The Oystercatcher

Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers

The previous post focussed on the centuries old tradition of shell-fishing in the estuary but we have competition from nature.

Wander along the Teign estuary and you can’t fail to notice one of the iconic birds of the river – the oystercatcher.  The flashes of their bright orange bills sprinkle the Salty and the mudflats exposed on the ebbing tide.

The Oystercatcher
(Keats Ghost)

Coax a cockle from its cradle of sand,
muscle a mussel off a seaweed strand,
shuck open an oyster if you can …..
….. the oystercatcher can.

The oystercatcher’s tough enough
shuffling and scuffling each seaweed tuft,
sieving the mud and sand and stuff
of the Salty at low tide.

The shrill, the noise of oystercatchers
stilting boisterous on the Salty’s thatch,
thrilling at the bounteous catch
of fruits de mer ….. with samphire on the side.

With mincing gait and shrug of the wing
they’re cocks-of-the-walk as they sift and sing,
drifting where the mussels cling
and the cockles and oysters hide.

Coax a cockle, muscle a mussel,
shuck open an oyster if you can …..
….. the oystercatcher can.

Check out alsoThe Oystercatchers Cafe

Mussel Boat

Mussel Boat

Mussel Boat

We have had some verse and song about oysters and cockles on the river Teign.  Now it’s the turn of the mussel.  Mussels have been harvested from early times, either as a cheap source of food or as bait for fishermen.  One particular mussel farm on the river can be traced back almost a thousand years.

Born into a family of musselmen, Syd Hook recalled in 2006: ’There were mussel beds all up the river.  It would take 10 men working on a sprat swain, and to keep the crew together, the owner would have mussels up the river to keep them from catching the sprats.’  Nowadays there are just two or three mussel men remaining.

Once, the seine boats were used for collecting mussels – they were fitted with sails to get to the mussel beds.  Now the farming is done from a mussel boat.

Mussel Boat
(Virginia Griem)

One of those pearly mornings
when the mist falls light on the river
and there is no sky,
the mussel boat is out.
It floats in that space neither water nor air
where mirage appear.
Yet it’s real enough,
seeding the channels,
laying down spat small as a fingernail
on the mussel beds.
Raising the racks of sharp edged shells,
bearded and barnacled, for sorting and grading.
The dead, the broken, crushed in a
mess of orange and black;
mussel flesh smeared
on the deck with
the mud and the rust.
There is no town – no bridge – no sea
on this cold spring morning,
only a mussel boat
cloaked in a mist of mother-of-pearl.

For more information check out:

Mussels on the Teign ….

Beaver Soul 27

Beaver Soul

Beaver Soul

We continue the theme of the Teign and come up to date now with a poem by an American author and poet, Judy Hogan.  This poem is number 27 in a book called Beaver Soul, a collection of meditations evoked by a closely observed world of nature ranging from the Haw River in North Carolina to the Russian countryside of Kostroma, and ending on the banks of the River Teign in Devon, England.

This was written on October 13th 1992 by the river Teign near Sandy Ford.  So this is not strictly within the Teignmouth area but it is inspired by the river that makes Teignmouth what it is today.  It is the first of three poems inspired by the Teign in the Beaver Soul collection; the others will be posted in future weeks.

Beaver Soul 27
(Judy Hogan)

And what is love?  To be human
is to allow It to pierce you with
Its tender arrows, though you
feel certain you will die.
Only we don’t die.  We live
more vividly.  Life without Love
is like a stream bed through
which no water runs; like a
house without a clock that
chimes the hours so musically
that you wait eagerly for the
next one.  Or like an afternoon
sitting on the bank of a small
river without sun to intensify
the green of grasses and mosses,
to lift the warm brown of the
sand, patient between the black
hulks of the rocks, into view.
You can have all the love you
want if you aren’t greedy; if
you can live with a certain number
of absurd hours in every day;
if you understand that sarcasm
on the beloved’s tongue is his
way of keeping himself from
aching too much; if you’re
clear about where your own
heart has rooted itself, no
matter how many miles from
home you are.  After suffering,
and then paradox, and then
more suffering; after you’ve
yielded all the fruits, and watched
the leaves turn brown and drop
off, one after another; after
your blood has had to retreat
from the terrible, frozen wastes
of winter, and Zeus never pelted
his Greeks with ice like you’ve
had your soft skin pelted, then
you learn the truth of Love:
how it lives with its own whimsy
and its own secret power, beyond
thought, beyond reason, beyond
understanding.  It doesn’t even
require to be fed or given to
drink in the long famine.
Drought It already knew about and
was prepared for.  Memory held
It safe below the water’s surface.
You might be full of despair
but your heart, its roots
tucked into Love’s power, never
lost faith.  It accepts Evil
and Good, the Hate that Love can
mask His face with.  It bides
Its time.  And Time, for Love,
is redemptive.  The river has to
keep rushing, but the stones and
their mosses stay.  The sand will
be there.  The roots are persistent.
They know what we forget:
that only such tender moments
of clear-eyed seeing into each
other’s souls matter.  Only
those times last.  The rest passes,
like water.  The sand may shift,
but it stays; it knows.  The rocks
have their memory, too.  And
every year the graceful grasses
stretch up because the sun,
of course, leans down.

Copyright© Judy Hogan

If you want to know more, check out:

Judy Hogan …..
Beaver Soul …..

Poly-Olbion

Poly-Olbion Cover Page

Poly-Olbion Cover Page

It’s been a quiet few months on the blog site but now the book is completed and back from the printers it is time to get back to some more regular blogging here ….. and there is a backlog of poems to catch up on!

I have a selection of new pieces related to the river Teign, starting with one that has its origins back in 1598 – Poly-Olbion.  Written by Michael Drayton, it was otherwise known as “A chorographicall description of all the tracts, rivers, mountaines, forests, and other parts of this renowned isle of Great Britaine and is an extraordinary poetic journey through the landscape, history, traditions and customs of early modern England and Wales.

It is written as a series of 30 ‘Songs’ in alexandrine couplets totalling 15000 lines.  No I am not going to reproduce the whole of it, only the section of 10 lines relating to the river Teign (or ‘Ting’ as it’s described in the Song).  You’ll also see a reference to the river Lemon which flows into the Teign at Newton Abbot.

Poly-Albion – extract

‘Ting (whose banks were blest
By her beloved nymph dear Leman) which addrest,
And fully with herself determined before
To sing the Danish spoils committed on her shore,
When hither from the east they came in mighty swarms,
Nor could their native earth contain their numerous arms,
Their surcrease grew so great, as forced them at last
To seek another soil, as bees do when they cast;
And by their impious pride how hard she was bested,
When all the country swam with blood of Saxons shed.’

The above extract has been taken from:  Devon, its Moorlands, Streams and Coasts by Rosalind Northcote.

For more information check out:

Poly-Olbion …..
Michael Drayton …..

Images from the Bridge of Si’s

poetry festival coverLast weekend saw yet another fantastic Poetry Festival in Teignmouth.  Thanks to Jenny, Ronnie, Virginia, Graham and Ian for so much hard work and the tremendous effort in bringing this to fruition each year.

In the last two years I have written something to mark the festival (2014 – Poet Clan and 2015 – Matt Harvey, the Kipper and the Kenning).  So a tradition has been born.  This year’s poem is about the opening night when three performers – Susan Taylor, Simmon Williams and Simon Barron – put on a tour de force about the sea and shore.

There were three aspects I enjoyed especially:  such a rich range and variety of content and style;  the lyricism of the poetry was complemented by the sounds of the extraordinary guitar playing of Simon Barron in his rendering of sea-songs and the amazing mystical power of the Tibetan ocean drum (a musical oxymoron?!) which features as a reprise in this poem; and, finally, Susan’s flowing movements when reading that helped to bring the poetry to life.  Susan was like the flow of water through the bridge arches of the two Simons.

For those of you who attended that evening you should recognise the references.  For everyone  else, trying to condense a two hour performance into two minutes is not easy and this may seem a bit like a weird surreal dream, but that is why the poem is described as ‘images’.

Images from the Bridge of Si’s

Well Met Susan Taylor,
Simon Williams and Simon Barron;
Susan on the bridge of Si’s –
hear the sighs of the sea
and the swirl of the curl
of the estuary shore,
on a night to remember.

Hear the swish, the swoosh
of the ocean wash
from the ocean drum …
and the thrum of the heart of the fisherman
cupped in the claws of the skeleton woman,
ripped yet beating still …
See the goddess fingers, severed,
dip and dive,
coming alive as schools of seals and whales.
Inuit tales.
Fairy tales of the Tylwyth Teg.
Mermaids who take off their tails
and walk for a while
with a wink and a nod,
a McGonagall smile
at the Dawlish Seawall and Rail …. Disaster.

Hera the swish, the swoosh
of the ocean wash
from the ocean drum …
when the Sandman comes
at the time of the tide
of the ‘void of course’ moon.
Spermataphores of cephalopods.
Seamen’s songs
of wild young men and raffish lads,
stout infant fish of forty days.
There’s red port left!
So, heave away
into the bay of Valparaiso
where you’ll fall for the lust of a Spanish lass,
long gone those girls …. of Plymouth.

Hear the swish, the swoosh
of the ocean wash
from the ocean drum …
– it’s Tibetan, you know –
on a night to remember.

Exciting News

Cover imageIt has been a little while since the last post mainly because I have been busy putting together a selection of these poems into a book “Pebbles on the Shore”, which is currently at the printers.

Poetry and Song have long been a traditional way of recording stories of people and events, as an alternative way of remembering.  So, with that in mind, each piece of verse in the book has a brief story attached to tie it in to its place in the shaping of Teignmouth and the surrounding area.  I have also worked with a local artist, Maureen Fayle, who has illustrated the various pieces.  Her superb pen and ink sketches lend so much more depth to the stories that unfold.

Fresh to Bleed 13-cropThe selection goes back almost 400 years but there are a few contemporary pieces as well so thanks to the ‘modern-day’ contributors for allowing me to include their work:  Ian Chamberlain (one of the co-founders of Poetry Teignmouth), Kim Edwards, Bob Freshwater (and the Back Beach Boyz), Deborah Harvey, Barbara Hine, Don Pearson and Tacy Rickard.

Teignmouth 27 - cropped1This project started just over two years ago with a thought and a question. Walking up the cliff path through the beautiful Mules Park in East Teignmouth I saw a poem, The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy, posted on the noticeboard. Who put it there I don’t know, but it struck a chord. My thoughts drifted to Keats. Teignmouth is proud of its association with John Keats even though he stayed here only three months whilst looking after his brother Tom who had come earlier in hope that the sea air would alleviate, if not cure, his consumption. Then came the random question – were there any other poems or poets associated with Teignmouth? And so this project was born.

The journey to this book has been like a walk along the beach, occasionally finding interesting pebbles whose shape, texture and colour define the shoreline like poems marking time in the history of Teignmouth.

 

Falling Down

Muse

Muse

This is a lament of a different kind today.  Thanks to Matt Bellamy of Muse for allowing me to reproduce the lyrics here of the song “Falling Down”.  It reflects the feelings of growing up in a small seaside town, but it could also symbolise the angst of youth and the place where they live wherever it may be in the country.

It caused a bit of a stir when it was released as part of the Showbiz album.  But as local councillor and youth worker Mary Kennedy reflected at the time:

“I think we should listen to what young people say about the town and try and make it more appealing for them …. it is surprising how many want to come back after they have travelled around a bit and seen other parts of the country”

Falling Down
(Matt Bellamy, Muse)

I’m falling down, and 15,000 people scream
They were all begging for your dream

I’m falling down, 5,000 houses burning down, yeah
No-one is gonna save this town

[Chorus #1]
Too late, I already found what I was looking for
You know it wasn’t here, no it wasn’t here

I was calling your name
But you wouldn’t hear me sing
You wouldn’t let me begin

So I’m crawling away
‘Cuz you broke my heart in two, yeah
No I will not forget you

[Chorus #2]
Too late, I already found what I was looking for
You know it wasn’t you. No, it wasn’t you. No

Falling away, you never see me fall
No I could not forget you

Falling down, a thousand houses burning down
No-one is gonna save this town

[Chorus #2]

[Outro]
Falling down, now the world is upside down
I’m heading straight for the clouds

For more information check out:

Falling Down – commentary …..
Muse – the Band …..
Muse – street art …..