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The Cumberland Coast
The Cumberland Coast
From the marshes of the Solway to the cliffs of St. Bees, the Cumberland coast is an area rich in character and history. Neil Curry has walked the coast and met the people. He knows the beauty of this remote and unguarded country.
148 x 210mm paperback
Black & white photographs
Neil Curry lives in Ulverston. He is now retired but taught English there for many years. His latest book of poems, which contains many new poems together with selections from his earlier work, marks him as a natural successor to Norman Nicholson as Cumbria’s most distinguished living poet.
The title poem, “Other Rooms” recalls the sense of emptiness after the burial of a loved one: “Afterwards, all he could remember clearly/ Was the sound that the rain made, splattering/ Against the paper wrappers of the flowers”. Reason suggests that: “When/ There is not love enough to go around,/It ought to be the dead who go without.” But, seeing her gloves, he realises: “something akin,/ He guessed, to immortality lay in his longing.” The poem is tender, meditative, restrained, a quiet drawing out of a reflective mood, but all the more moving because of its understatement.
Another poem, “Shutting Down” provides an image of life coming to an end for an old man. The first lines give us the situation immediately: “When they moved his chair nearer the window/ They told him he had to take things easy”. He watches the boisterous summer visitors packing up and their house being closed down for the winter. He thinks of the power of life around him, the trees “hauling/ Water up some sixty feet or more with the/ Minimum of fuss”. When he caught a falling leaf as a child did it promise long life or was it just good luck?
The golden head of the dandelion seems time’s flower turning to face the sun, but time will bring grey hairs “and will scythe off its (eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock)/limp and wrinkled/ ugly bald head.” This poem, “Dandelion” is part of a sequence that pictures plants and flowers, pimpernel, toadstools, hawthorn, mushrooms, ivy and so on, each drawn with concise precision, but also sees a quality in them that is dark and mysterious that Neil recalls from myth or literature.
In fact, considerable learning lies behind these closely written poems. Neil has been acclaimed for his translations from Homer. His picture of the North-east – he was born in Newcastle – is coloured by the lives of the Saints. One major series of poems comes from a pilgrimage he undertook to Santiago di Compostello.
This is a very attractive collection, thoughtful, observant, sharp, witty at times and always beautifully crafted. One of America’s leading poets, Amy Clampitt, said of Neil that he was “a poet after my own heart.” That is quite an accolade.
Neil has also just published another book, “The Cumberland Coast”, in which he walks from the shores of the Solway down to Millom, meeting people on the way and recalling the history and life in this often overlooked part of Cumbria. In Silloth, for instance, he has time to tell the history of Carrs, visit their mill, “gleaming white and spotless, with pipes and tubes going everywhichway”, talk to Chris Puxley, the harbourmaster, about the time that he had to keep three hundred alapacas for a four month quarantine, exchange a few words with Alf Bennett about netting shrimps and cooking them at their freshest on board his ship and have a chat with the women who spend their lives peeling the shrimps. One of them told him: “Eat them? I can’t even bear the look of them. Just the thought of putting one of them in my mouth” and she’d lost count of how long she had been working there.
This is travel writing as it used to be, quietly exploring an area, getting the feel of what it is about, its attractions, its history, its day-to-day activities and the lives of its people, and it is attractively well-written as well.
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