The Not-Fire



Richard Skelton

A micro-collection of poetry assembled almost entirely from the Swadesh List – a ‘core vocabulary’ of 100 words that define a ‘proto-language’ common to two or more related languages. The list encompasses concepts common to all human languages (personal pronouns, parts of the body, heavenly bodies, verbs of basic actions, numerals, etc.), whilst eliminating concepts that are specific to a particular culture or time.

As each language evolves, through cultural and geographical separation, the words it uses for these concepts will change. Linguists can therefore compare the similarity of words for these concepts in related languages in order to assess how long the languages have been separated.

The poems themselves take the form of a sequence of invocations, petitions or riddles dealing with universal themes: natural phenomena, hunger, fear of death, the taking of life and, crucially, conversations with non-human persons – the community of others that comprises the living landscape.

The Not-Fire is published in Quoin 1, the annual print publication for friends and patrons of Corbel Stone Press.