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Anthology of the sea, ed. Eve Lacey, Emma Press

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I landed belatedly on this collection and I’m kicking myself for not exploring it earlier. As a non-swimmer with a sensible wariness of water, I do enjoy the sea – from a distance. Some of these well-chosen poems plunge you right in and under the water and are gripping but somewhat scary. Others skirt the edges of the sea or bob about on its surface, leaving me feeling slightly safer if a bit queasy. But what a collection it is.

Editor Eve Lacey has divided them into waves of words – Ashore, Adrift, Awash and Avast - interspersed with gorgeous watery washes of illustration by Emma Press founder Emma Wright. There is a huge range of writers included from all walks of life, from different countries, from coast dwellers to the landlocked.

As Lacey points out, the language of the sea is all of its own. There are words here I had come across before but of which I had only a vague understanding. I needed a dictionary a couple of times. But I was transported by each and every poem, and some simply enveloped me in wetness and mystery. Claire Booker’s ‘Above the Waters – Arran’ is as fine a piece of descriptive writing as you’ll find in 16 lines:


     sea-glass breaks


     flint-backed, tumbling

     in the fish-gutted strait hundreds skip

     a ring o’ roses round the coves

     then plough from view

     behind the headland’s granite levitation.


Katherine Gallagher’s ‘The Lifeboat Shed’, inspired by the RNLI base at Aldeburgh, conjures up the calm before the storm as visitors think about the oldest organised lifesavers, that we take for granted. Diana Whitney’s ‘Outer Heron’ paints such a cold, grey, salty picture of the Atlantic that I could taste it, even though she is writing about Maine which I haven’t visited. ‘Missing’ by Rebecca Goss fed my deepest fears:


     When they didn’t return

     I fussed at my table,

     pictured surge and crash –

     the lesser bodies

     of man and grandson

     in water’s toss.


Two of my favourites feature whales and bearing in mind the beaching of these glorious creatures in New Zealand and elsewhere in the past few years I found them profoundly moving. ‘52 Hertz’ by Ellie Danak:


     What you hear is an echo of my song

     Sinking soft though water’s dark slates.

     It comes from the deepest cave, my chest.

     Eight beats a minute, this cry

     swims through skin, it crosses gulfs

     searching for love. My elephant

     tongue salt-licks a phantom fin.

     Distant clicks slow my blood.


Sophie S Wright’s ‘Whalesong’ is a rhythmic, throbbing soundscape punctuated with “I I I” and dotted with hyphenations. Glorious. ‘Death of a Dandy-Prat’ (Angela Kirby) and ‘Bury Your Dead’ by Amy McAuley made me shiver while ‘Salt Drought Mound, by Julie Maclean, written about Lake Eyre in central Australia, is better than a painting:


     A giant eel heaves itself from the core

    of this artesian heart

    its scoria body encrusted with salt diamonds

    Folds of skin are moist to the touch

    from the seep of feeling springs

    while roots of salt bush suck the last drop

    and the illusion of ice spreads

    over us


Brian Grant’s ‘Now all of us are closer to the sea’ closes the collection with a warning of what is coming if we don’t change our global behaviour.


     … a rot of ice defrosting in the breach –

     the melting water’s millimetre seep

     comes crawling up on us – recalls us to the deep –

     as the tide in tiny increments extends a graven reach

     and all of us are closer to the beach –


Astonishingly, this is his first published poem. A wondrous collection. Judy Gordon


The Emma Press anthology of the sea, edited by Eve Lacey, Emma Press, £10


◄ 'The broken pieces, made whole again, merged into two reconstructed hearts'

Penguin to publish Adrian Mole's collected poetry ►

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