Veering North-Easterly, Poems by Kevin Crossley-Holland,

Paintings by
Gillian Crossley-Holland

The Green Dragon Press (Diss), 2016   £10.00  ISBN: 9780993261701

Within sight and sound of the sea

This is a gorgeously produced publication, in which text and full colour paintings occupy equal space and status. A long painting stretches across front and back cover (After the Storm, Colt Head) and the same canvas occupies the full breadth of the centre-fold pages. It is an astonishing picture, a troubled and troubling mixture of light and dark, the waves lapping white and gentle on a beach but the distant waters deep, dark blue; and the sky heavy and ominous. 

Beside such imagery, the texts create their own verbal lights and darks, the sound and sight of the sea. It was sound that caught my interest in particular (though visual detail is equally important). In ‘French Leave’ three boys on a jetty are jostling one another towards a dare:

They can hear the punch, the pound,
distant, arhythmical, and the shingle

These are wonderfully onomatopoeic words, following their own arhythmical impulses, and I can hear the pull and tug of the waves when I read them. But the poem that achieves most for me, sound-wise, is ‘The Tide, Rising’ which faces a painting titled Sea Study. August High Tide – a riot of waves and wind-blown surf. Of all the texts in the pamphlet this one most clearly adopts a metrical pattern, driving a stressed first syllable in each wave (I mean ‘foot’):

Dawn-dreep, shell-shine, heart’s tide rising –
Rumouring, memory, sheenskin ripple –

This reaches a high point in the fifth line with

Gossip and knock, knock, wave-whack, plunge –

You cannot read this quickly: the stressed syllables are too strong, and the last five of the line, to my ear, carry equal weight – a set of spondee.

Meanwhile, The painting opposite offers only a tiny strip of sand. The sea rears up and fills nearly two thirds of the square canvas: it is taking over. And the poem ends with the sound of that dominance:

Overlap, overrun, overcome, undermine –

The painting gives a visual reality; the poem makes its music. It’s a wonderful marriage of image and text.

Helena Nelson