It looked old as the rock. It was mottled brick-red
And chalked pinkish-white, like a fresco
In a dark church. Its fluke was etched
Delicately greenish-pink; its side
Rose, a black slag-heap, a hill of cinders,
Red oxides, oily residues and clinker.
We were drawn to it. Huddled on the bank-top,
Facing the horizon, hunched against the wind
And cold, we stared and stared at it, in wonder.
Then the sea, with the noise of a great machine,
Rolled its dark bulk towards us and, graceful
As weed, it raised one flipper like a sign;
And the sea heaved; lifted its great weight, light
As a breath, or a gift – Here, take it.
Plenty Lang a Winter
Howway doon the harbour.
Gan off afore the dawn –
Plenty lang a winter
T’ lay abed aa’ morn.
Plenty lang a winter,
Naen salmon i’ the bay,
An’ lang eneugh asleep, lad,
When your livin’s rived away;
When your livin’s rived away, lad,
An’ the big man greeds your keep.
Plenty lang a winter.
Lang eneugh asleep.
These Boulmer tractors – Zetor, Fordson Major –
Strong as lions, rusted, scabbed and holed,
Their four-square iron shoulders hunched, are waiting
Here, on the winter beach, at the edge of the world
Where the reefs lie horizontal to the shore –
The North Reins, the South Reins, Marmouth Scars –
A ruled line. A wall. This is the end,
This village with no shop, no bus. The wind
Scours down the road where every door is shut,
As if everyone here had grown too old, worn out
From staring east, from watching for the men
To steam into sight like spring with their boxes of salmon.
The next stop is a Conservation Zone –
Tractors, trailers, tidied away. Gone
Over to nature, if anyone knew what that meant.
The tractors wait for a movement order. Then,
Though their exhausts are blown, their tyres bald,
Like the great-grandmothers of men, in ragged shawls,
Straining every muscle, two abreast,
Heaving the coble up the beach, stern first,
Stoic, relentless, inch by inch – they will
Judder to life and, roaring, smoking, wheels
Flinging up rotten weed, salt spray and stones,
Rise from the sea, and haul the last boat home.
20 Two Countries
21 This Far and No Further
33 An Ill Wind
41 The Ruined Thistles
69 A Short History of Bamburgh
4 Sea Roads
98 The Sea Road
101 Lovely Day
102 Coble Counting Song
104 The Wund an’ the Wetter
111 The Blue Lonnen
112 How the Coble Came to Be
114 The Bonny Boat
115 Building the Boat
118 Boulmer Tractors
120 No One Said a Word
122 Plenty Lang a Winter
125 The Old Boat
126 Sea, Sky, Stars
5 Coal Roads
128 The Dark Passages
132 Out of the Dark
133 On Seaham Headland
136 The Rooks
137 Lost Names
139 Lost Paths
140 Roads Out of Nowhere
141 The Blast
142 The Pitman’s Boot
143 The Pigeon Men
144 Turning the Tide
150 Durham Cathedral
151 Holy Island Arch
152 Beach Ride
153 When the Tide Comes In
157 Windmill Steads
158 The Whale
159 The Refuge Box
183 Glossary of Dialect and Unusual Words
'History as lifeblood… not as ghosts, but as part of the earth and of us' – Julia Copus.
'Katrina Porteous…celebrates what springs up, unbeautiful, between the cracks left by the post-industrial landscapes of the Northeast, celebrates the endurance of rocks and plant life...and implicitly, too, the survival of human beings as cultures and traditions struggle with change' – Pippa Little, Writing Women.
'She writes a kind of poetry that is regrettably becoming rare, a poetry with accurately observed natural furnishings, a freshness and clarity of language, each poem with its own tune' – Vernon Scannell, Daily Telegraph.
'A writer chronicling the life of the land through the stories of its marginalised people' – Alan Franks, The Times.
'Porteous is a highly sophisticated writer, which is what carries her work beyond folkloric nostalgia. To be as alert to tradition as she is requires her to be, paradoxically, utterly modern; which in turn, given her talents (in particular, very few poets can match her ear), makes her an important poet not just regionally but as an advocate of her adopted language to a larger literary readership' – Sean O’Brien, Northern Review.