Monday, October 8, 2007

Shannon, Rockall, Malin revisited

A while back, Malcolm posted a thing about the BBC Radio 4 Shipping Forecast. He was as happy with it as he ever is.

What made the difference was the response. People out there in the cyberwattage acknowledged it.

Best of all, there was an addition, a link to a poem by Sean Street, from :

Shipping Forecast

The Fisherman and His Wife in Donegal

They have shared still late October,
but salt stones and a broken tree,
the peeled paint on the lifeboat house
chime with places where the glass falls,
prime sources encountering night’s bald predictions.

Everywhere winter edges in,
and now the time is ten to six...

Lightness and weight, air’s potentials
pressed into words, implication;
here – on all coasts – listening grows passionately tense.

Fair Isle, Faeroes, South East Iceland,
North Utsire, South Utsire,
Fisher, German Bight, Tyne, Dogger
... This pattern of names on the sea –
Weather’s unlistening geography – paves water.
Beyond the music, the singing
of sounds – this minimal chanting,
this ritual pared to the bone
becomes the cold poetry of information.

The litany edges closer –
Lundy, Fastnet and Irish Sea...
Routine enough, all just routine,
Always his eyes guessing beyond
the headland, she perhaps sleeping, no words spoken.

He stretches forward to grasp it,
claims his radio place – and now
the weather reports from coastal stations
and then: Malin Head – such routine
that she barely glances up, but hears now falling.

Like all fine poems, it continued to niggle around the edges of Malcolm's consciousness at all inconvenient hours. This grew day-by-day:

  • the assonances of the open vowels in the opening stanza,
  • which shift to the tense clipped short vowels of the second;
  • the generality of iambics broken by anapestics: the list'ning grows passion(ate)ly tense;
  • the perception in the metaphor of another anapestic phrase: This pattern of names on the sea;
  • the falsely-simple phrases which could jump straight out of Beowulf or The Seafarer: singing of sounds; eyes guessing beyond the headland; and (best of all) paves water;
  • the emphatic alliterations: salt stones, peeled paint;
  • the thinly-hidden conceit of an ominous religious service: chime, singing, chanting, ritual, litany;
  • the implied threats: lifeboat, glass falls, winter edges in, pared to the bone.

Above all, it is the realisation of a domestic, ordinary genre scene, the kind of thing that Flemish artists once turned out by the dozen, that makes it so effective. For Malcolm, this is no run-of-the-mill minor artist; it is a work of quality. It is like one of those small frames, artfully hung to one side of the masterwork, but which, after an afternoon's circuit of the rest of the gallery, brings one back for a longer, more regardful view.


And now the Shipping Forecast issued by the Met Office, on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, at 1130 on Monday 08 October 2007.

Shannon Rockall Malin:
Southeast veering west 5 to 7, decreasing 4 or 5 later. Moderate or rough. Occasional rain. Moderate or good, occasionally poor.

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