Humber reflections: Sean O'Brien on how city of culture has inspired poets

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Celebrated poet Sean O’Brien will launch the BBC’s coverage of Hull’s City of Culture year on Sunday 15 January on Radio 4 with a reflection on his native city, its waterscape and landscape, and how it has inspired poets past and present.

O’Brien, who grew up in Hull, won the Forward prize in 2001, and both the Forward and TS Eliot prizes in 2007 for his collection The Drowned Book. Starting with memories of digging holes in the garden of the house where he grew up, via flood-cellars, culverts and drains, the smaller river Hull and the great estuarine river Humber itself, the programme culminates with O’Brien at the top of the disused lighthouse at Spurn Point, gazing out into the North Sea.

The programme, titled I, by the Tide of Humber, also features a specially commissioned new poem from O’Brien that includes these lines:

 

                                        The great void

     Where the land loses track of itself,

     And the water comes sidling past at the roadside

 

     Awaiting the signal to flood, is a kind of belief

     Where there is no belief, is the great consolation

     Of knowing that nothing will follow but weather and tides,

 

     Yet also that when the world ends

     There must be a Humber pilot keeping watch

     As the great ships are passing silently away

 

     Through the estuary's mouth and the saw-toothed marriage

     Of river and sea, and out past the fort at Bull Island

     And over the edge, and away

 

The programme also celebrates the work of poets who have made the city their home: Andrew Marvell, a line from whose 17th century poem, ‘To His Coy Mistress’, gives this programme its title; Philip Larkin, Stevie Smith and others. O’Brien brings in an eclectic range of music, including his personal favourite, Dirty Water, by local band the Fabulous Ducks, and hears from Hull-based geographer Chris Skinner, and poet Sarah Stutt. You can hear the programme on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday 15 January at 4.30pm

 

PHOTOGRAPH: GREG FREEMAN / WRITE OUT LOUD 

 

 

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