Tuesday Poem: Watermarks Anthology of Wild Swimming - Jenny Arran

The Mountain's Voice

Slate smooth.
Amber through darkness.
Tannins of peat and sheep
cropped turf.
Water of rock
and rain
to stillness.

In this dark pool
under the sky
rock body
holds time
in liquid form.
The mountain's voice.
Its quiet insistence
ripples my listening thoughts

Wrapping its cold question
So neatly around my offering
of warmth
I would dissolve
For its answer.

I swim.
In a dim liminal memory
of time kept silence.
And the quiet grass
and the shining sky.

© Jenny Arran 2017

Watermarks Anthology

edited by Tanya Shadrick and Rachel Playforth
The Frogmore Press 2017, £7.99

This is just one of the poems from an anthology dedicated to wild swimming.  It’s a collection of poetry and prose that celebrates the wild and our connection with the element of water before and after birth. There are some well-known names in this collection, Janet Sutherland, Graham Burchell, Lindsay Zier-Vogel, Jill Munro, Maria Jastrzebska, and Mark Fiddes, alongside some new and exciting voices.

Putting together an anthology is never easy.  This was the editors' brief: "we called for work by writers who find inspiration in or near lidos, lakes, sea pools and other wild swimming places. The writing had to be short (a maximum of 1000 words for prose) but supple. We sought work full of quick turns, graceful strokes or surprising dives into the depths: writing which had us catch our breath, laugh in delight or shiver a little." Tanya and Rachel have succeeded brilliantly.

There’s some interesting experimental work here.  I particularly liked Holly Dawson’s ‘Unswimming’ - part prose part poetry that tells the story of a pregnant woman who is drawn to the river at the bottom of the garden even though her husband tells her it’s unsafe. He plans to block it off with a wall and a decked terrace.  But the ‘I’ of the story has much more primitive instincts.   ‘The river pulls me to it.  A surging strength picks up the mallet and demolishes half the river wall. There’s something fierce within me that only water can contain.  The river says: Do what you will, I’ll still go on and on.’

There’s a lot of humour between these pages, alongside the exhilaration and the sense of danger.  These are the last lines of The Non-Swimmer by Jill Munro, a poem about a woman who ‘longed for the security of the flailing label – ‘Unable to Swim’.

Instead, she swallowed hard, girded and glided with her skill;
river-swimming under waterfalls, rock-lined coastal plunges,
then Sweden’s lakes for a water-lillied Valkyrie crossing,

joining nine naked women swimming to their new-found freedom
beneath the wet crackle of a thunderstorm brewing overhead.

Mark Bridge is an eel mocking our eco ambitions.  ‘You buy Tuna that’s described as ‘dolphin friendly’. . . . Like you think tuna is an aquatic labrador, wagging its idiot tail in greeting as a dolphin swims past.  But eel, the mysterious genius eel, we’re novelty cookery ingredients.  Smoked, sliced and served with a poached egg. . . What sort of perversity is that?’ [Mark Bridge eeeooo].

There’s a strong attachment to place in many of the contributions, whether it’s Galway in Ireland, the frigid waters of Iceland, a glacial lake in Canada, or a waterhole in the Australian bush, there are innumerable ‘metaphorical junctions’ as Richard Mabey called them. Swimming can be an ‘immersive experience that anchors body and mind in the present moment and connects us to the elements and the seas around us from which we draw our being and are restored on a deeply physical level’. [Tim Martindale, Galway Blues].

This is a fantastic collection of stories, vignettes, poems and eco-writing for anyone who loves the element of water in ocean, river, and lake.

Writing by lido lovers and wild swimmers

edited by Tanya Shadrick and Rachel Playforth
published by The Frogmore Press, 2017

Jenny Arran is a visual artist. She grew up in North Wales, loving the wildness, rivers, rocks and the sea.  Her poems and paintings reflect a sensory and relational connection to nature.  She swims regularly in Pells Pool, as well as the river and sea near Lewes, and takes her children, on holidays, to the pool in her poem.’



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