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Canto 1

Poem of the North

Canto 1

Poem of the North



Imagine it not as a point to reach – for all ways
are equal to the compass – nor as a place,
since there is always north of north – go far enough
you’ll find yourself back where you began –
but as the sense of moving forwards, going up,
going heavenwards, through the cold
and through the clouds, the ultimate ascent towards
whatever keeps you up, be it fame or love

or hunger to know what’s around the corner,
up the street or at the border: what matters

most is keeping north, and keeping north inside.

1.1About the poet: My North / John Challis

My poem considers north as a progressive direction, which is what is has come to represent to me. I moved to the North East from London in 2010, and now live in Whitley Bay with my family.

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Journey North

Skyline waving like a banner
tugging folds and wrinkles straight,
vaulting bridges, shadowed valleys
plunge into the tunnel’s maw and then –
A bight out of the land, a crescent shore
of splintered shoals and rocks
gnawed by the breakers, rank on rank –
a hunch-backed cottage clenched against the cold

and in a scratched out garden by the beach,
raising their faces to the silent sky

a blaze of sunflowers.

1.2About the poet: My North / Ian Stuart

I was born in Lancashire of Scots Geordie/Lancastrian parents. I went to school in Leeds (8 years behind Alan Bennett) and university in York, when it opened in 1963. I have taught in Cheshire, Manchester and the Isle of Man. I have had a collection published (Quantum Theory for Cats) published by Valley Press of Scarborough. I have lived in York for the past twenty years, where I work as a storyteller for “The Ghost Trail of York” as well as being an amateur local historian, and infrequent book shop minder. I’m lucky. I have roots here. The north country is what makes me write.

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Drystone walling

There are those who say the art can’t be taught;
you’re born with it or not, like second sight
or a twin clutching your heel. I doubt that’s true
for I have seen walls where no wall should be
halfway up Whernside or sinking into peat;
and I think these are just apprentice work,
twilight zones where craft and maker meet,
uneven lines straggling towards the sea.

A well-made wall still makes me think of you
and how we fit together through the night,

the herring fleet brought safely into port.

1.3About the poet: My North / Duncan Chambers

I was born a Mercian but have lived, studied and worked in the North for most of my adult life. I currently divide my time between York and Sheffield.

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The contrast from here between hillside
and motorway bearing people and goods
into the arms of cities: Sheffield and
Manchester lit up like charms, silver spilled
from a broken necklace, vowels elided
or flattened by wind off the Pennines.
In Liverpool, Newcastle rivers are veins,
dark and solemn and wide as the gap

between effort and loss. Winter nights and
wind and music over those rivers, cold

or warm or dizzy and restless as blood.

1.4About the poet: My North / Joe Caldwell

I was born and live now in Sheffield, and, while I lived for some years in the Midlands, I have spent most of my life in the North of England. My values, identity and personality are shaped by its cities, its rivers and hills.

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Bold Street, Liverpool

The one smart street, the way back home if I was going past the Rialto,
long before the riots… the times we went for tea in Reeces in the Lyceum –
where that other city surfaced, the one I could half see if I didn’t look too directly:
city of frock-coated merchants, and shipping lists, and the smell in the air of tobacco
and dark Barbados sugar and sweating flesh; city wondering where all the money
went, why the bombs fell, what made everything fall apart; the graceful room friezed
with nymphs like a Wedgewood urn, the Scouse waitresses, me so young I was too
shy to go to a cafe on my own, the half enchantment, half horror of so much past

crowded into one place, dwarfing my own life into comic meaninglessness.
Oh I’d loved Bold Street, street with ideas of being a street in Chelsea

or Kensington, but never managing, or wanting to get up and make the leap.

1.5About the poet: My North / Mary Woodward

I was a student in Liverpool for seven years. I’d grown up in the South & knew very little about the North before I went there. I did not realise that simply living in a great Northern city would be more of an education in itself than the degrees I ended up with. That experience taught me so much about history, politics, culture, life and language. I will always be grateful to the City and people of Liverpool, for opening my eyes to the reality of the country I lived in.

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Ghost crossing Commended Poem

Making an enemy of the wind, a crow
backtracks on its own trajectory against
the slender iron of the Transporter Bridge
a pair of shoulders over the Tees, slacked
from its clot of shoreside forges, as if it’s all
forgetfulness and soul, the clocktower with three
faces, the fourth bricked over, a penny over
the one eye, to stop workers watching it,

a last red brick tooth in the maw of the old
Forty Foot Lane foundry, with a look of pain

from the steeled air, stolen, we take it in.

1.6About the poet: My North / Harry Man

As the North goes, I’m a newcomer. Walking around the downtown parts of Middlesbrough, I came across the one remaining wall of an old iron foundry, still with its iron bars across where the windows used to be. What also remains in that old part of the town is the gory three faced clock, now with no workers to watch it anymore as the majority of the industry has left. Through the old spaces is a vision of an industrial Underworld, in which only the ghosts toil on.

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North Pennines

Layers of green flesh
over the white rock bones
of the fells we are climbing –
battle-worn below storms,
the sheep held in by stones,
grey roads gritty,
our old tongue stirring
in forced absence recalled.

The message of the wind,
safety in rare sunlight,

body and spirit of the land.

1.7About the poet: My North / Sally Evanz

I lived in Co Durham from the age of 8, and went to Newcastle University, then my family moved over to Kirkby Lonsdale where I have remained connected ever since. At present I am studying as a PhD Creative Writing student at Lancaster University, while commuting to and from Kirkby Lonsdale. I write on landscape among other things and I know the North Country well.

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(Corbridge 1967)

Below seven arches of spanning bridge
six friesian kye graze on flooded banks
or lie in the shade of a sycamore
(though it doesn’t look like rain).
Grandad’s brushstrokes are still distinct
in the pale ridges of lapping water
and the white tufted tips of cow tails.
Less than a mile from here my dad was born,

on land once held by Jacobite lords.
Took seventy years to circle back, replant

roots in heavy clay. Home ground reclaimed.

1.8About the poet: My North / Charley Reay

The cloud-headed hills and steep inclines of the Western Lakes couldn’t be farther removed from the bleak flatness of the Fens, and despite three years in Wales I wasn’t ready for the rains. After a year I moved East, to Newcastle. Expected coal dust and grime, a town in black-and-white: Found instead a vibrant city that hummed with poetry, thrummed with song. I settled here, grew roots and, for the first time, found myself part of a community. The North is my home; filled people and places I love and more to be discovered, waiting to be met.

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Notes made on Hadrian’s Wall

Sly light and silence. The sky unfolds.
When the lark spools, an old yearning is washed clean.
I stand on the wall to squint its distant line. Wall as dormant god,
wall as watcher, wall as shadow spine, wall as lost ribbon in the wind.
I mean nothing, almost sucked towards the sycamore’s crown.
The fort is drowned and the women further under.
At Harrow’s Scar, spleenwort crawls
through mottled stone.

Does the hairpin hold a seed or a star?
Both are trinkets pressed into a palm.

At dusk        swallows twitch        through empty rooms.

1.9About the poet: My North / Catherine Ayres

My North is loud and funny and rolls its eyes a lot. It shouts kids in for their tea, dunks biscuits until they drown, fishes conkers out of boys’ shoes and says ‘ah knaa’. My North wears tights in June and bares its legs for the Christmas do, and has a tongue as sharp as its wit. But my North also means something else, which is harder to place and stranger to describe: a wide-skied, melancholy magic that’s always behind my eyes and turns every attempt to leave into an exile. My North is me.

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Yr Hen Ogledd

Scratch the surface, score it deep,
skrapple, scrapu, scramo, crafu:
Craven’s limestone cracks and creaks,
becks bubble, Brythonic, from beneath
where watter forces fell before,
churning Cumbric and Beornis
all across the cymun weal,
then loaming all with latter layers.

Lairs of legend hide my roots;
arid nooks spring slender shoots.

The Old North hiraeths to me (t)here.

1.10About the poet: My North / Anthony Heald

I was born in what hardly anyone knows as the Wapentake of Staincliffe in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Most of West Craven, where I was raised, was delivered into the administrative hands of Lancashire in 1974. That division of identity formed the backdrop of my childhood. Later, I would marry a Welsh woman, and, later still, move to Llanelli, begin learning Cymraeg, and come to realise that the famous 'Welsh' legends of the Mabinogion are largely those of my homelands: the Old North - Yr Hen Ogledd. As a northern Englishman in Cymru, I feel hiraeth for those 'lost' lands.

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Canto 2

Poem of the North lives and grows, and new 8-2-1 poems will appear as the artwork develops. Follow NPL ON INSTAGRAM or NPL ON TWITTER for alerts. To track the evolution of Poem of the North, sign up to THE BLACK DOT, the Northern Poetry Library newsletter, for monthly updates.