Max Wallis (Models 1/Boss), model and poet and now explorer of the North, writes about his experience in Norway where he travelled to research polar darkness for a book he's writing. Read on for Max's account of his trip and some poems inspired by the journey.
After India Hobson photographed him last year, we were excited to work with Max again. Look out for our new editorial with him next week!
To read more of Max's work, you can purchase his debut poetry publication, 'Modern Love', here.
It’s not often poets get money. And well, it’s not often that a poet gets the chance to do exactly what they want to do. Most of the time there’s a certain amount of flexibility you have to have. Some poets will teach kids. Some will work an office job or in a call-centre. Larkin worked as a librarian. There are certain financial institutions in place to help people out in that respect. A lot of the time poets have to turn to the Arts Council to find the money they require for research trips to fund their work. Last year I turned to them and asked them for money to write a book based around polar darkness. They gave me a chance, said okay, and with that I went off to Norway in January 2012 to Tromsø, where I was plunged into complete darkness.
I lie, a little. From 10 am to 1pm there was a blue haze to the world. Liv Lundberg of the Creative Writing Department of Tromsø University said in a meeting with me that she called it the “blue hours”. There’s a definite truth to that suggestion and it stuck with me during my time in the far north, this idea that for months and months of the year all you really see is blue light. Of course it also resonates with the idea of depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder and so on. But Liv seemed to really be talking about the quality of light. It prompted the poem below:
I could press through the screen, zoom in,
step through pixels to be close to snow again.
Back awhile with nothing but the open mouth
of silence, snapping with the humming wind.
Look up, see the dark light of sky,
the cloudless yawn of the world.
These blue hours where everything turns,
dyed by light, by dark, by the moon.
It was in Tromsø that I managed to fulfill a life-long aim to see the Northern Lights. I look ridiculous in this photo (below), I’m doubled by so many clothes I really don’t look like I do in real life or in photographs. The experience was amazing. As I’m writing this it’s the morning after I’ve come back from a trip to Sweden and it was there in a taxi back to Malmo from this wonderful restaurant that the taxi man described to us how the northern lights ‘sounded’ like burning fire. Honestly, I can’t quite remember if that’s true. If it isn’t true, perhaps there’s some sort of synaesthesia going on because if I think really hard my brain does seem to include a crackling sound. I saw rings of white and green lights above the mountains on an abandoned roadside looking out over a partially frozen sea. To me, that’s enough.
Numerals in snow or are these people?
Rubbed out pencil lines, a sketched city.
Tromsø’s Arctic breath.
Through a spattered window
the foghorn throat-sings.
Seal ships come in clean.
In the ice yard
breakers bob between cut-out ships.
I place origami swans among them.
Happiness at -10oC
Rioja delivered 3,000 miles
and forgotten by the back door, found casketed
by snow, cork raised on a neck of ice.
I’m doubled by cloth, by Gore-Tex,
by the air between fibres,
the space of the world.
Stopped in my tracks by that boulder
in a cloak of rain turned to ice. The flash
of the lighthouse off the surface, again, again.
Five houses and the shape of them
through leafless trees, this community
in miniature by a plane of solid sand.
Silicate, SiO3; sodium-chloride,
NaCl. The collapsing wave;
two moons: the sea, the sky.
Smudged white above the fjord
might be a cloud. People grapple
with shutter speeds, f-stops,
try and dim away the light
of refracting ice: rainbows
in the day, I'm told.
I turn a stone in my glove,
with one arm hooked chuck it out
to sea; hear the cut as it cracks glass.
I wonder how anything lives below
Or you and me,
by four-thousand miles
that heavy knock of pain.
No camera but my eyes.
Smoke drifts in waterfalls
shift rings around a basin roof
propped up by mountains, by the floe
of icebergs that climb the earth.
To keep up to date with Max's work, you can follow his Tumblr.