TO adequately put into words the many and varied thoughts, observations and actions experienced during the course of a caving trip is difficult enough. To compose poetry that can capture and convey those experiences must be a great deal more difficult. And yet that is exactly what Ellis (Ian Chandler), a member of the International Society for Spelaeological Art (ISSA), has managed to do in this intriguing volume.
Drawing upon his long and varied caving career, the author carries the reader through sections of popular UK caves while also calling upon his experience of foreign expeditions for inspiration. This is not a book that is easily read from cover to cover in one sitting. The topics and styles are sufficiently varied that, as a minimum, a pause for contemplation is needed before the next episode of adventure.
Many of the poems or stories deal with discrete aspects of caving, such as a caver’s reliance on his lamp, the varied techniques of moving through different passages, passing a squeeze, traversing, free-diving a sump, and so on. Others lead you to consider aspects of speleogenesis or conservation. Yet more describe feelings at the point of breakthrough following a dig or visiting a caving club hut for the first time. There is even one piece which describes the actions of donning and removing an old caving wetsuit!
In all there are 29 poems and sections of prose, all of a different length and flavour, and these are punctuated by more than a dozen of the author’s photographs in an attractive layout. Some of the pieces are simply fun; others are written in a style that requires careful and considered digestion – sometimes having to chew over individual phrases or choice of words in order to gain the full flavour of the situation.
What is perhaps most appealing about this volume is that it utilises an alternative medium to express very personal caving experiences, in a manner that allows the reader to align his or her own thoughts with those of the author. This will therefore, in all likelihood, result in as many different perspectives as there are readers. I often found myself pausing for reflection as faint memories of near-forgotten trips and situations were awakened.
While not providing an ‘easy read’, this book certainly rewards the effort of taking up the challenge of devouring the text and thinking about its meanings, and it will not be out of place on any caver’s bookshelf or in a club library. It would make an ideal inexpensive gift for friends at Christmas and I, for one, hope that the author continues to find inspiration for his work; perhaps this will encourage others to publish similar material.