26 Postcodes: SA33 4SD

26 Postcodes pairs writers with postcodes from across the UK, and asks them to make a response to the place and its significance. SA33 4SD is the postcode for the Boathouse in Laugharne – the last home of the poet Dylan Thomas. You can read my sestude (it’s a piece of writing exactly 62 words long) below. You can also read its creation story and click the link to the 26 Postcodes site to explore some of the other pieces. I hope you enjoy it.

Dylan Thomas Boathouse and Taf estuary Laugharne Carmarthenshire South Houses Hoistoric Sites

The Boathouse, Laugharne – home of Dylan Thomas. Crown Copyright, Visit Wales

On another birthday
For Ethna

There are no boats
Bobbing on the sea
Of yellow cabs.

The estuary is 222 West 23rd,
Not Taf. The Chelsea Hotel,
New York, is not south west Wales.

Its zip 10011, binary,
Makes SA33 4SD
Luxuriant and lush.

Alliteration is his thing:
Bible-black, blithe birds,
Birthday bell.

‘Come and be killed,’
The city says. And death
Lures him from his shed.

thomas

 

 

 

 

Dylan Thomas

Creation Story

The sestude was written as the Perseids threw themselves to their deaths in the August sky. It was my birthday. I’d spent the day at the bedside of my mother who died a few days after the completion of the sestude. I understand the true meaning of the word rage in Dylan Thomas’s lament for his dead father. She did not go gentle, and I dedicate the sestude to her.

I had not expected her to die, but death, and loss and tragedy were in my mind the moment I discovered the postcode I had been given. A visit to Wales was not an option. I visited Laugharne through Thomas’s verse – an Everyman Paperback from my student days whose glue threatens to crack every time I open it. The internet was little use to me. Google Street View ends maddeningly at the beginning of Dylan’s Walk. He’d hav

liked that though. My other reference point was a vintage BBC documentary on the Chelsea Hotel, New York. It was there Thomas went into the coma he never emerged from. The sestude quotes a number of poems written in the Laugharne Boathouse and shed, and the title draws its inspiration from Thomas’s Poem on His Birthday.

  • To see the 26Postcodes project as it unfolds, visit the website. A new sestude is posted every week.

Lost in the mists and mellow fruitfulness

keats

Season of mists… John Keats

The school run this morning, and a mist was hanging over the Ochill mountains near my home. In the sharp sunlight of a Scottish September morning, the mist was bright white, like a linen sheet hanging out to dry.

In these early days of September we are more alert to the shift of the seasons. It is noticeably colder, though the sun seems as intense as in the balmier month of August. The nights are drawing in, like the covers of a blanket.

I haven’t yet seen him in the night sky, but I know Orion is there striding across the heavens. I associate him with autumn and am looking forward to meeting him again. He is a constant in a world of change.

I remember a weekend once in Beleek, staying at the Carlton Hotel, just a stone’s throw from the famous pottery. As I remember it, we were leaving early on a Monday morning to head back to Belfast and work. It was pitch black as we walked to the car, and the night sky was clear.

The stars were so bright you could reach out and touch them. Orion was there, a reassuring presence, the perpetual hunter of the universe, the stars of his belt radiant – Zita, Epsilon and Delta. In the near distance the Erne gurgled. The trees were still in the chill of early morning. I felt alive, at one with the world.

It is one of two skies burned in my memory. The other was near Renvyle in Connemara, returning to a dank holiday cottage after dinner in nearby Letterfrack, this time in spring.

When we stepped out of the car, it was as if the sky were falling in on us, so bright were the stars in a sky unpolluted by street lights.

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…” it’s strange how snatches of verse spring into your mind. I used to know Keats’ Ode to Autumn by heart. Now it’s reduced to its most clichéd line.

I doubt my children would even recognise the opening line. Keats has had his day. He’s not cool enough for the curriculum. I don’t even articulate it, just run it across my mind, savouring its mellifluous headiness.

I have given up pointing out the beauty of the world around us, such is the indifference with which my observations are met by a car load of children heading to class.

Perhaps it’s best if they find it out for themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

26 Place to Be: Barrhead Station

album-Nick-Drake-Pink-Moon

This piece, inspired by Barrhead Station in Scotland and the song A Place to Be from Pink Moon by Nick Drake, was written as part of the 26 Northern Skies project. The work of the 26 writers involved was read on the journey from Newcastle to Glasgow Central on April 25. This is my contribution.

A Place to Be

I remember the first time I took a train from Barrhead station. I was nine. It was a moment of revelation. I knew then there was a way out. I’ve always wanted out.

Granny didn’t understand why. This was her whole world. Her place to be. But it’s not mine. Not now, not ever.

It’s 11am and it’s freezing. I’ve just been to see her, and now I’m off again. I always seem to be waiting on a train out of here. Glasgow, Newcastle, London, anywhere that will take me and my miseries and my guitar.

I’ll give her a wee wave as I pass on the way to Glasgow. But she can’t wave back anymore. She just sleeps. If she opened her eyes she’d see the trains rumbling by; but she doesn’t like trains. She probably grumbles about the noise and the way the express makes the ground shake.

She never saw the point of the railway line. “The tracks tae trouble,” she called them when I told her I was moving to Glasgow. She didn’t like Glasgow.

“Ye hae everythin’ ye need here,” she said, looking disapprovingly at me. “Why go?”

By “everything” she meant family. And everyone in Barrhead was family.

Granny knew their lineage back to Adam and Eve: the ‘gud-uns’ and the ‘wrong-uns’; the sacred and profane; the faithful and the adulterers – and the adulterers’ offspring. She could list every “bastard” – Granny was not one for political correctness – within a six-mile radius.

There was no such thing as six degrees of separation for her. Everyone was part of her extended family – even the pools guy who ripped her off every weekend when he pocketed her stake.

She knew he was drinking her dreams away, but the pound was worth the entertainment when he came round to collect her cash. He was a flirt and made her feel 18 again. That was worth a quid of anyone’s money, even if she didn’t really have it to spend.

Granny took the train to Glasgow only once. Her sister wanted to buy a new coat and needed someone to give her advice. But Granny couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. Too much noise, too many people and no-one to stop and talk to. She never went back. One train ride to Glasgow was enough excitement for a lifetime.

To tell the truth, she never ‘got’ transport. “Walkin’s good fae the heart,” was her favourite phrase. The only time I remember seeing her in a car was when the hearse took her to her grave – it was a Merc. I bet she was embarrassed. Granny hated the Germans more than Glaswegians, and that’s saying something.

This time I don’t think I’ll be coming back. She’s never really forgiven me for leaving in the first place, and I don’t want to upset her any more. There’s no-one left for me here but her.

When I moved to Glasgow I was green, greener than the hill they buried her on. I thought my guitar would take me to the place I needed to be. Now I don’t know where that place is.

The happiest people are the ones who have no dreams. And she’s happy in St Conval’s Cemetery with her friends. Happy with her certainties, happy with her sense of belonging, and happy with the peace she enjoys in the moments when the train tracks are mere lines of metal in the landscape.

26 Atlantic Crossings

Untitled
26 Atlantic Crossings was a collaboration between writers in the UK and artists from Prince Edward County in Canada. I was paired with sculptor Iris Casey, and this is the end result. It is in the form of a ‘sestude’ – 62 words.

Raptor

Mercy killer without mercy.
Hunter.
Dropping silent. Fast.
Faster.
Talons primed.

Raptor,
sweet bird of death.

‘Survival of the fittest,’ was your cry
and destiny
long before Darwin
dripped
ink
into
notebooks.

Your nib writes red:
‘Deliverance’.

Your elegies are told
in feather, blood
and bone.

Gleaning no pleasure
from the kill,
you do what must be done

and then take wing.

To see the other works from 26 Atlantic Crossings, check out the ebook at the link below:

26 Atlantic Crossings ebook

26: The Donkey Man

26 is a writers’ collective. One of my favourite 26 projects involved a collaboration with the furniture designer Zoe Murphy. The Donkey Man is a piece inspired by Zoe’s ‘Margate to Mexico’ exhibit at London Design Week 2014. I hope you enjoy it. If you would like to see her work, check out her website at www.zoemurphy.com. You can see what 26 is up to at www.26.org.uk. The link below will take you to The Donkey Man, enjoy.

The Donkey Man