Local lads lounging around boats strewn
haphazard in front of homes, like stolen cars.
Work comes and goes: ironstone hacked in tons,
then steel, kept the world turning, until, here,
it stopped. But you are young and think you own
the sea. The mackerel crowd beckons, and at night,
lobsters wave their claws, surrender to your pots.
How sudden, the summer squall, and you are lost,
hair streaming in the greedy waves, too far
from shore, the village glimpsed a final time
your life as short and vivid as a leaping fish.
I was born in Egypt, and moved around a lot as a child and young person. I came to Newcastle in the 70s and have lived in the north ever since – mostly in Darlington, a town which can’t make up its mind whether it’s in Durham, North Yorkshire or Teesside. This shiftiness suits me, but, like it or not, I am a northerner now.
You may track us wild, rutting among pulled up lines,
buttercupped in Summer on embankments of unlinkingness,
beside your roads paying their toll of tarmac to Winter.
Each pothole would prise laughs from the navvies, steam
hissing from sinews; each clack of a pick like the click
of a kettle. Not that they’d know one end of a plugged-in
boiler from the other. The tea they supped was served up
with a whistle from a funnel’s sooted black mouth.
An arm bridging borders, built by might, set with spit,
undone by slight of soft hand and calculating digits.
We drank as the shoreline lapped at Plashetts’ last stand.
I was born and raised in Middlesbrough, an impossible – and impossibly Northern – town! I now live further North in Cullercoats and if I’m being honest, far too much of my output is rooted in Northernness – what it means to be from here and how it affects the way we all interact with the world. My recent collection Northern Lights is effectively a collective love-letter to the people of the North East. This poem looks at the history of the still-visible former Border Counties rail line linking Northumberland to Scotland, now partially under Kielder Water.
Our horizon had wheels. Tunnels emptied beneath our feet.
Coal seamed through our community like bone – its history
written on the leftover women, children and men.
Grandad grew roses – their beauty strange against his skin,
petals making angels against his rough coat. At night, his
stalks of rhubarb sang their growing songs, haunted the glass
with spindled ghosts – sat tart and sugared upon our tongues,
cutting through the stodge. Everything here was tied to the pits.
Their death was told on picket lines. There was only dust left.
I dreamed of Scarborough spilling in miniature
from the cliff. I saw the sand and seafront shops. I smiled.
I was born in the north, live in the north and love the north passionately. I grew up in the Dearne Valley in South Yorkshire and as a teenager witnessed the miner’s strike and its aftermath. Our holidays were cheap and cheerful trips to surrounding seaside places such as, Whitby, Bridlington and Scarborough, where I was married. To this day, when I hear brass band music (I used to play in the Barnsley Metropolitan Youth Band) I burst into tears, the feelings and memories are so strong.
Ask, why I carve feathers to the spike of knives
when men are too busy to read. I should be bricking
windows into arrow-slots; should be bending
yew to longbows. The year roars with blood,
the murder of faith, and enemies close, closer.
Kings hammer mistrust into swords, demand
battle songs, and the world deafens with terror
of one’s neighbour. I turn to words.
Their little lamps will outlive my flicker,
that of lords, and of this current fear. I grind
gall, vinegar, hone my quill. Feed the dark age with light.
I come from the DIY ethic of punk. Originally from the south, I left home at 18. Drawn by the gravitational force of the North, I found a natural home in its attitude of can-do, will-do, screw-you-if-you-say-we-can’t do. There’s something in the water. Maybe it’s the radical histories, because it is here that I’ve discovered my words and how to scrawl gobby ink across the page. Strength; not in adversity, but in resistance.
He came from the north carrying an axe with a hunger
that had bit through forests of oak and Scots pine, until
there was nothing left but scrub and stone, a straggle
of blackthorn, the low yellow creep of gorse.
He came to dig through layers of time with bare hands,
sand and lime, rip at the seams of the earth with his teeth,
made the mud bleed a brackish rust, foraged in the gullet
for red rocks to feed the fury of the furnace, clocked in
clocked out, returned soot-sodden to his black house, to
Mary, waiting, with hot butteries, strong milky tea and
eleven tiny gnashing mouths.
I grew up in Corby, an industrial town in north Northamptonshire where many Scottish migrants settled, finding employment in the local steelworks and nearby ironstone quarries. My great grandfather was a lumberjack from Banff who travelled south to Corby with his wife and eleven children to find work. In this midlands town I grew up surrounded by a diluted Scots dialect and ate butteries sent down from Aberdeen. My north was translocated and mediated, but I feel it still, pulling like the pole or star.
This is them learning the nature of glaciers. Scrambling
through the Kettlewell slit, Doc-footed, can-kicking sure,
mild piss whiff making them laugh so far from the Fiesta
engine idling at the school gates. The reach and roll-down of a window.
Sitting back in a sun-necked stretch hearing about deep lungs
of limestone sucking away below their bodies and old lead-mines
nudging those hard-edged caverns. Restless tongues poking the weird
sweetness from deadnettle flowers. And they’re sketching the U-shaped valley.
One girl, pencil-as-baton, conducts a sweep of the drystone spines
barrelling like a half-pipe, swooping like a beck-side rope swing.
Rolling over, rock under belly, she’s thinking of ‘Galena’ for a girl.
I was born in Fulford Maternity Hospital in York, nearly 6 weeks late, dry as a bone and with the angriest scream the midwives had ever heard. A few months later York was plunged into the heatwave of 1976. I sometimes think we were baked into place at that time. My childhood memories are the cream-stone landscape of York’s streets: schooldays, Saturday jobs, afternoons jostling with friends in fields by the Ouse… I joined the Army after university and didn’t come home. Now a mum myself, I am moving my family North to settle in York for good.
Flowered calico, lilac-sprigged,
the fabric worn by Betty Burke,
reproduced for Jacobite ladies
by an enterprising manufacturer in Leith;
and, after Culloden, a sute of new highland cloaths
the better to disguise him –
Lady Borrodale’s Gift
to the young Pretender – her bonnie tartan.
In the bedroom on Skye, sheets of fine linen
reaching the mud of the earth when it rains,
kept by his conductress, and buried with her.
The North means Scotland, and more specifically, Dundee, to me. I came here 32 years ago from Northern Ireland and immediately felt at home, perhaps because my father’s family are from the clan McFarland. His ancestors emigrated to Northern Ireland in the eighteenth century. Although our family tree fades into a past of replicated first-names and amorphous spellings, clan loyalty was staunch and my father’s absolute passion was his North – Scotland. He would be thrilled to know that I have recently written a libretto based on the life of Flora MacDonald, my 821 poem is inspired by this research.
Above, each arch weighs skyward,
suspending the land beneath:
the stillness of the river’s flow,
the restless shifting of the trees.
Below, my mind stumbles, falling,
like some inverted vertigo.
Time parts, then joins, flows on around
this mid-stream landmark, standing fast.
Waiting for a revolution
to call it back into the world.
Rising, unstained by industry.
I spent four years at university in Durham – following a sequence that had seen my brother go to university in the South and my sister in the Midlands from the family home on the South Coast. I would have liked to stay, but ultimately had to come south for work. Walking out of the city beside the Wear one day, I came upon a viaduct, unattached to any other sign of human existence. I only saw it once, but it has stayed with me as part of my landscape of the North.
The ghosts have been evicted from the disused mills
whose floors are rattled by different shuttles
conducting sheets plaster-board and clear glass that glints when tilted
Northwards, framing the stuttering narrowboats below.
Bare brick interiors re-point the past towards the future –
rolled steel rulers columnise the spaces
tabulating the profit and loss.
Oh the souls are out and about, down and out
weaving through courtyards and underneath arches
and joining with revellers from all night parties
Permanently within the fabric.
Having been born in Oldham and lived all my life in the North, I have witnessed many changes to Manchester’s cityscape however I am reluctant to view these as entirely negative as they seem to illustrate the region’s innovative strength and its ability to adapt. Alongside this however, I strongly believe that the area’s industrial pride should never be forgotten and that future generations should forever hear echoes of those working class voices whose labours within the textile industry shaped so many of our great cities. These voices – so often stifled, ignored or legislated against at the time – remain part of our Northern story and I embrace their power.
Just before moving east along Elswick Road towards the town,
I recall Barney’s pie shop and sitting on top of a drier in the coin-
operated launderette, my plastic banjo with its laughing mouth
doubling as the sound-hole: everything was in tune back then,
even the thinnest string sang its song. When winter takes hold
look past the ice inside the windows, trace petals with your finger,
point to the sky, never fall silent. Always remember to bleach
the front step, she said, because more walk past than ever come in.
For each of us held in the brine of north, is held as bone, as bird,
a direction – yes, but beyond dial and trajectory, it is our home;
a score in the darkness, fifty throats thrown open to the sky.
My north is warmth and home and love. It is geraniums in pots in back yards. My north is a lake of security I carry inside. It is terraced streets and building sites. My north is a slope running down to a quiet river. It is mine and mine alone. Each of us has it, shaped like us it speaks its truth from deep inside and burns bright through the darkness. My north. My song.