Sea change | Brian Lewis

The photograph by Andrew Hirst is taken from his forthcoming collaboration with Matthew Clegg (provisionally titled Chalk), a series of meditations on the seascape and landscape of Flamborough Head, East Yorkshire. The poems and photographs will be published by Longbarrow Press later this year, coinciding with a performance of the work in one of the sea caves at Flamborough Head.

I travelled to Flamborough with Clegg in August 2010. We’d had it in mind to record four poems by him that plot a course through this eight-mile coastal promontory; poems that have matured over several years, and that, collectively, form the ‘last movement’ of his forthcoming collection, The Power-line. One of the aims of the Longbarrow recording programme is to capture a sense of place; the sounds of a particular environment, of course, but also the sound of the poet reading in (and therefore responding to) that environment. This presents a technical challenge for the sound recordist (finding a ‘sound-rich’ location and translating it successfully – high winds and busy roads can wreck a recording) and for the poet (interruptions and distractions – audible or not – will either result in a poor, unfocused reading or necessitate multiple takes). It took a little time to develop an approach to recording in Flamborough that could deliver results. A walk along the cliff-tops was converted by the sound recorder into several minutes of scuff and flutter. A tree-shadowed corner (with a picnic table for our scripts and kit) turned out to be a ramblers’ thoroughfare. The project didn’t find its focus until we moved down from the cliffs to the sea, and into a space that belongs to neither.

At the North Landing, beyond the sand and shoreline, over tidepools and rocks, we came to the first of the sea caves that Clegg had sought out. Removing our shoes, we picked our way through the flooded opening and towards the half-lit interior, our voices thrown in the unfamiliar space, the call-and-response testing the acoustic, sounding its depths. We decided to record a few poems, including the triple sonnet ‘Chalk’, for which Clegg worked up an introduction that drew upon the adjustments that our senses were making in the cave. Our awareness of the contingency of this space – the tide gaining as we stood there, negotiating on behalf of the sea – gave our work urgency and focus. We left with the recordings, and the beginnings of a new cycle of poems: the sensory impressions that Clegg had documented in the sea cave (some of which can be heard in his introduction to the recording of Chalk) would resurface a few months later as the basis of one of several twelve-line poems reflecting on cave time, past and present:

August 2010 (from Cave Time and Sea Changes)

The cave is the size of a parish church.
You enter the vestibule like a pilgrim
And address the North Sea as it drains back

Or spills forward, swell by swell. Here is traction
Engineered by the drag of sun and moon;
Resistance broken down by cold attrition.

Greens and ochres and cobalts ink the rock,
But offer no windows of light, no icon.
My mania was stilled here as a child.

I’d almost forgotten my slow approaches
To the sloshing sea mouth. Those seagull flocks
Were high notes rising from new-scored horizon.

Brian Lewis (essay) Matthew Clegg (poem) Andrew Hirst (photograph)

Listen to the poems Chalk (recorded in a sea cave at Flamborough Head) and The Fates  (recorded near the Flamborough cliff-tops) on SoundCloud.

3 Comments on “Sea change | Brian Lewis”

  1. Now That’s What I Call Poetry…

  2. Anne says:

    Unscored, they were free to sound out the sky, unpenned, uncaught, natural and unclever . . .

  3. Matt says:

    Anne, it seems you’ve just ‘scored’ them again… rather well.

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