Poem of the North 2.7


I think I have mentioned elsewhere that I’m a little surprised and humbled at the company I’m keeping as a contributor to the Poem of the North. Most of the other poets are well-established, with a litany of publication credits in magazines, competition wins and often pamphlets or full collections already published.

Sarah James (a.k.a. S.A.Leavesley) appears to be one of the most prolific of the contributors so far, and although I’ve enjoyed most of the poems that have been published so far, Sarah’s is among my favourites both to read, and as a prompt for my own response which I really enjoyed writing. I think that has at least something to do with the multi-faceted echoes created by my responding to a poem that itself is responding to a Dylan Thomas piece (which, as it happens, was brought out of the shadows by my poetry MA tutor, Prof. John Goodby) which appears to have itself been a response to a series of pictures, published in Lilliput magazine, which I have a minor obsession about as the source of the photograph that inspired  the early logo of Cocteau Twins.

I included this as part of a sequence I put together to read at Spoken Word Saturday last weekend and made a couple of edits that I felt made it sound a little better when read aloud:

They offer me their pictures: his, chilled dreams,
eight splinters of ice in the heart; and hers,
a liquid twilit drowning wave; and his,
owl-tongues in aspic, dust on the North Star;
and hers, a languid now she knows as then.
Hear those words: drip, idle, stroll, linger —
wasting, stretching, holding-off; they ooze
sweet flesh, tacky with lightness and regret.

The shredded peach hides hardness: a stone, a seed.
Those ice shards do their work, then melt away.

Pipistrelles roost. Only children hear what they say.


I’m still not sure which ending I prefer, although both carry the point that pipistrelle calls are at a frequency that most adults cannot hear, but children can. Which makes me think of all the other things which can’t complete the trite slogan ‘It’s never too late to…’

(And also, rhyme, or not to rhyme?

Poem of the North 2.6

Rachel Bower, born in Bradford (not far from where I was brought up) and now living in Sheffield (where I was married), writes in her ‘My North’ biographical piece that accompanies all the poems in the project, about hearing Tony Harrison (one of my early poetic heroes) and realising that “that poetry could not only be read in a Yorkshire accent, like mine, but could actually be written for a Northern voice.”

So, my response settled comfortably into the cadence and grammar of the accent and dialect I grew up with (this is what I sounded like when I was six), though I’ve never been quite comfortable with how to render the glottal stop without it seeming merely comic.  But, to my native voice was added a vocabulary I was hitherto largely unfamiliar with: that of the names of apple varieties. One of the many joys of interacting so closely with the Poem of the North project has been following references and allusions to discover new things (and sometimes, admittedly, to let my arrant pedantry get the better of me – hence the reference to the shoemaker’s garden being in Keswick).

I reckon Evie were a northern lass, goading Adam
on to nick that blessed-cursed fruit that caused the fall.
I can just see her now, a Yorkshire Beauty (aren’t all archetypes
by definition spliced from our rootstock?) strapping on a shoe
(by Greenup, made in Keswick, as it goes)
to stamp on th’snake, and spit at it the pips,
shaking the earth, and all that would be in it, to its core:
an act of gravity rewriting (so it’s said) heaven’s laws.

The fall of Flower of Kent was watched by Newton
sat in Grantham, in a garden. That gave him pause:

The apple draws the earth, as well as earth the apple draws.

This was also the first piece where I found myself following the 8-2-1 form. Maybe the closeness I felt to the voice of the original, or maybe the gravity thematically at the heart of my response pulled me in that direction.

(Is Grantham in the North? Well, compared with Kent, it is…

Poem of the North 2.5

Maria Isakova-Bennett‘s poem Welcome to Liverpool evokes the Liverpool skyline with a painterly eye and a masterful use of space on the page to guide the ear. When it came to my response, my perspective again, as it was in my own contribution (Canto 1.10), was from the past, and from the west. The voice of my poem reminds us that a possible etymology of Liverpool (though admittedly elver-pool seems perhaps more widely accepted) is the Welsh ‘Llif pwll’ (flooded pool), and that just across the Mersey is Wallasey – Wealas eya – island of the ‘welsh’ (foreigners/strangers). Those of us from ‘The North’ (which, silently, means the north of England) often see ourselves and our place as ignored by the Southern economic and cultural power base of these islands, but in doing so, can forget how easily we nevertheless assume an Anglo-centrism that marginalises those parts of Britain that are not England.

With your back to Wallasey
you’re looking at Llifpwll
with Wales’ eye.
Does that skyline rise to greet you
between yawning sea and sky,
or diminish to a sliver
swallowed up by air and brine?

Those small strokes:
are they cwrwgl boats
ghosting in the ferries’ wake?
Is that stippled wireless tower
a beacon, or a brand?
Are those sacred places sharing out
the Hope they stand along,
or are they smothering our tongue?

Your accent, speaking Saesneg,
is much the same as by the Dee,
but no-one asks the Scouser if they’re Welsh,
and few ask me.

(Now that I live in Wales, perhaps, when I talk about revisiting my roots I should say not that I’m ‘going back North’ but that I’m ‘going back East’?

Poem of the North project – what you may have missed.

I haven’t actually explained properly what these Poem of the North posts are about, have I?

Hopefully, if anyone has read the last few posts you will have been alerted to poemofthenorth.co.uk – a fascinating, beautifully designed, and rather moving project that I was fortunate to have my entry selected for. As the project was launched in June, I found myself commenting on the Northern Poetry Library’s Instagram feed, with brief, more or less ‘poetic’, comments on the poems. As the first Canto emerged, with a new poem every three days, I found myself thinking more deeply both about the poems themselves, and my responses to them. After the first seven poems, I collated my responses into an Instagram post that was picked up by one of the project’s curators and included in their newsletter, The Black Dot.

From then on, I have posted each of my responses on Instagram individually, sometimes producing a piece that is a direct response to the poem, and perhaps requiring a reading of the prompt-poem to make sense. On other occasions, I have used reflection on the new poem as inspiration for producing a piece that can perhaps stand more securely as a work in its own right. Sometimes I have written something very quickly after a new poem has been published, at other times two or three have been published before I have got round to writing something, finding an appropriate image to accompany it, and posting it on my Insta feed. The occasional encouraging comment from members of the Poem of the North team, other poets who have contributed to the project, and some interested onlookers has encouraged ne to keep going with this personal poetic ‘shadowing’ of the project. It’s helping me to keep up a discipline of producing something poetic on a regular basis now that I’ve completed the poetry modules that are available on the Swansea University MA I am undertaking.

I also intend (and if I say it here there’s just an outside chance I’ll stick with it) to make a bit more now of this blog, which has become a total mess of auto-postings from Instagram that I’ve turned on and off sporadically, together with stuff shoehorned in from other blogs that I’ve started and given up on at various times. I suppose that if I want to start taking myself at all seriously as a writer, I probably ought to be a little more disciplined about, well, getting some writing done, and trying to encourage people to read it.

(Is that a threat, or a promise?

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.

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Poem of the North 2.3

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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…


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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…