Zandvoort aan Zee takes beach-lounging to an industrial level with rows upon row of plastic sun-loungers and tractors that go out to 'clean the sand' in the morning. But if you get down there early, before the sun-worshippers have stirred, the silver-blue sea and honeyed sand are stunning; the shale underfoot of broken shells pleasingly crunchy. You can sit under the dunes and listen to a storm of tidal detonations that are pestle to the mortar of this shore. And after a mesmerising morning walk, treat yourself to a croissant breakfast at Cafe Neuf.
In between house-sitting a menagerie of pets this week, I enjoyed the cool of the garden and finished off a delicious collection of poems by Mark Goodwin, called Else. Goodwin's poems transport you into places you will never find on a map. They leave the reader land-wrecked in wordscapes, tangled in an undergrowth of sounds, senses, images. On the first page, I am already arrested:
'Silas Tarn's willow-agile feet pick
out a code of stones to step on; he moves
with the slime-ribbony
mood of a river ...'
Goodwin is in love with language and its many registers. The river's stones are 'synovially smooth as a newborn's joints' and Silas 'sweats hints of sea zawns'.
I find this word 'zawn' in a glossary of Climbers' terms, meaning: 'Small steep-sided channel of sea ...' It's a West Cornwall dialect word and so its usage reflects not only one of Goodwin's favourite locations but also his own passion for climbing. And the poet is very present here, his hurt knuckles, his 'puzzler boots', his father with the dead dog, his chef brother who loves fireworks, his own children from the womb onwards. I particularly liked 'Three Men, a Boy, & a Four Pound Trout' which takes us through the rhythm of a day's fishing;
'The bloodknot is neat and tightly tied
to a little grappling hook with barbs like
prongs from a shattered star.
And the spinner is the way a boy smiles
years as sunlight swirls through ...'
It's hard to pick out a clutch of lines that do this 8-part poem justice, as it is hard to single out poems in this rich hoard. But I am still entranced by certain images in the early poem, 'Summer Conundrums of Happiness', which tells us that 'happiness hides in ditches'. It evokes the sinister smells and 'spear-beaks' of the 'slow-hot uncoil of blurred summers' before delivering a killer line:
'how our wounds
are frilled with
fibres of being
The gorgeous blue-moon cover with the gold birch leaf gives just the right hint of treasure excavated from the border of human and natural worlds.
And then, on an overnight visit to the beautiful city of Haarlem - but let me digress. I have to mention the Indonesian rijsstaffel we had at Wisma Hilda. We go there every year and without fail, this is died-and-gone-to-heaven food. In the morning we revisited other favourite haunts; the market in the medieval square, the spell-binding shafts of light and stained-glass colours in St Bavo's, the cobbled trails of side-streets. And in the bookshop, I snapped up a copy of Kate Atkinson's 'When Will there Be Good News?'. Atkinson made her name with literary fiction such as 'Behind the Scenes at the Museum' and her fiction became ever more playful with novels like 'Human Croquet'. But where I felt her characters got a little lost in the experimentation with form, in her latest series of detective novels, they are the beating heart of the story. And strong, page-turning stories these are. I devoured this one almost overnight, the perfect summer read for a long train journey or hotel room.
Most pleasing of all, on a five-day jaunt to the Low Lands, were the notes I jotted in the new lilac notebook. I got three short pieces written - they might be prose poems, or the raw material for poems. I'm just calling them 'snippets'. All being well, I'll have something to read at my next Leicester Writers' Club meeting. But first, there's a trip to York and then on to that magical seaside town, Whitby, on the North Yorkshire coast. There will be day-trippers and Cod + Chips; there will be Guided Ghost Walks and Dracula trails; there might be plastic rain hoods but there'll be no sun loungers, I'm sure of that.
Writing is a journey, both imaginary and physical. My first book took me to the Arctic to 'catch the colours' of the Northern Lights. Then I hunkered down to catch the wind-blown voices of polar explorers on Shackleton's 1914-17 Endurance expedition. More recently I'm obsessed by space: the race, the rockets, the final frontier.
Hear a BBC Radio Leicester interview about my space poetry at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03wfpyp
Explore my digital narrrative PHILAE'S BOOK OF HOURS, published by the European Space Agency, at:
My prose-poetry collections FIREBRIDGE TO SKYSHORE
and MAD, HOPELESS & POSSIBLE are both published by Original Plus Press at:
Contact me for signed copies or bookings at:
- Leicester, East Midlands
- As a storyteller, my work crosses boundaries of myth, science, history and spoken word. It has been presented in the British Science Museum, Ledbury Poetry Festival, National Space Centre and the European Space Agency website. In 2014 I ran a digital residency on WW1 for 14-18NOW and Writing East Midlands. I teach Creative Writing at De Montfort University and have experience of leading school events, workshop tuition and mentoring.