The Poetry Society’s own collaborations with the Canal & River Trust have been quietly ticking along during lockdown – we’ve got a project underway in Sheffield, another one in Sefton, and are beginning to think about how a new Canal Laureate role might work with all the discoveries we’ve made this last year about the importance of the natural world on our doorsteps. Always on the look-out for canal-loving poets, we were intrigued to discover Bradford poet Sharena Lee Satti who has been working with the Canal & River Trust and a group of students from Leeds University on new poems. We asked her to tell us about her relationship with the canal network; she writes –
‘As a child I had frequently visited my local canal, walking along the footpath to reach Shipley Glen, where we would play in the stream at the bottom of the woodland area. Jumping over the pebbled stones covered in a sticky moss. We would cross the pebbles to reach the other side.
I lost all connection to these once fond childhood memories until it was time for me to rediscover. Covid came from nowhere, and I do not think anyone could have predicted what was to lie ahead. When lockdown came into place, I felt a piece of me slip away, I was worried about all the hard work I had put into building me and my confidence and building my own creative practice that I would lose all that I had previously overcome. I was worried about the impact of having time out from working in a people environment and how that would affect me. I did not want to go back to being the person I was.
Yet It was in this pause that I found solace and peace within nature; I took this time for me. I have always loved nature, but I had been so busy that time seem to bolt like lightning from one day to the next and I never had enough time to sit and absorb what I was doing, let alone go for a walk in nature. It was at this time I found a new peace, a new love, a new home.
The Leeds to Liverpool canal became a part of me. In lockdown I would go for a jog on the canal every other day, if I were not jogging then I was walking, it was not walking I was exploring new paths that weaved in and out of the canal. This place became my whole 2020. I learned so much about the seasons as I watched spring arrive and everything came alive. All the dark empty twigs that looked so lifeless throughout winter was emerging into this beautiful canvas of art. The thing about the first lockdown came at a time when the weather was changing, and visiting the canal was like visiting the beach, like watching your favourite Netflix series, or attending a musical concert. The birds became my new favourite song to listen to too. I watched the baby calves appear, from what once were their mothers’ full bellies. They became my new favourite series to watch, as they jumped and hopped around the fields, looking at me in curiosity and me looking at them in awe.
The canal became more of me than I was of it. The canal became my inspiration within my creative practice. I found myself writing about nature, about the canal. I was writing positively to leave good energy and to allow others to feel that calmness and serenity that I felt. Sharing my experiences through poetry to inspire others to visit too.
The canal helped me stay connected, through mindfulness in such a world of confusion. This period of my life was filled with smiles from the people, the passers-by, the dog walkers, the joggers, the parents with their children, the bike riders, the people on the canal. We all walked or ran or explored for the same reason. To be free, to connect to nature to the outdoors. To be in this beautiful uplifting space.
The canal was my gym, my sea, my poetry script. It became a huge part of me, and this led me to contacting my local Canal and River trust, to share my experiences and show how deeply fortunate we are to have our canal. I wanted to share my link to the canal and poetry. My love of both then led me to meet some of the team at the Canal & River Trust, and we collaborated on a workshop together: poetry by the canal at the docks in Leeds. It was surreal to sit on the steps and to teach the students what I love in a place that I love: poetry and the canal.
We are so lucky to have this.
My dear canal
by Sharena Lee Satti
I have watched you blossom in all seasons
A place of hope and new meaning
I have watched vibrant branches, shed their leaves
From autumn reds to copper trees
Listening to the ducks squawking amongst the breeze
I have watched the cows lay upon the fields
As their new borns are revealed
I have watched baby cygnets grow
Spreading their wings as they take their first swim
The happiness that it brings, the smiles from passers by
The warmth, the peace, the sweet release of life
My dear canal
I thank you for being my hope in lockdown
When restrictions were made
And we couldn’t leave our town
You were full of creative inspiration
And helped ease the discomfort of isolation
You became the arms of comfort
Like a mother’s heart beating
You kept us believing
That better days will arrive
My dear canal I thank you
For the positive impact you have had on my life
Visit Sharena’s website for details of her latest events and publications.