Water calms, water carries, water hydrates and nourishes. It touches everyone’s life but for a boat-dweller like me, it’s the background to daily life, a means of travel and a soundscape – water rushing through a canal lock, or moving softly under the hull of my boat.
Water is never far away in poetry, from the Odyssey through the Rime of the Ancient Mariner to the best contemporary poetry – and this year it’s the theme of National Poetry Day Live, on Thursday 3rd October. As I’ve said in these pages before, there is a gap in the poetry of water. So much great work about the sea and about rivers – but not a lot on the subject of canals, a vital and poetic part of our UK landscape. The Poetry Society asked me who I would like to see contributing new canal poems: I nominated Ian McMillan, Liz Berry and Ian Duhig. Each of them has produced a new poem about the canals, based on a specific location, and each worked with film-maker Alastair Cook to create a new filmpoem, especially for National Poetry Day Live, a collaboration between the Poetry Society and the Southbank Centre.
You can see these films screened between 2 and 4.30pm at the Southbank Centre on 3rd October and also at Birmingham Literature Festival on 12th October; if not (or if you want a sneak preview) you can enjoy them here – in alphabetical order!
My poem, Lifted, is about canal locks in general but specifically about Lock 30 of the Trent & Mersey, near Roger Fuller’s boatyard in Stone, Staffordshire. This stretch of water is very familiar to me, and to anyone who travels that great arterial east-west waterway through the English Midlands. This footage was shot on my own boat by Alastair, who proved to be not only an artist but a keen and capable crew member.
It’s been wonderful to see these poems and films take shape. Their screening will be only a small part of the extravaganza which is National Poetry Day Live, at the Southbank Centre on 3rd October. As ever, the UK will be covered in poetry. In coming days we have a few more canal-related events to tell you about – watch this space for news!
Liz Berry’s film is a darker narrative, shot on location as all of these films were, at the Black Delph in the Black Country. Harking back to the canal ballads of the Victorian time, this has a Dickensian tragedy about it.
Ian Duhig’s poetry combines a deep learning with a lively wit, and a strong sense of Irish heritage as well as a need to honour the workers of a former age. His poem, Grand Union Canal, takes us to Paddington Basin in London.
Finally, Ian McMillan’s unmistakeable voice takes us to Stanley Ferry in West Yorkshire. Here, the aqueduct is the subject of his poem – shot, like all the others, on location by Alastair Cook.