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extract from the poem Koi by John Burnside All afternoon we've wandered from the pool to alpine beds and roses ...
Friday, 16 March 2012
Filling in the Gaps.
Charles Miller (Chazinator to his friends) at dVerse Poets Pub has come up with a fascinating angle for their Meeting the Bar : Critique and Craft prompt. Please do go and read it, for it is too long to reproduce here. It is a prompt which - in my interpretation - requires us to post a poem which, as all good poems must, stands by itself, yet gains from some sort of explanation of its background, how it came to be written, etc etc.
I have chosen a poem which I have posted before, but whose genesis might surprise. I shall therefore leave the latter until after you have read - or, as it may be, re-read the poem.
A Sunday Supplement, a photograph.
Cuckmere Haven. Not that we’d
have recognized it, not without the caption.
The cliffs, distinctive, might have given it away.
Taken from above. The Cuckmere
all but banished from the scene -
and much else missing from that day...
pebbles, white upon the beach; and you,
exquisite, dressed to kill, a splash of green;
the sea kale (was it?) by the stream: all tucked
away between the hills and nowhere to be seen.
And so I wondered: what if we
could see as from above, the hills
and valleys carved in us by human love?
What would be there to see?
What would there not?
That day the sun-drenched chalk and beach,
and shady woods had each unleashed
a fierce burn of increasing beauty.
Offshore, the tides and Cuckmere clashed,
Canoes capsized, and men we’d lately
followed from the bridge were stayed,
all balance lost, bare inches from the sea.
It too was like a photograph, our day,
so silent and so still,
with gulls hung poised, like birds of prey,
on tiny cirrus threads. The breakers froze,
refused to break. Creation seemed to us to take
a year to spend that day.
The sun poured champagne on the sea
as tides and Cuckmere whirled together.
One maelstrom. One tranquility.
My love, I saw this photograph
and heard, I thought, our favourite song
being sung in a foreign language.
I had just qualified as a canoe instructor on inland waterways, with the intention of taking on the school canoe group the following term. I had in fact had only one term and one school holiday in which to learn to swim, learn to canoe and take the instructor's test. As a celebratory gesture I had booked myself on a sea canoe introductory course, a long weekend, canoe camping on the beach at Cuckmere Haven, a pebbly foreshore under the white cliffs of the Seven Sisters, not far from Beachy Head. We slept nights under our upturned canoes.
We had launched them at Alfriston and paddled the few miles along the River Cuckmere to Cuckmere Haven. Idyllic weather and idyllic scenery. The day was hot and sunny and there were plenty of walkers and couples on the path beside the river which was extremely meandering. We were the focus of a good deal of interest - I prefer not to speculate on why that might have been!
What we had not been told was that we would leave the river for open water at a point where three tides and the flow from the river met, where the water would churn. We all, except the leader, capsized. Which was fine, for we were able to practice our deep sea rescues and no one was drowned, exactly. I was still high in celebratory mood and wanted to mark the perfect day. I was not writing just then, had not written a poem for a few years, but I wrote a poem to remember that day. But then a strange thing happened. Not intended, it was instinctive. As I began to write I did so as from the point of view of one the walkers watching us. I imagined myself and my wife had walked along that path observing the canoeists. And then, removing it one stage further, I imagined the poem as a letter to her years later reminding her of that day.
I still find it odd that I did this, but I am still glad that I did.
Blogger still will not let me upload an image, but you can see some images and read about the area here