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Image by Caroline Forbes

Poem introduction

In recent years I've returned in a poem to the area where I was born at Warsash near the Hamble River between Southampton and Portsmouth.

Strawberry Field

Strawberry Field

First, the old smell,
salt on the air, brings back
the river, mud-banks, shingle
thatched with weed and straw.
Crabshells. Tarred feathers.

A black-headed gull -

one is enough to transport you
over the river onto a gravel hard,
a caved-in concrete path,
which leads to a lane
between strawberry fields.

It is all a mixture of water,
soil ad air - boats
and flying boats,
Tiger Moths that are falling leaves,
swordfish drawing shadows
over the fields.

A boy with a sticky, red mouth
looks up from where he lies,
concealed between rows, tasting
a sweetness that will be mixed,
always, with sun-warmed dust,
the sharpness of gravel patterning
bare legs and arms.

He tastes words, too,
from which he will build a world:

shore
flotsam
gull
punnet
strawberry
cloche.

*

This was my mother's country.

I think she would know it still
for all the change - the Hamble River
visible among yachts,
where once, she said, at high tide,
a whale ventured upriver
as far as Botley, and ran aground. Tall tale, I said, uncertainly,
mixing history with myth.

She would know the names:
Swanwick, Bursledon, Park Gate.
Sarisbury Green, where she married,
and her father is buried.

I see her by the shore and in the fields,
a girl, a young woman picking strawberries,
a mother with a child.

She would laugh at the ferry:
a shock of pink called Emily,
her grand-daughter's name.
From Hamble to Warsash
it weaves among yachts
whose names she would relish:
Discovery, Artemis, Valhalla,
C'est moi - fibreglass
at moorings where once
Little Jesus rode, and Holy Ghost.
And hapless Grace Dieu,
a warship without a war,
her majesty leaking at a mud-berth,
lightning-struck, left to rot.
As boats we thought Viking
rotted in ooze, shells
of blackened oak,
a perch for a heron or a gull,
an excuse for a story
part fable and part truth.

*

Gull cry, tink-tink
of steel on alloy,
flap of canvas
as a sail is raised,
perkle - perkle - perkle,
engine of a wooden boat -
one for you, which you liken
to an old-fashioned
coffee percolater.

Listen: we are composing
the day between us, mingling
our voices with the sounds.

Or say we are a small part
only - which is true -
like sails reduced to pieces
of white butterfuly wing
by the breadth of the waterway
and the shadow of Fawley
which speaks of power
with its moon city
and tongue of leaping flame.

*

From the edge of the Common,
among salt-loving plants,
where gun-emplacements
keep the memory of centuries of wars,
the shore appears dingy.
But step out
towards the water line,
where the tide has receded,
and what you find is like a palette
webbed stickily with yellows, purples,
reds, bright green.

Webbed, yet each thing distinct:
clam shell, barnacled pebble,
lugworm cast, brick fragment,
wracks, splinters of wrecks,
rags of red weed.

How rare it is, this place
of living colours,
how wonderful,
when you trust your feet
to the slippery foreshore,
and open your eyes.

*

A shingle shore
with a smell of salt,
the cry of a black-headed gull.

A strawberry field,
where a boy lies hidden,
red juice on his lips.

He will absorb
the stolen sweetness,
the mingled smells
of fruit and salt and dust,
the prints of gravel
sharp on his skin.

His words will taste of these things.


From Cut of the Light: Poems 1965-2005, (Enitharmon Press, 2006), copyright © Jeremy Hooker 2006, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

Recordings

Jeremy Hooker Reading from his poems

1Landscape of the Daylight Moon

2Matrix

3Prospect Of Boldre Church

4Gull On A Post

5<i>From</i> Englishman's Road

6Curlew

7At Ovington

8Steps

9Red King's Dream

10Black on Gold

11A new love poem

12In praise of windmills

13Westerbork

14Bethlehem

15<i>From</i> Earth Song Cycle: Written in clay

16'That trees are men walking'

17<i>From</i> Seven Songs: Cyane

18<i>From</i> Seven Songs: Groundless She Walks

19Not Like Icarus

20For A Woman Who Said She Could Fall In Love With A Boat

21<i>Sections from</i> Arnolds Wood

22Strawberry Field

Books by Jeremy Hooker