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Canto 2

Poem of the North

Canto 2

Poem of the North



Dear reader, what we are recording
is a diaspora, not an empire.
We go deep as well as wide; sing
songs of our ancestors, divided
no more into damned and saved.
The calendar of our flesh crimsons
our reiver names, forges a chain.
River’s a mirror, the land inside us.

Our plot of earth is a borrowed book
begun in sunshine, finished in hail.

Blood.   Breath.   How light cascades.

2.1About the poet: My North / Linda France

Linda France was born in Wallsend and her family moved South when she was five. She returned to the North East in 1981 and now lives on Hadrian’s Wall near Stagshaw.

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Arbeia Commended Poem

Some days nothing to see but mist
through buckthorn and goat willow
still the river’s there
migration route of geese and fish
traffic of gods and men
wave after wave to the sea where all roads lead
and the Unit of Tigris Boatmen weave
along the estuary

keeping peace where the Wall runs out
a line held

at the frayed edge of the world.

2.2About the poet: My North / Jane Dobson

I was born at Cawdr Ghyll, West Yorkshire, and grew up in Ryton and Sunderland. I studied at the University of Leeds and stayed in the city after graduation, working first for an independent record company and later as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language. I live in North Shields, teaching English students around Tyneside, and volunteer at the Watch House Museum, Tynemouth, where I am learning about the conservation of artefacts recovered from a marine environment.

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I drive north     as long as the light
and the land last    alone I walk
the seaweed line    testing my strength
against the pull    of moon and tide
I take pictures    of no-one, perched
on a wet rock    riddle shingle
through fingers    for the stone I’ll know
is a gift    like this book, borrowed

so I may say    oystercatcher
to the wading birds    I’ll breathe in

till my ribs crack   like razor-shells

2.3About the poet: My North / Claire Lynn

I have lived in Hexham since 1992 and enjoy many aspects of life in the North, including the long summer days and the unspoilt coast of north Northumberland, which is what I have chosen to write my poem about.

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On a North Sea shore

It’s the last drops of sun that catch fire, flowing between sea line
and a fat roll of storm – incoming and weighed down with hail.
On the beach the tide turns gently, laying the sea’s weeds in the slack
water where mermaids leave their purses on the strandline.
Farne and Longstone islands appear as silhouettes of U-boats forever
surfacing in the swell. Their lights regard the rock-boiled water,
scanning the shallows and the profounds, the drying rocks and reefs:
Knivestone, Whirl, Glororum Shad – beaming regret to wrecks lost inside the kelp.

What the lighthouses have withstood in silence, the gulls rail against, singing
of that sorrow, buried in us so deep, that no blade will ever cut it out.

But give the wind time, and it intends to scour the world clean.

2.4About the poet: My North / Simon Heath

I was born in Nottingham but my parents were from Lancashire and Yorkshire. Although I have spent a lot of time in the North - my connection is with the Northumberland coast – and Bamburgh and Seahouses in particular. Every summer we stayed in a house in Bamburgh and we spent our days exploring ruins, islands and beaches up and down the coast. And always, the best and rarest times were the stormy days and nights – cowering for shelter on the rocks by Bamburgh lighthouse - counting every seventh wave and trying not to get washed away.

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Welcome to Liverpool

lift your head         your eye on the skyline –
cathedral          beacon             cathedral
begin at the left
keep your strokes small and precise
stipple sometimes                marking time
until you are                the fro of the ferry
add Albert Dock   landing stage   three graces
the Liver clock striking seven

work quickly               each stroke a cipher
where we are

drawn to the ferry’s deck-rail

2.5About the poet: My North / Maria Isakova-Bennett

Born in Liverpool, I’ve spent my life in the North of England. The North has shaped my poetry – as both subject and site. It’s the context in which I study and write – at the universities of Liverpool and Lancaster, receiving a Northern Writers’ Award, and working for Liverpool Merseycare. I am creator and curator of ‘Coast to Coast to Coast’, a series of stitched journals and poetry evenings making connections from elsewhere to here. Inspired by my own travels between the North West and North East, the journal hosts writers from all over the UK and beyond in Liverpool.

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Apple Ducking, Otley Chevin

They natter about last year’s miserable weather
over cider, sunlight glinting on the bucket of water.
Then, silence as she ducks for a Flower of the Town.
He’s after the Yorkshire Beauty, first picked
in a shoemaker’s garden in the Dales. They splutter
as their crowns touch briefly. In the end,
she gets the Beauty, catches the stalk in her teeth
and lifts it slowly. She shakes the drips, tries not to laugh.

He watches her pare it neatly with her pocket knife,
take the first sweet bites. She relishes the star at its heart.

He settles for a Ribston Pippin, pockets it for later.

2.6About the poet: My North / Rachel Bower

I was born in Bradford, and now live in Sheffield and work in Leeds. I love many things about the North: the diversity and richness of its cities, the wildness of the land, the generosity of its people. I first heard Tony Harrison read his poetry when I was 15, working as a waitress in Salts Mill. This is when I realized that that poetry could not only be read in a Yorkshire accent, like mine, but could actually be written for a Northern voice. I love the rhythms and sounds of Yorkshire speech, and this underpins my poetry.

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“On the eyelid of the North”

A response to Dylan Thomas’s ‘A Dream of Winter’ 

He offers me his picture: the dusk lake full of flitting
shadows and winter riddles. In mine, a couple idle,
breathing in the light’s last drip. Their hand-in-hand stroll
slips under the water’s dark meniscus. Untarred, they linger
in silence, not yet feeling how their time has split
like an overripe peach dropped from beyond tree-height.
No snow here, no mouths gulping at rippled surfaces,
no silver flash of flickering fishtails disappearing. Not

when I dream this moment. I edge his photo’s deserted scene
closer to my hopes, then watch. Still, his lake’s lens

fills with night; pipistrelles empty out their song.

2.7About the poet: My North / Sarah James

My North is a landscape pulsing with connections, with people I’ve met, the places I’ve stayed and the familiar haunts I return to. I never intended to give part of my heart to the North. It just happened. From my Masters at Manchester Writing School, to becoming a member of North West Poets, being published by Merseyside-based Knives Forks And Spoons Press to the Wordpool Festival and having a poem animated for the Blackpool Illuminations. I’ve friends born in the North and friends who’ve moved to the North. Through them, it feels like a second home.

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A River through the North

I stand on the broad bank to watch it flow –
a deep, muddy incursion swirling at its mouth,
depositing a layer of dredged up silt
to cover up its sins along the way.
It descended from the high ground
through bright cities and lit farms
to turn its sinewed back quite suddenly
on the soft insidious lowlands of the south.

And then, with nowhere left to go,
I turned to the spur that punctuates the sea.

The swerving lighthouse held me in its arms.

2.8About the poet: My North / Ian Parks

I was born in Mexborough, South Yorkshire and have lived for most of my life in the North, teaching at the universities of Sheffield, Hull, and Leeds. My latest collection of poems, Citizens, is published by the Northern press Smokestack Books and contains poems about the landscapes, seascapes, and unsung heroes of the North. With my songwriting partner Mick Jenkinson I have released an album called Songs of our Town about Doncaster and the surrounding region.

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Viewpoint on the River Dee

in memory of Michael J Bennett

I come when the edge of darkness returns you to me.
The water is swollen above the weir before it breaks
into a gush of white foam. The heron stands poised
fixing the moment. I remember your hands, the tension
in your forearms forcing them steady as you held them up
in a square for the view you never came back to paint.
I look into your scene, the arc of the bridge, lamposts,
the curved row of houses lining the hill, winter trees

all reveal themselves to me now as a complex web
of thin black lines like an X-ray held to the light,

the challenge of perspective that ruled your life.

2.9About the poet: My North / Fiona L Bennett

I have lived in Chester for 25 years and was a student in Lancaster in the 1980s. My father’s family came from Sheffield and my mother’s from Scotland. Although I was born and brought up in London I have always felt more of a sense of kinship with the North. I founded and present The Poetry Exchange podcast - a project that grew out of conversations with readers in the North. As the work grows internationally I am proud to be bringing the project to events in Manchester, Durham and Chester and to feature voices from across the region.

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I told them I saw you walking last night
and because I didn’t need to mention
your fear of heights I told them
you stood at the edge of the pier
and because I didn’t need to mention
your fear of water I told them I watched you
hire a fishing boat and head out to sea,
and because I didn’t need to mention

your lack of religion I told them
you were like god looking down on us,

pulling all the strings.

2.10About the poet: My North / Tom Weir

I have always had a strong connection with the North. I was born in Guisborough and although I moved away when I was 2, I returned in my early twenties and have lived here ever since. Whitby, the title of my poem, is of particular significance to me as I used to catch the train there with my aunty who died a few years ago and who the poem is about. The North, both its people and wide variety of landscapes, features heavily in my poetry and a great deal of the inspiration for my writing comes from living here.

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Canto 3

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.