Friday, July 18, 2008

Boscastle Revisited

Boscastle, after the flood

We're off on holiday tomorrow to sunny Cornwall, where we lived for some years round the turn of the millennium. My eldest daughter is staying behind to hold the fort (she has a good job at the moment and is saving towards university, so quite rightly didn't fancy the idea of two weeks in a crowded tent with her parents and assorted siblings). But the rest of us will be stretching out in the glorious rain ... I mean sun ... for the next couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, here's a Cornish poem from my forthcoming collection, Camper Van Blues. It's never been published before, even in a poetry magazine, so I thought Raw Light could have it before it becomes crystallised in book form.

This poem, 'Rain', is a sister poem to my shorter poem 'Flood at Boscastle', which appeared in Poetry Review a while back.

'Flood at Boscastle' came out of notes I made a few years ago whilst in the Bull Ring in central Birmingham (and reading Robin Robertson's book 'Swithering', interestingly enough). I expanded those initial notes over several months, remembering what it was like to live at Boscastle before the flood, the devastation it had caused compared to the memory of the neat little village that we had in our heads, then pared that material down to create 'Flood at Boscastle', which is available to read on my Salt Publishing page.

It was only in late 2007 that I returned to the discarded notes and began cutting away at them, moving sections, adding new pieces, experimenting with various different forms, and eventually ended up with this much longer poem, 'Rain', presented in couplets. Please note though, since I'm not greatly skilled at HTML and don't have time to fiddle with this, that in the book each second line is indented. Here they both sit snugly against the left-hand margin.

Meanwhile, I hope you all have a great summer, and for my own part, that it doesn't flood again while we're back in Cornwall!





First, there was a rustle of frogs
unseen in bracken, parched

singing for rain
like all the frogs of the Amazon, for rain

like the beginning of things
over tired roofs and gutterings, for rain

deep and steady
over cliff paths and gorse

where workers once held land
strip upon strip

shining under the deluge, for rain
in the blown-out ford

slung black with, waist-deep in water
from these hills

hard-beat-against, untenable, for rain
falling through bruised light

grey-purple onto fishing nets
like giant spiders’ webs

draped in gleaming strands
across the wet stone quay

her cobbled streets back-lit
with a silver tattoo, with RAIN

the sheer thirst of it
the first of it

a rustle of frogs (unseen in bracken)
parched, singing for rain

like all the frogs of the Amazon.


I came there most days in search of sea,
blind with it,

that salt blue slap of the cliff’s edge,
shy gaggle of houses

curved like a woman’s hips
about a sleeping river, her upturned face

beautiful (though wrinkled in summer;
mud ruts in high grass)

and still the rustle of frogs
parched, unseen,

singing for rain
like all the frogs of the Amazon.

I came for the gravestones, stern
under the downpour at Forrabury

already furred black with,
bolted with water

swelling the river
at the hard mouth of the harbour

its wrung neck
and sling-shot exit a jostle

of water against rock, narrowing
and funnelling,

and trammelling up RAIN.

Perched antediluvian,
that’s how I remember it,

grey stone and Cornish slate
from that prehistoric crater at Delabole,

wind turbines
white noise in the dusk

and the sharpish approach to the harbour,
its corniche turns

and wind-sheer drop, gorse bright,
from the cliff edge

where I would come most days
in search of sea

(rocking the child inside, imagining flight,
that first curious step).

Most days I came in search of sea,
the constant boom and suck

of water on rock
like the beginning of things,

like salt, like rain,
like frogs, unseen in bracken,

singing, deep and steady,

like all the frogs of the Amazon.


And where the stifled river met
the dirty tide

it threw up bones of things, oddments
and fish, and wood adrift,

torn branches still in bud,
salted wet-black spars

and plastic bottles, bags,
arrow-tips of glass

rubbed down to frost
and always the rain

freakish in summer,
the frogs singing

and surging the blind river
down to the sea, down to wild water,

to that filthy driven flood
breaking its banks

and punching through walls,
bouncing campers and cars

and houses aside,
that old dirty tide

alive with rubbish and blossom
white as cottages

and whole trees, blown green to the sea,
a stone bridge cracked

and tossed in the long surge forward

No hands were lost –
no hands were lost, even as cars bobbed off

sea-drunk into brickwork, crumbling
as cars weaved

battered and jobbed
and the edge of a building broke first

then the rest shot free into the foam
swept loose

by the blank untenanted ark
of a mobile home

and love poured down like rain, unseen,
and the frogs sang on

like all the frogs of the Amazon.


Women Rule Writer said...


Sorlil said...

Well this has sold to book to me!

Jane Holland said...

Thanks, both of you.

I was rather disappointed not to have placed this particular poem in a magazine before it appeared in book form. I did try in a few places, but I suppose it's rather long for most magazines. However, one larger circulation magazine, admittedly with a brand-new editor, turned it down as 'too much of a performance piece to work on the page', a comment which mystified me, as I can't see how it's even remotely like a performance piece. But there you go ...

Btw, did you get The Lament of the Wanderer, Sorlil?

I posted it in rather a hurry before heading off on holiday so I hope it arrived okay at your end - not too dented or battered!


Sorlil said...

You're joking - a performance piece?! Yes I got it thanks and thoroughly enjoyed it too.

Bo said...

Love it! xx

Jane Holland said...

Good stuff. Glad no one's sent it back in disdain yet!

All far too polite for that ... ;)

Yes, I was bewildered by the 'performance' comment too. I later wondered if the editor in question, who has a background in performance of a particular sort, knew my name only through Poets on Fire and assumed, because I facilitate a site for live poetry, that I must be a performer rather than a 'page' poet, and so just threw that comment out there rather than say 'look, this just doesn't do it for me.' It can be hard, as an editor, trying to justify rejections. Most don't bother and just send a standard No Thanks note. Like this editor though, I do try to make a comment, however brief, on each submission to Horizon. And sometimes I probably get it wrong, in the same way as this editor did.

No worries. I've had so many knock-backs and disappointments in my 'career' as a poet, it barely touches me anymore. A momentary twinge with most things, then I just get on with the next project. If you let it affect you, you stop writing. And I'm not going to let that happen again if I can possibly prevent it.

Sod 'em!


Women Rule Writer said...

I wonder did he read it to the end. It never struck me as 'performancey' but I'm not thinking in that mode, either.
Have you tried The SHOp magazine in Ireland with work, btw? Beautifully produced by John and Hilary Wakeman. Worth a look, for sure.

Jane Holland said...

Thanks for the tip. I'll check it out.