I am delighted to introduce this month’s poet. David Underdown and I met a few years ago on a residential writing workshop.
David Underdown (www.davidunderdown.co.uk) has recently come to live in Hebden Bridge. Though a Mancunian by birth most of his life has been spent in the West of Scotland, latterly on the Isle of Arran where he is an organiser of the McLellan Poetry Competition. His two collections, both from Cinnamon, are Time Lines (2011) and, in 2019, A Sense of North. David Constantine describes his poems as ‘watchful’: ‘he gives us a view from (in his own words) ‘a window / we did not know was there’, he makes ‘a halo round the ordinary’’.
The secret of flying
The breakthrough is to stop thinking
about aerodynamics. Concentrate
on the immeasurable pleasures
of floating above roofs
and the open mouths of chimney pots
stems of road budding
houses, the rumple of fields
and, beyond, the dark spot of a copse
or how the river feels
up into its tree-lined tributaries.
And later, after that first step
the art of soaring on thermals
of passing over boundaries
a sense of north.
Against the tide
Down here the river has widened,
already flooding salt for half the day,
mud-bound for the rest.
The tides wipe clean
the mazy prints of wading birds.
Below the bridge there’s broken masonry,
the pier where the cobbles stop,
and then it’s willow herb and buddleia
all the way to the sea’s flat-line.
Easy to see why you linger
to watch the gulls circle,
catching the hum from the bypass.
If you could, you would turn
and find your way upstream again
past viaducts and fat meadows,
solid farmsteads set round by trees,
and feel, as the land draws in,
the younger waters quicken.
There, where the uplands open out
you would track each beck
up to its marshy watershed
to understand how it started,
the long journey to the sea
and what alternatives there nearly were.
But the tide is turning,
colder wind roughening the water,
staining it dark, draining it out.
The narrow path is steep
with scents of pine and juniper that lead you on
to where a lintel at the cavern’s mouth
will make you stoop so low
as to leave the outer world behind.
Enter, and all falls away,
though you, a frail and used-up thing,
and hunched, are still in hope,
for once inside the roof is lofty, almost limitless.
From waves of ancient seas, stone lolls in tongues.
And there, within, no god, but a reminder
of what a god might be: a simple table,
faded cloth, gifts that some might misjudge poor,
small money, keepsakes, herbs as grateful prayers.
To be there for an hour, and still,
is more than some can stand, but do
and you’ll leave naked in yourself
as if unclothed of need, and shuffle out
to blink in new-found light
with sun upon your head.
Notes for a solitary walk
For M.W. 1951 – 2014
This morning you are walking for her,
a small thing you can do, on a day
of deep green shadows and granite glitter,
that, if she were here, she would love.
Today, as she is not here,
you will not go the usual way
across the burns through stands of birch
where the dog would flex at the scent of deer,
but further, up the glen where even in her lifetime
the last men were still mining the hill.
You will shin up that shoulder of Cioch na’ Oighe
to see the whole Clyde laid out,
just how, if she had ever had the chance,
she would have chosen to arrange it –
the named near hills and the unnamed hills of the horizons
and the spaces of water between.
You will walk south along your home’s spine
for her to count its line of rocky vertebrae
and marvel at the openness
of all these lands of the West.
You will talk to her of travelled roads
and also of oceans you might have crossed
if there had been time, until,
reaching the lip of Coire Lan,
you will leave the broad path and drop down
below Am Binnein to the White Water
that leads (with no time now to stop)
past home to the indifferent sea.