The Gathering Tide

A couple of weeks ago I was up at St Andrews attending a little nature-writing festival put on by Waterstones. I’m not much of a one for literary festivals – one summer stint at Edinburgh International Book Festival and one spring weekend at 2014’s Dorothy Wordsworth Festival of Women’s Writing is my sum total to date – but nature writing is one of my favourite genres and I was looking for an excuse to get to know this little seaside town better, as my husband had just got a job there and we’d be moving there in a couple of months. It was also pretty cheaper – £10 per person for a whole day of events, and that £10 fee redeemable against the cost of any books bought. Sold!

gathering tideThe festival space was a corner of Waterstones packed with chairs and guarded by a table containing lots of tasty things to eat: we arrived in the middle of the afternoon to a choice of cakes, tea and juice and happily settled in to some nibbling before the reading started. We were there to hear Karen Lloyd talking about The Gathering Tide (2016), a book which explores the edgelands of Morecambe Bay on the south-western periphery of the Lake District. Having met and married my husband in the Lakes, crossing the sands of Morecambe Bay with him and a group of friends in 2013 (more of which here), it’s fair to say that we know and love this area well – though not anywhere near as well as Karen Lloyd, who spent a year tracing the Bay’s basin to research this book.

Lloyd has a lifetime’s love of the Bay, having moved to South Cumbria as a child and living there still. She’s also dug deeply into the area’s history, hunting out maritime charts and chasing elusive guides to lead her to places like Piel Island, with its King and Castle and pub, The Ship Inn.


Water, water every where

National Poetry Day

Water, water every where...

Water, water every where…

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

The theme for this year’s National Poetry Day is ‘Water, Water, Everywhere’, from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic poem of 1798 ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. It’s a gift of a theme for us here at the Wordsworth Trust, where STC and his work feature in our daily tours of Dove Cottage, and also because we live in the wettest part of England, the Lake District. If you’re not already familiar with the poem, you can listen to the mellifluous voice of Ian McKellen in a special recording for the Wordsworth Trust here.

‘Rime’ is not, I must confess, my favourite poem. Although its lines have passed into common idiom (‘an albatross around one’s neck’, along with the aforesaid ‘water, water’) and the images of Life-in-death and the ghostly ship remain with me long after I have closed the book, the rather lengthy preamble is somewhat off-putting, as is the ‘wedding guest’ device.

Coleridge's life mask

Coleridge’s life mask

However, today I performed the entire poem as part of a NPD Poetry Marathon: it took about 25 minutes and it really made me engage with poem’s language. I realised how repetitive it is, but also how effectively that repetition has been deployed. I loved the nightmarish feeling as each new episode loomed into view, more horrific than the last, and felt quite giddy as I recited the final lines (whether from elation or exhaustion, I’m not sure). The audience and performers agreed that one really good outcome of the Marathon was that it gave us the freedom to recite longer poems, which are often overlooked in favour of something sort and snappy which fits in with the usual pigeon-brain poetry-span of people’s attention. In fact, the whole day has been a bit like being tuned into a radio channel playing exclusively poetry, rather than the drone of typing, phone calls, and the whine of the heating system. Huge thanks to everyone who read today – you are all champions of poetry and thoroughly good eggs to boot. You can read the poetry of two of our readers here and here.

Before I go, I just want to mention two of my water-themed favourite poems, ‘Inversnaid’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins  and ‘Amphibians’ by Neil Rollinson, which you can find on page 33 of this anthology. ‘Inversnaid’ is the most evocative of Hopkins’ sound poems, rich in internal rhyme and bubbling with the streams, burns and becks which run through it. The Bodleian Library have the manuscript of the poem (and a wonderful recording to boot) – treat yourself to a listen. Although Inversnaid is in Scotland, the poem feels like an invocation to the Lake District and it often springs to mind when I am out walking.

Neil Rollinson's Amphibians

Neil Rollinson’s Amphibians

‘Amphibians’ was inspired by a long period of persistently wet weather here in the Lakes, when Neil Rollinson was Poet in Residence at the Wordsworth Trust. He was one of the first poets I met in person: lying on a sofa, with greasy hair and a leather jacket, smoking a cigarette. The poem describes so accurately the kind of desperation and depression that endless rainy days can induce, yet it is a vibrant poem which is comforting and humorous to read.

One more piece of poetry to send you on your way: the Scottish Poetry Library have produced this beautiful video, incorporating 8 water-themed poems for you to enjoy. Happy National Poetry Day!