Poem of the North 2.4

In a comment on the @NorthernPoetryLibrary Instagram post on Canto 2 Verse 3, I wrote: “I’m absorbed by how, within the container of the 8-2-1’s outer limits, poets are finding such different ways of shaping the form within. Those straggling caesuras echoing the strandline are wonderful, and create a tension between those medial pauses, and the forced break of the line endings, even though the syntax typically forges on. It reminds me of the way at tide-turn each returning wave is overrun by the next surge, and of that wider tension between inertia and gravity that drives the whole tidal process. I know all too well, also, about the tension between creative inertia and the gravity of all there is to be said.”

I used the term ‘strandline’ in that comment, and in a serendipity that is becoming characteristic of my interaction with the Poem of the North project, it appeared in Simon Heath’s contribution when the next poem was revealed. Wherever you look, on these islands, at least, there is evidence of human activity. Look out to sea, though, and you can imagine you are looking at a scene identical to one that was there when there were — and when there will be — no mind to contemplate it and even no eyes to see it. On the strandline, land and sea blend, and are divided, literally and metaphorically. When you live, as I now do, on a part of the coast that has the second largest tidal range in the world, that edge is more blurred even than on the North Sea coast that inspired Simon’s poem. The relationship between land and sea has been preoccupying me especially as I am currently on holiday in the South West of England and Cornwall (the latter of which may, or may not, be part of the former) far from the locus of the Poem of the North project, and suggested the piece I wrote at Lundy Bay last week.

The anthropomorphism of landscape and nature (U-boat islands and mermaids’ purses) in Simon’s poem On a North Sea shore made me think of what the inversion of that process will be (suggested by Simon’s final image of the scouring, cleansing wind) when, almost certainly, at some point there will be no-one there to give meaning to that landscape, and the life that now inhabits it alongside us.

Foghorns groan their final sound
lighthouse lanterns pale
but gulls will sail
on the raking wind
when lights have long failed
across the strand
and creatures of legend
give the beach-wrack
its lack-of-meaning back

(Or is meaning indissoluble?

Poem of the North 2.3

Again, I hope my response doesn’t seem too flippant or dismissive. I’m sure the Northumberland coast is indeed largely unspoilt (as I recall it from a couple of holidays back in the 90’s) but a straggling line of caesuras in a poem centred on the seaweed line of the shore couldn’t help but bring to mind my daily walks accompanied by a dog and a bin-bag that I began documenting recently (before my current hiatus on holiday in Cornwall) as @Sbwriel_Llanelli_Litter.

View this post on Instagram

Poem of the North 2.3

A post shared by Ant Heald (@antheald) on

Claire Lynn’s poem evokes what I’m sure for many of us who love the coast are familiar and loved experiences: walking along the tideline as the sea lifts again the seaweed it left there half a day ago; finding that special stone that reminds us of the time and place; but like all the best poems it goes beyond the familiar, and arrests us with that final image of ribs cracking like razor shells. I had my first surf lesson last week and took a blow to the chest from the fin of my board. Breathing in, that most automatic and commonplace of actions, took on a new-found fragility. It came as an unwelcome surprise, and my breaths came short and shallow and timid. The narrator of Claire’s poem, however, chooses to take in, with that inhalation everything that is seen and known and felt on that hinterland between earth and sea; to take it in to repletion.

(And then beyond…


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Ant Heald (@antheald) on

These small steps are in front of the bungalow we are staying in. The bungalow has a small soap dish in the shape of boat. The soap is the red stuff I remember from childhood that I had to Google to make sure is called carbolic. It seems fairly certain, sadly, that at some point this place will be flattened and replaced with a thing clad in expensive stuff that its builders and owners will not call ‘plastic’ even though it is, and too much glass, and with metal cables running through steel eyes. It will have a gravel drive.

(Mainly to provide a pleasing crunch beneath the wheels of 4x4s that will never see mud…

Poem of the North 2.2

And if the Picts were still with us

what western rock would they be huddled on

and in what tongue would they curse us?

View this post on Instagram

Poem of the North 2.2

A post shared by Ant Heald (@antheald) on

Poem 2 of Canto 2 (https://poemofthenorth.co.uk/canto/canto-2/#two) is written by Jane Dobson, who tells us she was born at Cawder Ghyll, West Yorkshire. She has blogged about revisiting the site at http://janeadobson.blogspot.com/2010/08/bd23-2qg.htm. Cawder Ghyll was the maternity hospital in Skipton, since demolished but then in the West Riding, now North Yorkshire,  where I would have been born, like my six siblings, (though as I write that, a vague memory resurfaces that one of them may have been born in the ambulance en-route) had my mum not been the advanced age of thirty-eight by the time I came along, necessating a journey to the more sophisticated facilities of St John’s Hospital, Keighley, also in the West Riding of Yorkshire, but now in West Yorkshire.

That convoluted sentence says something small of the complex micro-features of geography, history and their nomenclature that often form such important parts of our self -identification, even, perhaps especially, because they are things that others would be oblivious to and uncaring of.

I hesitated in my creative response to Jane’s poem to say, as  I did, sort of, that the image of a ‘frayed edge’ is  wrong, because of course it does is job, in its context, perfectly well. But my interaction with the Poem of the North project of course comes from my particular context, and that includes, at the moment, considering the extent to which any  notions of identity of self and of community can validly be grounded in geography considered as having limits, edges, borders at all, and – given their existence, like it or not – what makes one boundary more valid than another (a natural river, manufactured wall, line on a map, territory in the imagination?).

(Every north is someone else’s south

Poem of the North 2.1

I whittled and filleted
these words as far
south as these lands
take us. Made them
mine where Kernow
stretches out to Breizh
and another kind of North

View this post on Instagram

Poem of the North 2.1 #instapoem

A post shared by Ant Heald (@antheald) on

Canto 2 of Poem of the North begins with a beautiful poem, Plenitude, by the Northern Poetry Library’s poet-in-residence, Linda France. Linda has blogged about the poem on the NPL website at  https://poemofthenorth.co.uk/on-plenitude/ She also blogs in her own right at https://poeticabotanica.wordpress.com.

As I read, and re-read,  her poem, patterns in the rich and resonant vocabulary began to suggest themselves that started, of course, from the form that Linda had given the words, but began to detach and rearrange in different ways, and I became absorbed in cataloguing and reassembling the lexicon of the poem.

At first it was the pairs of opposites (begun, finished; deep, wide; damned, saved) that asserted themselves, before sifting into more ambiguous pairings (divide, forge; record, cascade). As these pairs were listed, collocations across them began to assert themselves, and the pattern of triptych lines I settled on emerged.

I am on holiday in Cornwall for the first time, and some of the themes of Linda’s poem echo with those of mine that closed Canto 1, and which continue to exercise me in this place, this English county, this Celtic nation, that – whetever it is – feels beyond what I think of as ‘the south’.