Behind the back of the poet, the Bristol Channel performs an old magic trick.
At north fifty one thirty one thirty three by west two forty six fifty one, Denny Island marks the boundary between England and Wales. Below the high tide mark – anything wet, anything submerged – Denny Island is in England. Above – where the Great Black-Backed Gull comes to nest – it is in Wales.
On an unusually warm September morning, an even more unusual spectacle of a fata morgana (a mirage formed by the close layering of hot and cold air) transforms the predicament of Denny Island through various stages of ‘sea hill’ to space ship to levitating egg. By mid-morning, Denny Island is a floating ball of unbounded land, entirely Wales, entirely delivered from the sea.
I had to piece together this composite image from the backgrounds of my photographs of the morning, having not noticed the island lifting itself clear of the water until it had already confidently arrived at ‘lemon’. I had been preoccupied with the chatter on the boat’s radios, the priest, the bickering and the brews, the t-bar hook disgorger lowering over the painfully familiar face of a thornback ray hauled up from behind the dark murk of the Bristol Channel.
Earlier this year, I was commissioned by the Perspectives from the Sea Research Cluster at the University of Bristol to write a poem at sea. I set out from Portishead with a waterproof notebook and wrote anchored between Steep Holm, Flat Holm and Denny Island, letting the poem trail the 13-metre tidal lines of the channel (the second highest in the world, no less).
north fifty one thirty one thirty three by west two forty six fifty one is a sea prayer and prose poem written aboard a small fishing vessel in the middle of the Bristol Channel and first performed at Being at Sea on the 18th November 2015, as part of the Inside Arts Festival of the Arts and Humanities and Being Human.
The poem takes its form from ‘A Thankesgiuing for Mariner being safely landed’ in Thomas Dekker’s Foure Birds of Noahs Arke (London, 1609) which carries a refrain of impossible reversals, of bodies and boats being delivered safely from the sea – but also the threat of the promise to ‘sound foorth his Name even amongst Turks and Saracens: and send abroad the miracle of our deliverance to the furthest corners of the earth’.
The poem has been produced as a limited edition of 30 numbered and signed concertinaed pamphlets. There are a handful left after the first reading and If you’d like to have a copy posted to you or the seaprayer performed for you, let me know. Each poem comes with a foiled fata morgana on the cover, although I can’t promise it will lift lands or erase borders for you. For that another prayer needs to be answered.