was recorded on site in Goat Church Cavern in the Mendips and first broadcast on 22 April 2018.
Kind words about the words:
‘Holly Corfield Carr is a sorceress surveyor of place: she probes its history, respects its mystery, invokes its hidden spirit.’
Chloe Aridjis, novelist
‘These poems, notes and songs are irresistible. Corfield Carr’s ever-delighted imagination is at play to both entertain and illuminate something of the life of the natural landscape. These are genuine acts of listening to and celebrating nature, perfectly complimented by illustrations depicting a similar quality of awareness and telluric sensitivity. A beautiful book.’
Rachael Boast, poet
‘Holly Corfield Carr’s poems teach us, beautifully, that the oldest ways of looking and listening – how our planet regards itself, how its birds cheer themselves up – can make the newest of pictures and sounds; here are sermons in stones and henges of song, here is nature’s writing.’
Tim Dee, writer, birdwatcher and BBC Radio producer