Beginning with a word that can mean ‘disturbed’ or ‘off balance’, today’s poem, which won the 2014 Ware Sonnet Prize, sees one of a group of “crooked-leg” girls take decisive action and assert her “right” to go where she wishes, over the hill and down to the sea.
At Poetry in Aldeburgh: Geraldine Clarkson will read alongside Ian Duhig and Eric Berlin as part of ‘The Poetry Society Reading: National Poetry Competition Winners’ on Saturday 5th November, 11.30am to 12.30pm in the Jubilee Hall
Perturbée, like the best of them,
I manoeuvred my way to the edge,
took the half-sunned shallows of puddles
in the cut as my birthright. ‘I have,’
I said, ‘a right to walk this way.’
I looked round, smite-faced, at the other,
crooked-leg girls like me, proud.
‘But go back,’ I said to my companion
who like me had the mid-blue wavering
eyes, ‘and ask them if it’s allowed for us
girls to climb the velvety brow of the hill,
cross the common and go down
all the way to the sea.’
from Declare (Shearsman, 2016)
Writing Prompt: Song of the Sea
Harwich in Essex, not far south of Aldeburgh, last month hosted the 11th Harwich International Shanty Festival, where shanties and sea songs celebrated the old port town’s rich maritime heritage. A sea shanty was a type of work song, often written in couplets, that was originally chanted, used to accompany work on board large sailing ships, typically having a rhythm to synchronize with repetitive tasks and always with a kind of chorus, to allow crew to sing together. Many shanties also had a ‘call and response’ type format, where a ‘shantyman’ would call out and the chorus would respond. A shantyman might also need to improvise, using variations of stock verses should a task extend for a long time.
Richard Runciman Terry, in The Shanty Book, Part I (1921) outlines a rough division of two classes of shanty, the usually briefer ‘hauling shanty’ with two short choruses, and the ‘capstan shanty’ which had accompanying music, longer choruses and more complex, varied rhythm. He also identifies popular shanty subject matter to include heroes, mythical heroes, mysterious words such as ‘Shenandoah’ or ‘Rio Grande’, famous ships such as ‘The Flying Cloud’, love affairs, or the ship itself. Today’s task is to write a sea-themed poem (not one that has to be sung) that incorporates an element or elements of the sea shanty, whether this is subject matter, their use of rhythm, the use of a chorus, the idea of call and response, or something else.