written on the shore
Poetry Breakfast ~ at home
A very warm welcome to our third and last post featuring special guest Pauline Prior-Pitt.
It has been an absolute joy to host Pauline, and I shall miss her! Enjoy the poems and the music: this is a favourite of Pauline’s (and I happen to know she dances around the house to it!): it is Vikingur Ólafsson playing Johann Sebastian Bach. I hope you like it.
Next week’s Poetry Breakfast will be on the theme The Lonely Sea and the Sky, after the poem by John Masefield. Do send me any poems you would like to share, and I can send you guidelines if you’ve not shared with us before.
Her (spoken by the sea)
In spring I watch, not ready
to entice her yet,
leave shells and pebbles
to decorate her castles,
let her paddle in my pools.
In summer I’m more serious.
I offer her my cold embrace
and she accepts, gasping
when I touch her thighs,
between her legs, her breasts,
when I bite the back of her neck,
drench her in foam.
Even when it rains she comes.
In autumn she dips her veined hands
in my shallows, wades in
to the backs of her knees.
I smooth my waves to ripples,
tempt her further in with crimson weeds
to wrap around her wrists.
In winter it’s no longer physical. She
stares at me from the top of the dunes,
stumbles down to walk beside me,
casting her long shadow, sniffing my salt.
I heave my highest waves towards her,
goad her into coming closer.
She tightens her coat,
fixes her eyes on the wide dark line
where I drink down the sky.
This is a photo of patterns made on the sand by the sea.
my waves are penning
long fine lines
etched in sand
love poems stretched
along the shore for her to find
mo leannan they say mo leannan
before the words unravel
in the spinning wind
mo leannan is Gaelic for beloved one.
Ring by Pauline Prior-Pitt
Did Poseidon’s mistress
cast this off after a tiff,
the weight of it sinking
into their tangle bed,
tossed up in last night’s storm
to lie half hidden
in a cluster of kelp?
This scoured shell, polished
to a knuckle-duster, is not
a circle for the third finger
of my left hand,
but I wear it anyway.
Then cast it back into the sea
in case she has regrets,
in case he asks for it,
in case a knuckle duster
on her finger
might make all the difference.
Hurry with me to the shore by Pauline Prior-Pitt
just now we’ll find
no trace of footprints
there’ll be a half moon sweep
of untouched beach
to try our sole steps on come on
the wind has found a lover hungry for its breath
the sun has nothing better
than to shine
we’ll dance along the tide
where rogue waves
fling their glitter at our feet
and leave us necklaces
of broken shells threads of seaweed grains of peat
Thank you Jane, for joining us today and for choosing, as one of your favourites, this joyful poem!
Here is a lovely Scottish tune written and played by Duncan Chisolm: The Gentle Light that Wakes Me. We first came upon Duncan at the Orkney Folk Festival a few years ago and have been fans ever since, I hope you like it.
Pauline’s daughter Charlotte, has also chosen a poem for this week’s post! Here it is:
Now by Pauline Prior-Pitt
fly to this shore
silent of wind
only the sea’s gentle roar
and though the frost
still sparkles in sand shadows
it’s a perfect day to picnic
not what you’d expect
but then nothing ever is
come quickly now
be here with me
Offering by Pauline Prior-Pitt
I have strewn the shore for her
with tangled kelp, stitched
with crimson seaweed hair,
scattered wet pebbles
salt grey, crystal, black,
rich umber, ochre, quartz,
heaped up orbs of golden foam
to float like lamps towards her
on the slow flood of the tide,
and my waves, swept skywards,
crest deep lace edges
on purpose to embrace her.
There is nothing else to offer
after this, except perhaps
to return that kiss.
for Pat Murphy
by Kerry Hardie
You sit in the grass, eyes closed, hands wrapped around your
playing the game of ‘What do I hear’, hearing the sunny
the plate moved on the drainer in the house behind,
the two girls on the stones above the sands –
their fidget of shifting stones, their quiet talk, their laughter –
the dog inland – his few barks – the bee strayed from the clover.
The five o’clock news – its first unguarded sentence –
the lazy sound of the sea not even trying,
the fizz of the drying wrack, the wash of the silence.
You open your eyes: the fineness, the stillness, the glitter
the man who walks the child up the grassy road,
the sea-grass, the tide far out, the absence of treachery,
the starlings fanning out across the sands.
It reminds and reminds of life’s base sweetness,
of summers past, of summers not yet lived,
all our small lives, how they are given to us, how we accept
soft bellow of the cow behind the strand,
a time of day for milking, and for tea.
Looking at poems for Written on the Shore, I realise how much I have missed going to the sea this year so far.
Anyway, I liked Five O’Clock Strand by Kerry Hardie which I found in Shorelines, Lautus Press
Joyce has chosen this Robert Frost poem for us this week.
My choice for Written on the Shore could be one of three choices from Angela Readman’s The Book of Tides, Nine Arches Press but ‘The House that Wanted to be a Boat’ is my present favourite.
The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.
As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull
The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be –
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea.
They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep?
I do love this! So simple …
‘The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea.’
The cottage slips a little each day,
closer to the cliff. We picture it as a boat,
drifting off in one piece as we carry
out spoons, china cups, and stand back.
It should leap into the void, skinny dip
like a woman realising she can dive.
Yet it slides slowly, glacial
pools of one man’s fingertips glossed
into skirting boards hold it back. Strands
of his hair fasten floorboards that keel
for our losses. Mother’s face is a gable,
wallpaper still hanging on, plaster ducks
on the wall pointing out all this space
on our backs. There is nothing to do
but stare as the roof tips its hat.
Bricks buckle up, and freefall.
This poem, so deceptive in its simplicity, encompasses such a world of personal experience in small things. The natural world, but especially the seashore with its continual tidal and weather borne changes, challenges our expectations, questions what we are searching for. I love the way the poem reads almost like a nursery rhyme but the words are so precisely chosen. The fact that the shell sings, the starfish is befriended and the ‘horrible thing’ is not identified. That the last four lines have echoes of Blake. Perhaps it is not too far-fetched to say that it also speaks to our current situation, but not suggesting flocking to beaches.
I do hope we may be able to include the full text but we are just waiting for permission at the moment, sorry!
My copy of this poem (which is a huge favourite with my children’s poetry club) is in the Dragon Book of Verse, published by Oxford, but you can read it here or find it in many anthologies.
I absolutely love this poem. It was one of a set of Poetry Postcards by the Scottish Poetry Library many many years ago, and I had the postcard on my noticeboard getting more and more faded for years, but then gave it to a friend who saw it and loved the poem. In these social-distance times, it brings an entirely new aspect to the poem!
don’t get me wrong
i have nothing
as a concept;
i should like to have
some interesting angles.
they’re all washed up!
i have this streak
i could show you
if i wanted to.
i could just break out
planes & polyhedra
if i weren’t
with this lot.
From The Thing that Mattered Most: Scottish poems for children edited by Julie Johnstone (SPL/B&W, 2006)
The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Thank you for choosing this, Alex
Seal by Jonathan Edwards
His eyes are deeper dark within his dark.
Corkscrewing, dipsy-doing, allez-oop,
he loops the loop, the water his slow-motion
world, this swimmer synchronised with himself.
He floats on his back, lying in the hammock
of his body. This is his gift, his talent: head
over heels, tail over head, unfolding,
barrel-rolling, forgetting which end of him
is which, now all is circle, all is swim.
He surfaces to bark This rock is mine,
lies there, breathing into November air,
smoking the Havana of himself,
munches sprats, mulling over his dance,
offers his stink, his easy-to-please hands.
This was written in situ in Bristol Zoo. I was completely enchanted by watching the way the seals move through the water with such grace, and quite comic beauty, and then the way they sit there on rocks like they own the place!
Can’t wait to get back and see them again, once the world becomes more sensible.
Jonathan is the author of two collections of poetry: My Family and Other Superheroes and Gen, both published by Seren. He won the prestigious Costa Poetry Prize in 2014 with his first collection and went on to win the Wales Arts Review Peoples’ Choice award. He is now the editor of Poetry Wales and teaches masterclasses in poetry. Jonathan appeared to great acclaim at last year’s Poetry in the Barn and we are delighted that he will be back with us next year!
Thank you for choosing this poem, Kathy.
Scarborough Clifftop Challenge Race by Steve Harrison
I’d never seen him run before;
Hands like garden shears
synchronised the piston legs
in Jesse Owen action.
I’d heard his shuffle down the back yard,
One of the garden shoes missing a seg,
echoing a peg leg path to the shed
made from second-hand doors,
which made the entrance hard to spot
unlike the baler twine laces frazzling at their orange ends.
Bets were off that day
his second-best shoes,
blancoed holiday plimsoles,
were fast enough
to leave me devastated in a
Scarborough Clifftop Challenge race.
The bookie in me unaware that beneath the thunderstorm grey vest
and matching flannels,
it was him not me,
his pumped-up toes
not my Clark sandals,
were the fulcrums for
his father’s rugby league winger’s thighs
my grandad’s lightning hamstring speed.
A selection of poems for you that for various reasons I can’t publish here, but that you will still be rewarded by checking them out! Thank you to Ali for the first few.
Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘Sandpiper’ from Poems, Prose, and Letters (2008) The Library of America, New York.
Now we have three first-time contributors to the virtual world of Poetry Breakfast ~ at Home, welcome, and thanks for joining in. We’re pleased to have you taking part!
Pam has chosen Patagonia by Kate Clanchy – a heart-stoppingly lovely poem.
I just couldn’t go all the way through a Written on the Shore poetry blog without listening to this! There was a TV series of the same name – does anyone remember it? All I recall is the music!
From his house door by Norman MacCaig
I say to myself, How he enriched my life.
And I say to myself, More than he have died,
he’s not the only one.
I look at the estuary and see
a gravel bank and a glitter going through it
and the stealthy tide, black-masked,
drowning stone after stone.
Walking on Water
I’m at the pool again, trying to walk on water.
I don’t like to spoil the ending, but it’s impossible.
You’ll know the story, the one involving a storm,
a fishing boat, a ghost, unsteady eyes.
I follow the line of my footprints to the side,
rough as set sand beneath my toes.
The water’s pale and skinned, I’m light as a child,
believing hard as my fixed gaze that I’ll make it.
I step out on water.
You know what happens next.
One night – the others were all
crouched to the TV sets; I heard
their tiny blether as I passed
each hunkered croft – I was called
by the loveliness of the moon;
the stars like milt; further isles
low humpbacks against the white
emulsion – down to the brack
of the beach. It was there I heard
music from the olden days – pipes,
tambours, flutes. As if on a stage
I saw them, the selkie gentlefolk
silver-naked, all holding hands,
footing it in a round. At once
like a flock of waders, sanderlings
disturbed, squealing they stooped
to their discarded shadows, fled
through water’s edge. All but one
whose dripping pelt I had snatched
from the rock. With freckled hand
trying to recover her nakedness,
with the other beseeching, a tug
of love ensued which, as she lost,
her eyes filmed. So I led her back
to the farm. Please tell no one, not
the police, about this person, this
light seen moving about in my
kitchen, my life. How each night
she turns and turns in my arms.
How in dreams she barks, re-enters
those dim caverns where she dives
for fish through a sequinned roof
where, mankind, I cannot follow.
Maybe one day I will give it back,
her wild self, where I keep it folded
in the linen cupboard. Maybe I will
carry her down to the tide’s pulse
light as birch… Meanwhile, afraid
of the loneliness, I keep it locked.
The broad bald moon edged up where the sea was wide,
Beneath, a tumbling twinkle of shines, like dyed,
A trackway traced
To the shore, as of petals fallen from a rose to waste,
In its overblow,
And fluttering afloat on inward heaves of the tide:—
All this, so plain; yet the rest I did not know.
The horizon gets lost in a mist new-wrought by the night:
The lamps of the Bay
That reach from behind me round to the left and right
On the sea-wall way
For a constant mile of curve, make a long display
As a pearl-strung row,
Under which in the waves they bore their gimlets of light:—
All this was plain; but there was a thing not so.
Inside a window, open, with undrawn blind,
There plays and sings
A lady unseen a melody undefined:
And where the moon flings
Its shimmer a vessel crosses, whereon to the strings
Plucked sweetly and low
Of a harp, they dance. Yea, such did I mark. That, behind,
My Fate’s masked face crept near me I did not know!
O the opal and the sapphire of that wandering western sea,
And the woman riding high above with bright hair flapping free –
The woman whom I loved so, and who loyally loved me.
The pale mews plained below us, and the waves seemed far away
In a nether sky, engrossed in saying their ceaseless babbling say,
As we laughed light-heartedly aloft on that clear-sunned March day.
A little cloud then cloaked us, and there flew an irised rain,
And the Atlantic dyed its levels with a dull misfeatured stain,
And then the sun burst out again, and purples prinked the main.
– Still in all its chasmal beauty bulks old Beeny to the sky,
And shall she and I not go there once again now March is nigh,
And the sweet things said in that March say anew there by and by?
What if still in chasmal beauty looms that wild weird western shore,
The woman now is – elsewhere – whom the ambling pony bore,
And nor knows nor cares for Beeny, and will laugh there nevermore.
Jude chose Jackie Kay’s lovely poem, Holy Island, and it was a serendipitious choice as Jackie and Pauline met in November 2016, shortly after Jackie was announced Makar of Scotland. Pauline invited Jackie to a poetry ceilidh at Taigh Chearsabhagh, as one of Pauline’s ‘Last Thursdays‘ where she read to a packed, and very appreciative, house. Jackie also knew I had recently lost my Mum and she included some beautiful poems just for me!
Thank you, Jackie, for giving permission for us to include your poem.
Pauline and Jackie heading for the ferry!
Jude also chose this lovely poem by Kenneth Stevens, and she says:
I too love this, and have just ordered a pack of the cards for Hilary’s birthday, but it’s a secret, so please don’t tell her! I’ve also just had a fun exchange of emails with Kenneth – who has given permission for his poem to be included here, with a little plug for his poetry book! Good to be supporting poets and independent publishers! If you would like a signed copy of Kenneth’s book – like me! – you can use the contact button on his website. (By the way, I know what lutromania means now, too!)
We’ll give the last word to Pauline in this short film, made as a collaboration between Pauline Prior-Pitt and UistFilm/Taigh Chearsabhagh.
Andy MacKinnon, Director of Uist Film and Arts Manager at Taigh Chearsabhagh (where Pauline hosts Last Thursdays poetry readings and teaches creative writing) says:
“Pauline has been a fantastic ambassador and an inspiration for creative writers in Uist and a tireless organiser of literary events at Taigh Chearsabhagh for many years.” Andy MacKinnon
So that’s almost it for another week. To finish off, just close your eyes and be transported via crashing waves, to Fingal’s Cave!
Please send us poems on this, or any of the themes by email or you can use the message function at the bottom of the page. You can also follow us using the social media buttons just below.
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We would love to hear (and share) your suggestions!
What could be better than Mendelssoh’s overture, ‘The Hebrides’ for listening to music about the shore and the sea? Fingal’s Cave is the common nickname for this piece as it was written after he had visited Staffa in the 1830s. (Not the Outer Hebrides, though …)
(yes this is still the right email!)
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