Poem published in The Clearing

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The Clearing is a fascinating and beautiful online journal published by Little Toller Books that “offers writers and artists a dedicated space in which to explore and celebrate the landscapes we live in”. I’m really delighted to have just had one of my poems – “Spit” – posted in the journal, alongside fine pieces by three other poets, Garry Mackenzie, Mark Howarth Booth and Oliver Southall.

You can read all four poems here.

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Saltmarsh thoughts #3

IMG_1489If horses – as per the title of Alice Walker’s poetry collection – make a landscape look more beautiful, then perhaps islands do the same for seascapes. Or mountains do. Or islands with mountains. You get the idea, I hope.

Sifting and resifting through the photographs I took back in May when visiting RSPB Campfield Marsh and the Solway Estuary, I’m struck by two things.

The first is how many of the images are looking outwards from the land towards the estuary, with its rivers emptying out into the Irish Sea. And so – inevitably – across to the coast of Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland. And how few were taken facing back towards the land. Because the tide is out, the sea itself, its water, is largely absent, invisible, but nonetheless I find myself looking for it.

This is reflected in my memories of the day. I remember spending far more of it gazing out at and thinking about the sea. I’d travelled for almost two hours across land to get to the coast, so maybe it’s inevitable to focus on what you’ve been heading towards, rather than what you’ve passed through. It makes me wonder whether the experience of arriving somewhere over water leads the traveller to turn their back instinctively on that which has been crossed, and instead focus landwards? (I will make a mental note next time I arrive at the sea to check back and look behind me more carefully).

The second thing to strike me is the effect that the horizon can have on the watcher looking out to sea. Looming faintly on the skyline in most of the images is Criffel; neither the tallest by any means, nor the shapeliest of Scotland’s mountains, it still draws the eye.

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This is not to suggest at all that without the mountain there, there’s be no point looking out to sea. But it does make me realise how easy it can be to observe something without adequately considering the frame, the context, the accompaniment that completes the image. And how sometimes we can – even when we think we’re paying attention – need a second look to fully appreciate what is going on.

Saltmarsh thoughts #2

IMG_1493Niggling away amongst the thoughts and notes I collected recently up at the Solway estuary – in addition to those about careful observation, and where poetry comes from – have been some insights into what I choose to write about. And what I’ve realised is that no matter where I am, whatever I’m looking at, the thing I’m interested in is people.

This might seem like an obvious conclusion to reach, but wouldn’t always have been. I can recall a time – back when I first began writing “seriously” – when I was more interested in reflecting on what I would’ve considered “nature”, meaning land- and seascape where human beings were either absent, ignored or unwanted. I was always trying to look beyond people and lose myself in these places, or feel inspired by them with my ego at arm’s length, if possible (reliably not).

I find people and what we do far too fascinating now. I’m one of those irritating creatures you see in art galleries who – after about twenty minutes of wandering around – occupies the most advantageous seat in the biggest room and spends their time looking at what everyone else is doing. It’s not that I don’t like art. It’s just that I find our interactions with art and public spaces more intriguing. Admittedly, art is a human business anyway, but the ways people interact with and imprint themselves into landscape is of equal interest to me.

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I live in a relatively crowded country, where it’s pretty much impossible to find yourself in a landscape that hasn’t been engineered to some degree by humans. The Solway estuary is a beautiful place, but people have been living here for thousands of years – farming, fishing, mining, extracting whatever we need – and helping to shape it, for better or for worse. These days I’m far more likely to be drawn by traces and consequences of these activities, and find inspiration for writing there.

Last view of the island

Islands

Last view of the island

 

The ferry banks, only five minutes out

beyond the stone corral of harbour wall

and into the channel, the broad crescent

of its wake painting plumes across the

glass of the ocean, engines humming a

rhythmless vibrato. Smoke funnels skywards.

Cars hunch like crated eggs on the lower deck.

Over the tannoy, our cheery captain announces

a bottlenose pod, surfing in the bow-waves.

My eyes lock over the stern, watching as

those grey mountains begin to melt on

the horizon, taking a lifetime to disappear.

 

 

first published in Red River Review, 2018

 

Capturing a saltmarsh in words

TidelineI’m taking time out this weekend to do something a little different. Cumbria Wildlife Trust is running a creative writing day this Saturday, 19th May, led by writer, novelist and WordPress blogger Ann Lingard.

The day is taking place at RSPB Campfield Marsh in north Cumbria, where England and Scotland face one another across the Solway estuary. Cumbria is usually thought of in landscape terms as a place of mountains and high moors, The Lake District, and the inspiration for the likes of Arthur Ransome, John Ruskin and William and Dorothy Wordsworth. But this part of the Solway coast is a very different prospect, a flat expanse of saltmarsh, mudflats and creeping tides, with its own special atmosphere and wildlife.

The purpose of the day is to spend time in this environment, being and observing, before translating these observations and impressions into words. Not only have I never visited this part of the world before, I’ve also never taken part in this kind of immersive creative writing event. I’m really looking forward to the experience, and to working with Ann, and meeting some other enthusiastic writers. And to seeing what I’m inspired to write by being in what sounds like an amazing place.

Errands

Errands

 

Errands

 

When things were good and I still believed in us,

even the mundane obligations sang like whales,

and taking the wiry road down the hamstrings

of the island to its full-stop, on those bastard mornings,

a single cassette on the stereo to numb the losses,

always made unquestioned sense. Sometimes in

light hushed with pearls, sometimes with the blade

of the wind knifing clear to the marrow, I’d time each

arrival against the tide, sifting it for treasure, perform

the errands, light the fires. Then return to you, the road

now huddled into a spool of knees and elbows, the

mountain a tight wedge tripping over its own steps before

falling like a tantrum into the kettle-grey ocean below.

 

first published in San Pedro River Review, Spring 2017

Kearvaig – National Poetry Day 2017

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It’s National Poetry Day in the UK, so it would be rude not to mark the occasion somehow! After all, I’ve been writing poetry ever since I could write (just about). And I’m still struggling to move on…

This is a reposting of the first ever post I made here nearly eighteen months back. The poem was written many years ago, and belongs to a time when I first began submitting to magazines seeking publication. It didn’t last very long! And it was followed by a much lengthier hiatus.

The theme of this year’s National Poetry Day is “Freedom”. I’m not sure if this is necessarily a poem about freedom, but it’s certainly written about a time and a place where I felt a genuine sense of peace.

Whatever you’ve been doing to mark the day, I hope it’s been a great one.

Kearvaig

Tonight the sun just bluntly refuses to set,

yet I can squeeze no more minutes from the moment,

no more dry wood from the crashed crates scattered

between the docile rocks. It’s wet again.

I’m missing nothing, no-one.

 

I was sure that I saw whales in the bay,

slowly taking in the cliffs that look like

a church in resolute light.

I could be mistaken. They say that

tankers often come this way.

The deeper, wider ocean isn’t so far,

and I will still be here tomorrow.

 

First published in Poetry Nottingham 1997

Eels

eels

As it’s Father’s Day, I wanted to repost this.

 

Eels

Me and dad sometimes fished a murky stretch of the Brant,

marshalled between levées of belly-high grass and nettles.

Unless you’d pulled one out yourself, you’d never know

the river hid writhing knots of eels in its catshit-coloured waters,

that barely moved as they searched the edges of the fen for

a gradient to follow, still forty pancake miles away from the sea.

It was always hot. Everything was a shade of green, yellow or blue,

and the man at the Royal Oak would swap a netful of live ropes,

with their angry, pinprick eyes, for beer, and a lemonade for the lad.

 

first published in Message in a Bottle, issue 30, 2016