Issue 29: Gavin Selerie


for Geraldine Monk




Steers is the stage you land    beneath the ridge

and between two nabs    one cut like a knife


scar-wake words    in a cleft    or ledge

to pull and scramble


tightly wound shells    a ribbed curl

or something vanished    with astro-claws


blue-hearted rock    beneath yellow


it is not easy    it is not


the yield for folk who know    fire and ice traces


lead to light    like an outlaw prism


a beck in the glen    sides downthrowing


a memory pulse




Scetune at Domesday    in mizzle

where mermaids were gaoled    and fled    with a curse


cottages squeezed South    facing wind-arrows

from the North


red tiles shake    over bonnets and granzies


herring, cod and turbot    (when did you last . . . ?)

fished from sharp bows or square stern


if the catch    over months    is bad

kill a pigeon, remove its heart    stick it full of pins

and burn    over a charcoal fire




Cook, the boy, handles cloth    but the yarn he wants

is all of whales    sliding beneath    the ocean’s skin


clicks, buzzes, squeaks    a song in deep sleepscape


his course    to sound and mark    straits, islands, strands

through shrill cries    heavy squalls

a cask lashed    with stuff to keep health


by telescope and plumb    to answer mindcraves

then warping nearer shore

in skirts of a wood    to find    the naked native


who is the wiser    and placed elemental

rank reversed    as you turn a grocer’s list


bread fruit    cocoa-nuts    salt mud creatures




                     a call    unexpected

       at high tide    the bowsprit of a coble

           sprung    through    the window

                  of the Cob and Lobster


              something more than a pint

                     or a pipe of tobacco


                       fierce in the flood




                        a fish skin purse

                packed with    silver    coin

                       run    or rolled for

                by a man or boy    in a sack


              festival sports    in a war year

              when you might    be pressed




jet earrings    on the dinosaur coast    glistening night


a small sign that ties    a world to a body




as gulls screech    ah-wa-a-ah   


do they say owt    by step, fret and key


over ruby dulse    a taste of anchovy or Marmite


—range it with sailors    from floor-head to main mast


a jig line    sea-bed to rugged peak




no need to scribble a formula    up high

as a chained task    unless it’s a spell    to summon spirits

or ward off    bone-break    or soul-peck


town lass    by a circle    of tawny grisettes

and a rotting log


then at head level    a cowl clinging to a trunk

phosphorescent orange


you tread back    like the lost crew


through peaty runnels    and salt-bitten grass

to doorway    and hearth


where the pages come    thrawn and (com)pounded


or lightly drawn    a whole tone

the roots chant


soundseared    through the scratch of a needle

tick-tick waves    in onion layers

to spark pictures


O second self    O gate   koeeo-aadi    getting

a stone from the moon


to pass from brig of dread    either is other

history    has it to do    letters & press


spores    able to spin    a question you question


lifetalk in deathtalk    when each can see


a face picked out    by a candle

yesterday    or sevens also


the name is never    insistence

but    a phrase or stanza between shows


unfolds the cell





Note: I did not encounter Geraldine Monk until the early 1980s when I was seeking material for an anthology of contemporary British poetry. At that time she was still living in Staithes, which I had visited several times during the five-year period, documented in Azimuth, when I lived in North Yorkshire. Unknowingly, our paths may have crossed. ‘Steers’ is a local pronunciation of the place name.


[Gavin Selerie’s books include Azimuth (1984), Roxy (1996), Le Fanu’s Ghost (2006) and Hariot Double (2016)—all long sequences with linked units. Music’s Duel: New and Selected Poems 1972-2008 was published in 2009 and Collected Sonnets in 2019 (both from Shearsman). Landscape, with its historical layers, is a frequent point of focus in his work. Letters from Geraldine Monk are included in the correspondence section of his archive at Lincoln College, Oxford.]


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