Tuesday Poem: Winter Migrants - Tom Pickard

a mass of moth-eaten cloud
threadbare and spun across
a bullish moon

an animal wakes
when I walk in winter,

wrapped against
a withering wind,


on a Solway flat

winter migrants gather
in long black lines

along a silver sleek

heads held back,
            thrust toward
an onshore rush

occasionally cruciform,
in a flying wind

as though
in obeisance
              to the sea

retracing steps
           washed out
by whimpering silt

each tide a season
in the pecking mall

they call as I approach,
          an upright spelk
on their shelf,

           gathering my notes
and theirs

we scavenge
          ahead of our shadows

waiting for what

the tide brings in
or leaves out

          hedged cloud
edged gold

on silver slates
       of sand

         leaps of light
surrender water

      from rivulets
       from rage

repealing waves

a curlew’s
      estuary echo

          but you
      and the wind’s

Copyright Tom Pickard
Source: Poetry (February 2016).
Published by the Poetry Foundation

Solway Firth - tide out
This is a beautiful evocation of a winter's walk on the Solway Estuary. I liked the structure of the poem - the way the lines stagger down the page, imitating the leads of water through the sandy estuary.  There are some beautiful Cumbrian words - 'spelk', a word for a splinter of wood, usually lodged in your flesh. The Curlew's cry, which will always mean home to me, haunts the poem.   I love the images - 'silver slates of sand', the 'pecking mall'.  Wasn't sure about a 'silver sleek', but imagine a thread of water in the sand, silvered by the light.  The long lines of migrants made me think of other migrants, refugees, struggling through mud and cold water - a tide of hunger and need.

Tom Pickard is a much neglected British poet - a powerful northern voice - described by Allen Ginsberg as '...one of the most live and true poetic voices in Great Britain'.  I first came into contact with Tom when he was running the cutting edge Morden Tower poetry events in Newcastle and hearing him read has always given me pleasure.  Tom was mentored by Basil Bunting, as a young poet,  before embarking on a career that involved editorial work, film and documentary making - living in London and Warsaw before returning to his northern roots.  He has published an amazing number of collections.  The latest is called hoyoot: collected poems and songs and is published by Carcanet Press.   'Hoyoot' is geordie for 'throw away', 'get rid', 'chuck' etc!


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