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?

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