Salt Road by Geraldine Green. Indigo Dreams Publications. £8.95
Sir Chris Bonington found Salt Road “a magical book”.
The magic is there in the everyday. In doing everyday things, sitting on a limestone outcrop at Birkrigg with your dog at your side, panting, waiting for a stick to be thrown, and watching, “Meadow Browns land on / harebells, Alpine ladies slippers /or tormentil.” But beneath the innocence is something dark. The tide that “licks its way into gulleys and channels” should not fool you: “it may look as though it’s creeping - /each wave searching / for a foothold / but underneath lies its venom, / quicksand and current.”
Geraldine watches the oyster catchers “stretched out / in a well drilled line “ across Morecambe Bay. She sees the tide “bellying in with sidewinder waves /and the birds, black and white waiters with orange bills / dragging it in on orange filaments / like a table cloth”.
And there is a magic that she used to know when a child, living in Ulverston, knowing the coast north to St Bees and east along Morecambe Bay: “the feel of a / lapwing chick in my hand / taste of wild strawberries / taste of new laid egg / my dad had found in the hedge / on his way home from his shift / in Glaxo”.
These are times when, as she titles a poem, “I have to write this down” – “holding the moment / the past, the future and /what is to come . . . a poem together open / praising the day”.
That praise might be for “the company of curlews / over wintering on the sands” or “six white herons / landed /among reeds /off Bardsea beach / where once I paddled, / reedless, as a child.” With her dog, Roy, who is alongside her in so many poems, she settles “into the rhythm /of Bardsea /home and tides.”
The magic and the praise are more than simply seeing, tasting and feeling. On a warm, moonless night on Birkrigg, she recalls a dream “when / the sun set over a black ocean and I with my / black dog stood on rocks the moon / set bloodred in the east”. She knows it is the end of the world: “My body took the shape / of limestone, my eyes the moon, my hands /two lark wings opening, closing in prayer.”
She waits on the natural world, sitting in the woods all day until “My name now is no name / my body is white and silver / my name is birch and alder, /My tongue the sound of finches / my feet sewn deep into earth / all day I grow deeper.”
She walks the “Salt Road into the bay”, out into “salt & flat-caked mud / baked white in the sun / tread among samphire” She follows the tracks and “eating samphire / as if I’m its juice / as if I’m its flesh / as if I’m crushed into samphire green. / I pause / take breath / take in the sweep and sway / before the next wash of tide.”
It is perfectly measured poetry where the simplicity and clarity of words, the closeness of observation, lead to the quietest of deep reflections. Geraldine Green’s landscape is the one of her childhood, the one where she still lives, around Ulverston. She is able to reach beyond seeing to absorb and to be absorbed into the world she describes. It is a sense of the world she has learnt from the American Indians, a reverence that, as she tells us, she realised as a child reading a book in a Barrow bookshop. The “aim in writing Salt Road is to share the wonder I feel in my encounters with others on my journey through this bewildering, messed up, yet still astonishing world.”
Salt Road is available from Bookends, 56 Castle Street, Carlisle, and 66 Main Street, Keswick, and from www.bookscumbria.com.”
Landscape and Memory : a review of Geraldine Green’s Salt Road.
It is Autumn and my garden is dappled with sunlight. I have in my hand a copy of Geraldine Green’s Salt Road and wondering what to expect. I know she’s a landscape poet and the cover by Ronnie Goodyer of Indigo Dreams Publishing is evocative; earthy grey rocks, sea and distant mountains. Not a chocolate box landscape but a fundamental one. A good beginning.
There is an urgency in this writing, these stories and poems: “I have to write this down” the writer says (p.41) “the seagulls the tide full and returning/the noise the cries, purple-pink light/sun rising, bruised sky, air lifting.” On one level the recognition that no two moments are the same, that landscape is dynamic and like a painter the scene has to be captured. On another level as more and more poems are absorbed, for me the need becomes humankind’s need to record the moment before it disappears forever. The urgency therefore is justified.
The setting for much of this work is Geraldine Green’s homeland of Cumbria in the North of England however the collection also journeys to other landscapes both rural and urban: Greece, New York City, Oklahoma; landscapes and people for whom Geraldine has recognised a deep connection, marginalised cultures and people who have had their way of life swept away in what may feel to others to be progress. In these pages their voice is listened to by a writer with a great ear for dialogue. I love the moving story of the old man made homeless by flooding, his story told over the breakfast table on a “New York City morning” (No Place) partly nostalgia for an America he remembers as “good” despite the poet reminding us of the hardships of the period: “an era of yellow stars/and persecution/mass inflation/barrowloads of paper money.”
Where there is change there is also loss both personal and global. “I used to know these things” title, p.37) the narrator says: “the season for shrimps”, “the names of trees”, “the feel of a lapwing in my hand”, “the taste of a new laid egg”, to select just a few from a beautiful and reflective poetic list. The writer speaks for those of us, and we are many, who live without any synchronicity with the natural world, those of us who eat strawberries daily and out of season tempted by their artificial red lusciousness. “Drilling for oil”, “nuclear powered subs”, “wind farms” that [snag] migrating birds” and in Roman times the search for” iron to smelt as weapons” (Power Lines) are global issues felt locallyby a landscape that is constantly having its will shaped by the need to harvest its resources. Here the poet does not offer judgement, she observes, records and presents in a language we recognise.
Go out into the sunlight or curl up in a chair by the window and hug this poet’s words to you. For this is what they deserve, your close attention. Just like the earth.
Geraldine Green’s Salt Road was recently published by Indigo Dreams Publishing. Her next collection, Passing Through, will be published in 2018, also by Indigo Dreams Publishng