Beneath the rain-shadow and washed farmhouses,
in the service of the old shore,
we waited for the rising of the road,
the south lane laden in sand,
the north in residue and wrack;
the tide drawing off the asphalt
leaving our tyres little to disperse;
still, the water under wheel was forceful –
cleft between the chassis and the sea –
that clean division that the heart rages for.
But halfway out the destination ceases to be the prize,
and what matters is the sudden breadth of vision:
to the north, a hovering headland,
to the south, a shoal of light –
the sea off-guarded, but hunting:
our licence brief, unlikely to be renewed.
Between mainland and island, in neither sway,
a nodding of the needle as the compass takes its weigh.
When the city exhausts you, when your marriage
is raw, and the young one cannot help himself
but drive you somewhere in,
pull back a while,
and take in mind the train ride into Anglia,
its northward draw across the muds at Manningtree,
where tide is tipping at the breach, the swans at gyre,
the sunlight slamming off the water
and into your eyes,
till you shield them for the longer view,
for what lies out on the river’s rope,
the sea loosened and at call,
your breath hauling within you,
woken from the carriage into light.
The Blackbird of Spitalfields
Four a.m. undone. No lock-ins, no vans
about their rounds, no running gangs,
just phrase on phrase of traffic heading north,
and up above the maze of roofs, a blackbird’s flute,
unable to distinguish night from day.
Is it light or land that has him sing,
or fuss for unreached company? And still,
for all his thirds and major fifths,
his song not song, but simple call and speech.
Nothing sings together on this earth but us.
What is west but water.
What is west but the end of land and light.
What is there but the day rerun,
the replaying of wake and darkness.
Nothing on my line but Ladye Bay and Southerndown,
nothing but Mizen Head and ocean.
When the westerlies come I’ll not be facing
the Atlantic’s mind of nothing.
All I seek is a window to the east
a square of sunrise, not a shading sea.
What is west but our morning shadow,
the place you are behind me.
1. Causeway 5
2. The Sea Stick 6
3. Beck 8
4. Wastwater 9
5. A White Hart at Sykeside 10
6. All there ever is 12
7. Call 13
8. Stones 14
9. The Long Snow 21 Lone 22
1. Anglia 27
2. Iken 28
3. A Harnser for James 29
4. Winterton Ness 32
5. I will lift up my eyes 34
6. Where narrow water widens 36
7. The Island 37
8. Rooks 38
9. The Staithe 41 Deor 42
1. The Blackbird of Spitalfields 47
2. The Diomedes 48
3. Commute 49
4. Losing Time 50
5. Animal 52
6. The Collect 54
7. The Fox Runner 56
8. Leaves 57
9. A Bluebird for Rose 67 Wulf 68
1. West 71
2. A Red Hairband in Iveragh 72
3. Cara 74
4. Four Roads 75
5. Landlock 76
6. The Mansion 78
7. Hedge Bird 79
8. Havener 80
9. Headland 89 Ruin 90
Place notes 93
Praise for Ground Water
‘Matthew Hollis’s first collection of poems introduces us to his wonderfully elegant and assured voice. Comforting and enlightening by turn, these poems deal with some conventional issues of love and loss with a beauty and fluidity rare in young poets.’ – Whitbread Poetry Award judges
‘Matthew Hollis has put together a debut collection of striking accomplishment and emotional range.’ – The Guardian
‘The most interesting book of poems I read this year was Matthew Hollis’s Ground Water, a debut collection full of quietly evocative meditations on landscape and loss.’ – D.J. Taylor, The Spectator, Books of the Year
‘Affecting, redolent with sorrow but resolutely tough-minded.’ – David Harsent, Poetry Book Society Bulletin
‘Matthew Hollis shows an impressive confidence in the promptings of the imagination and no desire at all to ingratiate himself. Craft, not attitude, is what counts. Poems are sometimes called “quiet” when really they’re inaudible. His are genuinely quiet, drawing in the ear to enjoy, for example, his artful rendering in slowed folk-song rhythm of the terror and excitement of floods.’ – Sean O’Brien, Sunday Times
‘Hollis is a lyric poet, quietly musical, ever thoughtful.’ – Roddy Lumsden, Poetry London
‘Hollis’s language is often scrupulous and surprising: he relishes the words as he puts them down, without preening.’ – Anthony Thwaite, Daily Telegraph
‘Ground Water is never sentimental, a tribute to the author’s attention to the way in which he makes the language of his poetry an event in itself… it announces Matthew Hollis as a fascinating prospect.’ – Stephen Knight, The Times Literary Supplement
‘Also impressive is Matthew Hollis’s Ground Water, which draws on the flat, watery landscape of East Anglia to produce elegant poems of love and loss.’ – Christina Patterson, The Independent, Books of the Year
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