The Ouseburn gave wuh up fuh rainbows.
Well, yuh wud.
A while wuh stud to watch
wor puah auld Paula Liz
sink. Iridescence leak.
A legacy o’ blud that wee broon vein
knahs well enough.
Mourned an’ al,
half-heard, half-meant murmurs.
Best wuh cud.
As al gud sympathisers shud.
My ancestors were border reavers. My great-granddad’s honours are displayed in Alnwick castle. My nana worked in factories in wartime Sheffield. Mam and Dad were born on the ‘right side’ of the Tyne - or so they called it. My partner is from Durham. I grew up in the west end of Newcastle. I work on Gateshead quayside. My heart thrums with the rhythm of rivers, with footsteps over bridges, with the stately procession of castles through ages. I am a Northern artist, to my bones, whose great passion has always been striving towards excellent arts provision in the north.
They lumber north, the slow beasts
sombre grey, making us sullen,
their rumps block out the light –
as day falls away they are making for subfusc
(it is always subfusc in the north) before
stars come out: you’ll find us on station platforms
sitting in dismantled libraries, swirling pale cups
in half-empty tearooms, shutting a skylight
look up, it’s later than you think, they warn
in the language of the last blackbird
as it falls silent
My North is the place where I have lived the longest, raised children, where I expect to die. It is home as I imagined it – the seashores, the wild empty places, the bleakness. Also stones and tormentil. My friends. My husband and his last living connections with a vanished universe of pits and pit families: I can still see the disappeared wheel where he grew up. I have slowly rubbed away my stranger’s vowels and almost speak like north.
Again the slack journey into the valley, shades of church and salad
Grit in the eye where a sleeve catches, surprised, unlearning the city’s texture,
that callus levered up, like the hat of an egg. I hate to give in to this vein, smiling,
yes, to new friends, I am a country girl, conditioned to early rising, fat milk,
the smell of shit, the slip of a jellied lamb held tight in the arms, and
(why not) Auntie’s hotpot on a Sunday, she a great old girl who wouldn’t give
an inch, that’s the way we’re made. I can still remember her brown linoleum
and she died in the house she was born in, we consider that a fine way to go.
While all around the cool, sombre hills hallooe the lie,
that yours is a rain-soaked voice, a grass-fed heart.
That poor seed sown in this earth flourishes, nonetheless
I was born and grew up in Hexham, Northumberland, and despite various long absences, in Belfast and Edinburgh, in London and The Hague, my eyes and my writing continue to face North.
My vowel sounds are sanctioned by the south:
I offer words like damaged goods,
fear they’ll be amusing or misunderstood.
From finis terre to end of Englishness,
traverse the geography of time and life.
Upend the map, make the jigsaw fit
a different way, unsettle home. Like roots
uprooted, edges are inheritance –
the Tyne a frontier on my skin, the wind, the craic,
the singing tongue familiar-foreign – North
is where I found my source, inside.
I was born in London, and have spent a lot of my time in Cornwall throughout my life, but chose to come and live in the north, and Newcastle was where I landed. Suddenly my life made sense to me and I found something I hadn’t known I’d been searching for. I still get people saying “you don’t come from here’ although I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else. It didn’t occur to me that of course, my Grandpa and Grandma and mother were Geordies so I had a connection tugging me all along.
You clean the prefab in your all-round pinny,
wind a yellow tartan scarf around prickly curlers,
tuck in the fraying ends. I stand at the path’s edge
watch you scrub the step with a whetted stone, blood
in your meaty fists, strength in your back and thighs.
After, you tip Typhoo leaves into a warmed pot,
your gaze at the horizon beyond the window, beyond
the steaming water, the fluster of cups on saucers.
Aunt Sal brings the gossip. I am gripped, eyes fixed
on your lips, I mirror shapes you silently mouth,
work out the secret words it’s not my place to hear.
Born in Grimethorpe, a coalminer and a factory worker’s daughter, I went to school in Barnsley, graduated in Sheffield, worked in Helmsley and Doncaster, live in York. I have lived elsewhere, but it’s not the same. My kids were born here, my parents died here, and in researching my family history I found my ancestors had been in the North York Moors since at least the 16th century, farming and mining. Others in my family migrated from Ireland and Staffordshire in search of a living, and put their roots down in the North.
Sunday, and your voice drops from the satellite,
freighted with vowels, soft, sanded oak’s grain.
‘Darlo’. Speech well-worn like the cobbles in your road.
‘Love, shall you be going to that?’. Travelled language,
easy, open and close, like the back yard gate.
Burr of dialect, absorbed different worlds.
Factory and settlement. Migration from hill and salt.
Our conversations clear as a whistle, well-worn as coins.
I see the neat square of daylight in your window.
Hear the rattling valley when you speak.
Then, I am of moorland. Marra. Held firm in the wind’s hollow.
I think I lead a double life. Kentish by birth and now for 18 years ‘down south’, the rest of my 64 years has been lived in the North. I am always returning to Cumbria or the North East, being asked to by friends or compelled by circumstance. All my important experiences happened there. It was first love, family and home. It is where I fit and is a kind of exile. It won’t let me go and remains a touchstone for me now and in how my life turned out. It is not grim up north is what I learned.
Do lowering skies oppress us?
No. Like jewels laid on dark velvet,
Our lives sparkle with colours
Made brighter by the backdrop.
We combat endless cold and damp
With coats and smiles and friendly chat,
While dark, ascerbic humour
Dries the puddles on our streets.
But when the rare sun rends the cloud
We scrabble to hide our untrained eyes
With Gucci glasses; Aah, familiar dullness.
I was born in Sale, which was then part of Cheshire, reluctantly dragged into Greater Manchester sometime in my youth. I moved to the north of Manchester when I married and have lived in Bury since the time of Robert Peel – well, nearly. My husband is Roman and, as you may imagine, he finds our climate a trial – even after all these years. We, the northerners, love to complain with a smile on our faces, but woe betide any southerner who has a go at our cloudy cityscape.
He stands out among the cockney glottal stops,
dropping soft consonants. He’s intimate
with every word, tip of tongue caressing teeth.
Let me trace the subtle geography of his mouth.
I’m heading north. Innocent. Voice unformed.
He’s many years an exile, vowels worn
by Thames and Cam, refusing to return.
Yet I press my ear to his chest
and hear the Tyne flood every breath,
hear dockers, fishwives, kittiwakes call
our startled hearts: two salmon leaping.
I’ve lived in Newcastle for twenty years. I belong here. When the train creaks over the river Tyne approaching the station, my heart lifts. At first I put it down to the spectacular array of bridges. Now I hear the river calling me home. When I first announced I was moving here, several London friends revealed they were Geordies. Some had deliberately left the North, never to return, but I sensed a whiff of pride and longing when they spoke of ‘home’. The city casts its spell on exiles and incomers alike. Once it has you, it won’t let go.
Preston Bus Station 1964
Grain warehouses East Float Birkenhead
A fine-grained photograph in black and white
Two whippets’ slink slag steel clinker cotton and coal sinter
YTS spare time the time-honoured need to retrain
Two Bootle girls in curlers up to the nines for the best part of half the night
An overlooked pint of Tetley (flat on a bar) somewhere south of Leeds
The sound of Clitheroe rolling in the mouth on the tongue
The turn the club
A van not quite anywhere on the M62 uncoupling its doors
The wild slow release of birds
In 1983 The North became a kind of map for my search for an emerging self-identity. I remember always wanting to head North as a tentative but excited eighteen year old southerner. I just wanted to get away from the restraints of connections and family to Sheffield which in the 1980s was dynamic and strange or appeared so. Chips and mushy peas cost 43 pence and Tetley beer was 48p and the miners were on strike. A whole new chapter in my life had begun. Its difference to the safety net of home both hurt and thrilled. I stayed.
What he saw: fish laid out on stalls
at the marketplace, arrowhead pattern of scales
repeated in the nets that caught them,
shadows sliced on the gnomon’s tongue
for time’s sake. What he did not see
was the earth from space, like a child’s blue
and white marble tossed into black.
Yet, like fish drowned in air
to sustain a different breath, he knew sky
loops beyond night in boundless re-beginning
or, in other words, he saw without sight.
I moved from my birth town of Belfast, Northern Ireland to the North East of England (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, to be precise) on a cold, dark evening in January 2005. I’d been to Newcastle once before for eye laser surgery but didn’t know a soul when I moved. I met my husband the day after and have been here ever since. To me, the North means overcoming hardships to cultivate diversity, empathy, and a rich cultural experience. My poem is about perception (informed by my first encounter with Newcastle) – the north has much more to it than meets the eye.