This year’s circle in 12 parts features guest artists chosen by zodiac sign, my guest for Taurus is Rhowan Alleyne:
“The playlist started by looking up people who I share my birthday with. I remembered Grace Jones already but I had forgotten about Malcolm X. I was somewhat alarmed by Pol Pot.
Then I saw Ho Chi Minh. So this is where the idea of doing something ‘revolutionary’ arose. I looked up the soundtrack for Spike Lee’s film, Malcolm X, which is where several of the vinyl choices came from. I’ve always loved The Planets suite since I played in a youth orchestra many years ago so I was really happy that Jake has that as one of his ‘base’ records. Venus transports me every time to a place of calm and beauty.
Being a swimmer, naturally I’m interested in the mermaid side of my planetary ruler. There’s an oceanic turn happening in some parts of the humanities. A paradigm shift towards a more watery understanding of the world that has huge value for the ecological and environmental movements. And our well-being.
My affinity with the ‘blue humanities’ comes from embodied immersion in the seas around the coast of west Wales. It tunes me in to the seasons and heightens environmental consciousness.
In prehistoric times sea levels were lower and the larger wild mammals were not yet extinct. Swimming at Whitesands I took my GoPro into the sea and recalled the horn of the wild bull that was found on the beach after a storm one winter. The poem about it is kind of a layering of time and experience. But it’s also about Venus, about knowledge that comes from the sea and about the only thing that’s worth doing when all else is lost, and that is to love the world and love each other unreservedly.
Sea monsters I don’t see as villains anymore but as the ultimate disrupters of human hypocrisies and vanities.”
Rhowan’s vinyl record selection: China Crisis – Performing Seals; Tracy Chapman – Talkin’ bout a revolution; Marvin Gaye – Inner City Blues; Ariel Ramirez – La Peregrinacion; Lionel Hampton – Flying Home; Herb Alpert – Surfin Senorita; Velvet Underground – Venus in Furs; Public Enemy – Revolutionary Generation; Grace Jones – Pull up to the Bumper; KLF – Justified and Ancient; Panic Allstars – Change is gonna come; Holst – Venus.
- Born in the Foam
- Vibrant Earth
- Sinking and Extinction
- Revolutionary Bodies
- Big Pink Bells
- Selkies aren’t the Enemy
Born in the Foam
How do the ocean born love?
As though we’re the last ones
left alive on Earth
or like aurochs swimming
through flooded forests
whose lush understories swish and sway
in the undercurrents
or like navigators
who chart course
by memory of shearwaters flocking
and shoals of silvery herrings
that fly across
the darkest night skies
without fear of the depths
or turning tides
At the beach, on the shore, in the sea
is where I am most in touch
with the Earth’s
In spray hanging in the air
above waves peaking on an offshore wind,
sunlight splits and rainbows flash fleetingly,
just inches away.
Time is layered
in the sediments that rise slowly above sea level,
and in the sand that is building around the marram grass.
One night a storm surge will slice through it all
and in the morning we’ll marvel at the cliff falls,
the strata, the root systems tangled and dangling.
The river in spate loosens a dinghy from its tether,
pushing it to the black rocks
where the sand sucks it down
but its red and blue stern juts out,
just like one of the jagged stones.
A tree trunk that’s drifted down the estuary
is dragged from the tideline and burnt
on the edge of the dune,
its smoke seeping into the clothes
of dancers bopping to simple minds on a bluetooth speaker
whilst waiting for a comet’s tail to fan itself
like a swan’s wing across the northern sky
Each thing it’s own thing
in time and space,
its own momentum, trajectory and tangled relationships with others, and us.
shifting winds, tides, sunset and sunrise,
cliff falls, rainfall and currents
re-sculpt the Earth and how we know it.
Sinking and Extinction
Are sea levels rising or earth levels falling?
Either way, we better learn to swim.
The skills we need for the future
work with the ebbs and flows,
swipes of tail flukes,
racing fins, rips, drifts and seal snorts
of a more watery world.
Of letting go of solid ground.
Of humility and fearlessness.
Of sinking into, or out of, extinction.
Walking, swimming and other things that put us back in touch with our bodies, are the times when we’re in touch with our becomings. Swimming, which combines streamlining with intentional instability and surrender of total control to the forces in the waters, disrupts our usual ways of moving and thinking. Body surfing forces adaptations to our bodies and minds through gentle and crashing action. Getting slammed and scraped, sucked out and slapped in the face, pumped and dumped are all part of the battle and the fun, if you own it. A swimmer’s language is slippery, becomes fluid and mutable. Swimming re-wilds us. We submerge and we subvert. We submerge to emerge. We’re divers and freedom fighters. Sea swimming is a radical practice in flow, with the uncertainty and heartbreak of a broken world.
Big Pink Bells
You can’t think about swimming without thinking about
and the sensory experience
of touching, hosting, interacting and empathising
with other bodies.
As water sculpts the earth,
so it reshapes swimmers’ bodies;
re-enchanting us to the beauty of change,
to the thrill of connecting
and blurring our boundaries with
urchins, dorsal fins,
sand eels, jellyfish,
rope zombies, dead crabs,
the sun, the salt.
I’m a swarm of big pink bells,
a mussell on the perch,
spider crabs spawning,
an octopus observing that it’s being observed,
a razor clam,
a forest of sandmasons fanning their tiny branches,
a lugworm cast forming,
a walrus balancing a starfish on its nose
A pebble bored by an angel wing.
My skin is as mottled as a seal pelt
as scarred as a bottle nosed dolphin’s
Crushed oyster shells, leaf mould, silt and algae cling to my wrinkles
is a swimsuit an intertidal zone?
Selkies Aren’t the Enemy
hissing and shining,
dissolving and reforming
with every wave
Other records in the mix: Roger Christian – Discover yourself through Astrology; John Dankworth – The Zodiac Variations; Cosmos – Your Stars for 1968; Norrie Paramour Orchestra – The Zodiac Suite; Cannonball Adderley presents – Soul Zodiac; Cosmic Sounds – The Zodiac; Madame Francesca – Your spoken Horoscope – Taurus