‘The skitter and splash of the sculler’s oars’: a new poem commission

Here’s a new canal poem, commissioned from Joseph Butler, a commended poet in the 2017 National Poetry Competition – and a canal-boat dweller.

We thought Joseph the perfect choice to write about wellbeing on the water – a cause which is increasingly important to the Canal & River Trust which supports our Canal Laureate project, and to all those who seek relaxation on the towpath. We asked him to reflect on his waterside life and work.

‘When The Poetry Society approached me to discuss the commission,’ he writes ‘we talked about how living on the  canal is the perfect antidote to my work as a nurse. I work  on a cancer ward in a busy hospital in Oxford; but I cycle  home every evening to my boat – which is moored on the South  Oxford Canal. I said something about the place of the canal  in ‘maintaining my sanity’, and the response was: ‘Great! Write about that …’

There’s a fabulous phrase, which used to appear on signboards in Thrupp, about passing moored boats  at ‘tickover speed’. I’ve used it as a title – and in the  epigraph – to the poem, because it so exactly encapsulates  what’s great about canal-living: the pace, and  interconnectedness, of life on the water … that sense of  being intimately linked to a world which keeps to very different rhythms from the ones we humans have adopted …’

Joseph Butler is a blacksmith, boat-builder, poet and nurse.

His work reflects a lifelong interest in the links between creativity and wellbeing. He has led participatory arts events across a range of media, including creative writing workshops in schools, prisons, hospitals and colleges of higher education. He lives in a narrowboat on the South Oxford Canal. www.blacksmith-poet.co.uk

Read ‘Tickover Speed’ here.