By Heather and John
'You are with me still
The sun at my back walking
A path of shadows'
We really pleased to introduce another of our books for 2022 - A Path of Shadows - by John Porter.
A writer, film-maker and mountaineer who through the years has climbed new routes in the Himalaya, co-founded the Kendal Mountain Festival and won the Grand Prize at the Banff Mountain Book Competition, John has also been writing poetry for 50 years.
A Path of Shadows is John's first published collection. It is a culmination of his experiences and thinking through his varied life, exploring the natural world, physics, family ties and the climbing life. We were drawn to this collection due to this richness and variation, which reflects the consideration John has given to external and internal events through his life. 'Poetry is like mathematics' he says - a parred-down, crystallised form of conveying meaning, with the scope for great beauty and wonder.
You found great success with your first book One Day As Tiger which is predominantly biographical and autobiographical in nature. A Path of Shadows is a poetry collection - can you please tell us a little about the collection and your inspiration to write poetry?
The collection is primarily a reflection of encounters and experiences with friends and family throughout my life. I have been incredibly lucky to survive some of my mountaineering exploits unlike so many friends. When I was younger, I found employment in whatever was going in hugely different fields, from bar tendering to park ranger, from building sites to technical writing of tender in high hazard industries. All this and the many different characters have informed the poems and essays. I write when I feel the urge to comment on something, whether it is a war, rain running down on a pane of glass, the loss of a friend or memories of family.
Have you always written poetry - are there any particular times or situations you find yourself needing to or feeling more inclined to do so?
I probably have played around with verse ever since I was a child. But be honest, until recently, I did not consider myself a poet, not when I compare my writing with the work of the masters. But finding the courage to circulate a few poems among friends and family in the past year or two, I was encouraged by their positive response. Regarding times and situations that inspire them; most of the time they just come to me out of this air, but occasionally they emerge after a particular experience, be it a walk, a conversation or an encounter with someone. Often the poem comes out in its entirety and I rarely return to work on them except perhaps to chose a word with more meaning, cadence or internal rhyme.
A Path of Shadows is formed of a number of your poems grouped into themes - can you please describe these themes?
My early studies in science and the influence of my father who was a scientist has led to the themes: Equations, Additions, Subtractions, Abstractions, etc. In Equations, for example, I consider the use of words and numbers as equations and metaphors we use to try to describe what we observe. Additions is about what we contribute to existence. Subtractions - what we take away and how we threaten the planet we live on, and the loss of friends. The one exception to the mathematical play on words is the theme - Mountains. This section of poems is inspired by climbs and climbing friends and the uncertainties, discomforts and risks we embrace.
In your time you have studied hard science (Physics) as well as English Literature and Language. This comes across in this collection in a fascinating way - can you tell us some more about this?
I guess this is reflected in the themes I describe above. ‘Hard science’ is a good phrase, because science is incredibly demanding and fascinating but does not allow for error. I was too prone to error to make a good scientist so discovering that I could also read, appreciate and write sensibly about what I had read was a bit of a godsend. The two disciplines have served me well in some jobs that required a grasp of maths and scientific principles to communicate processes in manufacturing and engineering to others without a science background.
What book are you reading at the moment? What's your favourite book about place/mountains/climbing?
I rarely read a book cover to cover. I usually dip into several books at a time. At the moment I am reading The Ancient Paths by Rob Wood, the Selected Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Existentialism by Walker Kaufman, William Jansen’s Soft Thorns and my friend Silvo Karo’s Rock and Roll on the Wall. Favourite book about mountains? That’s impossible to answer. Perhaps in terms of early inspiration, it might be The Road to Rakaposhi by George Band, a book I happened on in a Boston book store aged thirteen. I could not have imagined that one day George would be a friend and I would work with him on the National Mountaineering Exhibition. Also, pretty much anything by Tilman or Shipton, and Wilfred Noyce’s Spring of Adventure. Good mountain writing is still easy to find, although I worry it is being eroded in a world captivated and terrorized by commodification, grades and numbers.
A Path of Shadows will be published in July and we'll be opening pre-orders soon, please watch this space!