Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
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.”