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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.

The Photograph

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


Mary said...

Dave, your background information definitely enhanced my understanding and appreciation of this poem. Fascinating to find how the poem came to be written from such a perspective. Wow, learning to swim, canoe, and be an instructor in such a short time was quite an accomplishment!

Brian Miller said...

this was really cool...i like your approach on this dave...and the creative texture you use to bring out the day for us as well...have taken canoeing and enjoyed it much...on a river outside DC....

kaykuala said...

This is great Dave! You have been through a colorful episode here. I did canoeing and sailing at the Outward bound School but just! But being an instructor is something else! Your explanation makes me understand better. Beautiful verse!

A Request - You had brought your poetry writing to another level. Not being a Briton, I sometimes may not be familiar with the context of situation. Even a one-liner to explain like this one is a boost to me. Thanks buddy!


Daydreamertoo said...

Oh, I love it that I know what you're speaking about. I lived in Brighton all my life until 2001. So, I can 'see' all of this in my minds eye.
What a lovely piece of prose Dave.
What a good thing you were all very up on how to rescue yourselves. Could've been nasty.

Kat Mortensen said...

You're so prolific; I just can't keep up! (I've commented on a few below though.)

I'm glad you found the "Egg" video of interest; I was hoping you'd read the Think Tank poem, "My Angel".

Rachna Chhabria said...

Dave, your words are pure magic.

"The sun poured champagne on the sea
as tides and Cuckmere whirled together.
One maelstrom. One tranquility."

This stanza is a beauty.

Wolfsrosebud said...

"That day the sun-drenched chalk and beach,
and shady woods had each unleashed
a fierce burn of increasing beauty." Sweet lines here...

ArtistUnplugged said...

What a picture you created, the background really defined it. Hope you are doing well.

Wander said...

I liked the poem, and I like the ability, and prerogative of any word artist to create not just their world but also their perspective....


Claudia said...

very cool..i think it's effective to kinda stand next to oneself and write from another's perspective..esp. love...The sun poured champagne .... what an image...sounds like an awesome day for sure..

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Lyrical breath, very musical, with an exquisite touch of elegy. I feel too that "the sun poured champagne" is an extraordinary expression.

Rose said...

Fascinating stuff!

vivinfrance said...

I'm glad you posted the poem first and the explanation afterwards - it added greatly to the interest. The kind of real-life poem that I love.

Susie Clevenger said...

This is so interesting how this poem was born from the events of that day. Inspiration is a beautiful thing.

Unknown said...

This poem and prose really us into your reality as the poem came to birth. The historical reality adds what I have been calling a dimesion to the poem which I think also places it in our minds. But it also allows us to see ourselves in that perspective, drawn into that search for what our language and its artifacts do with us and with our lives. The way that your prose gives us the details behind the thoughts that coalesced in your heart and mind as a pattern of words that came to mean your relationship with the most loved perwon in your life. This is really a special persepctive from which to see ourselves and our lives, I think. You have that integrated relationship with the world that I envy so much, at home and at ease with its ways.

Brendan said...

The entire post -- poem and commentary about refracting views of an intense intimacy -- somehow make the vital center even more halcyon, the way the flavors of a food can be heightened by something other, like salt in chocolate. A poem is always an adjacent reflection of an experience, written after the fact, having cooked a while in the mind and heart; this poem enters back through a prompt of a photo in the paper, a distant door and vantage that opens back so wonderfully on a scene the photo does no justice to. The poetic vantage goes deepest into the joy of a day with a beloved, and then asks if it too is like a photo, selecting from what refuses to be winnowed down; a foreign-language version of a "favourite song." (For many of us, our lovers do not much care to read our passions writ down on paper). Thanks for bringing this out again, I really enjoyed it. - Brendan

Dave King said...

I did find the learning curve a bit sever, yes. Most of it was done alongside the pupils.
Thanks for a usefully informative response.

Thanks. Good to have your comment.

Much thanks for this - and all your other comments. I will try to keep the request in mind. I ha\ve been most impressed, though, by your understanding. Maybe you get there intuitively - which is the best way, of course.

Knowing the drill for a deep sea rescue was a precondition to being accepted on the course. It had also been part of the test I had to take.

I did mean to look at the The Think Tank. Will do so anon. Thanks for your kind words.

Thank you so much for this. It truly means a great deal.

Sincere thanks for this comment. Very much appreciated.

Thank you, yes. And many sincere thanks for your kind response. Best wishes.

Hi, and a warm welcome to the blog. It's really good to have your company. Your comment is bot interesting and much appreciated. Thank you.

Thank you for this. It was not something I had done before - nor very much since - but I did think it worked at the time.

Thank you. As always, a most helpful response.

Thanks for this.

Thank you for this. It is one of the aspects I was keen to hear about.

Thanks again for such a helpful and generous comment.

This is a truly comrehansive response, and I do thank you for it very sincerely.

Hi, and very welcome. Good to have your comment. Thank you so much for it. I found it very inspirational