Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
Wordsworth remembered the River Derwent making ceaseless music and “with its steady cadence, tempering/ Our human waywardness”. In his childhood, the river offered “a dim earnest of the calm/ That Nature breathes”.
John Denwood, the Victorian poacher-poet and head of a clan of Cockermouth dialect poets, remembered, “Where Cocker sleeps in Derwent’s breast”.
Robert Louis Stevenson, who stayed in at the Globe Hotel for one night in 1871, imagined another river, which was like a looking glass wrinkled by the wind.
But when, as Brenda Wood describes it, “The River Cocker and the Derwent came rampaging through our town” the two rivers did not appear so gentle. Elizabeth Stott remembers how Wordsworth House prepared for “a wetting”. David Scott, one-time vicar of Torpenhow, saw, “on the news, in safety”, “a wide and ruthless sweeping” and “all that had been built . . . tossed/ into a muddy, swirling torrent, unregarding.”
Mary Robinson from Rosley recalls: “The streets were clagged and clarty/ when the town crawled out/ under water, rubbed the silt// from its eyes, spat out grey gravel”.
Les Murray, the great Australian poet, has known vaster floods: “The flood boomed up nearly to the door / like a taxiing airliner.”
Kathleen Jones who lives beside the River Eden in Appleby, knows what it is like to “rescue carpets/ stack sandbags. Decide / what we must value.”
Patricia Pogson saw that families “when the Cocker and Derwent retreated from the streets/ found their beds/ where floors were sluiced
Carlisle’s poet, Jacob Polley, knows that in A Book of Water “its one page read disorder/ in letters tall as rain.”
Peter Rafferty, who is also from Carlisle, celebrates the aftermath of the gales: “but gardens and woods grew in bursts that year; / marigolds and roses bloomed in their beds.”
Norman Nicholson knew that water on land could be “welcome, yet other”. He also knew that:“back again in the sea / Rain / Is only sea again.”
Andrew Motion, the one-time Poet Laureate, knew Cockermouth had the ability to help itself. He dreams of telling Robert Woof of Dove Cottage of old Wordsworth’s second day-job driving a white van. The words “William Wordsworth: Plumber in a rainbow-shape above the stencil of a Lakeland landscape”.
Carol Ann Duffy recognised the community spirit of the people of Cockermouth and Workington as they faced the floods, “fuelled / by fellow-feeling, hearts full.”
Angela Locke from Mosedale knows:
“Our stream, a threat yesterday, still bares its teeth to remind us
we live by some consent, some tacit nod, in this powerful place.”
Isobel Higgins from Cockermouth School was just pleased when the floods receded: “It’s over now and done,/ So everyone’s free/ To have some fun.”
And Michael Baron and Joan Hetherington have had some serious fun in compiling this remarkable collection of poems. Here are some ninety poems by everyone from Shelley, Seamus Heaney and Joyce Grenfell to Gwordie Greenup, (who “yance went to Lorton”) and John Woodcock Graves. Poets from Japan, Hungary, South Africa and Japan rub shoulders with locals like Martin Chambers and David Lindley. The one thing they have in common is that they have all set foot in Cockermouth at one time or another.
The Cockermouth Poets is a splendidly democratic anthology where schoolchildren sit beside Nobel laureates. If it has a theme, it is the power of water.
It is a fitting memento of the floods of 2009 and all proceeds will be donated to Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Team and Save the Children.