Poem of the North 2.8

Some of my responses (I don’t quite feel comfortable with that word in this context, but I can’t think what I should use instead) have had me quibbling (pedantically? creatively? pedagogically? – you decide) with the factual content of the stimulus poem. The fact that even people with no interest in poetry are familiar with the term ‘poetic licence’ shows that most of us don’t expect literal veracity from poetry. It may well be a handicap, but I’m a little uncomfortable personally with playing fast and loose with the facts, even in verse, unless it’s clear (at least to me) that I’m doing so. So I was pleased that this piece got a seal of approval from a former student of mine , an RGS Fellow and former Young Geography Teacher of the Year, for its impeccable Geographical content:

I can’t be sure which river IanParks had in mind in his poem, but his ‘spur’ and lighthouse reminded me of Spurn Head at the mouth of the Humber, fed by the Ouse, and, in turn of the crumbling East Coast that also haunts my early three-line response to poem 1.2:

Like a shook sheet, the landscape ruffles to the sea.
Crust clings to its edges;
startling offcumdens stand against its retreat.

Ian’s use of the term ‘insidious’ for the ‘soft…lowlands of the south’ is telling, and a flippant echo for me is standing on the Popside at Belle Vue watching my half-adopted Doncaster playing the likes of Mansfield or Chesterfield with a well-known Santa-hatted character yelling “Yer soft southern Jessies’ at a small huddle of opposing fans. But the soft southern lowlands included, for me, Ian’s home patch of Doncaster. Well, he’s actually from Mexborough, to be fair, which seems to me to have a bit more grit about it. ‘Insidious’ can mean ‘deceitful’, operating in ‘a seemingly harmless way but actually with grave effect.’ I moved to Doncaster thinking, “well it’s Yorkshire; part of my north”, but somehow it never quite felt like it, despite holding me there for over two decades. As originally written, my piece had an extra, isolated line at the end.

Our North Ouses to its edges.
Hard rain sloughs the land.
Rivers arterial pump from its heart
to where the sea’s muscle takes the silt
blasting it back
scouring Flamborough’s flank
and the soft till of Holderness.
Named as if their founders knew their fate,
Withernsea, Kilnsea, Skipsea
tilt and tumble
building a sliver that Spurns.

Solid-seeming, the land softens with its folk.


Ian’s poem finished with a lighthouse. A lighthouse is meant to warn you off: Ian’s “held [him] in its arms.”

(Perhaps he knows how I felt.

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