Stand on the cliff's edge,
look down the gully
like the eye of a needle,
where the Sea tries to thread herself.
Her wind-tormented skin is unrelenting
in its liquid motion.
and today she spits
and hurls herself
against the rock's solidity,
its damned immovability.
Like a long-married couple, without knowing,
Sea and Rock
have come to mirror each other,
in the wave-swell of fields,
in these rolling hills contoured
like seals or humpbacked whales.
In the troughs are farms like scattered flotsam,
spindrift of sheep and bobbing cotton grass,
barns like dried up blocks
brown and head-down cows
like scraps of kelp.
Norsemen came out of the Sea,
risked the riptides,
rose out of a haar
as white as their dragons' breath at dawn,
found fragments of Rock
and named them Orknayjar,
the islands of seals.
Stand at the edge of the world
where the Rock succumbs,
below the waves
like a drowning man.
Make for the wind-lashed, whale-skulled headland,
the screech of bad-tempered terns at Birs ay.
Cross the causeway at low tide
and climb to the steep cliff's edge.
Breathe in big skies, the isolation,
that sense of separateness
that comes with islands.
© Bert Flitcroft 2016
But Bert Flitcroft – whose performance at Blackwell’s Writers At The Fringe I reviewed on this website yesterday – was kind enough to send me his as yet unpublished poem Over The Water, and I reprint it here with his permission. Like the rest of his work, it’s extremely accessible, and it brought back memories of holidays in Orkney with my wife Katherine over forty years ago. I'd like to share it with readers so that they can see why I like his stuff.
Orkney’s a flat and exposed series of islands, but Over The Water at first focuses on its western cliffs – Hoy, Yesnaby, Marwick Head, perhaps – and the relationship between land and sea. Not for the only time, Flitcroft sees the action of the sea on the rocks as a metaphor for marriage: ‘Like a long-married couple, without knowing, Sea and Rock have come to mirror each other."
Then, after a nod to the farming heartland of the islands, he turns to Orkney’s ancient atmospheric history, its atmosphere, its seals. Finally, Flitcroft takes the listener to “the edge of the world, where the Rock succumbs and slips below the waves like a drowning man.” There, we stand in silence as we “Breathe in big skies, the isolation, that sense of separateness that comes with islands.”
It all makes me want to go back again for real.
Bert Flitcroft's work can be found at his website. He has two collections of poems, Singing Puccini, and Thought Apples.