Caught by the River

Poet of the Peak

11th March 2009

He talks about fishing the Derwent,
not so much the catch and keep of it
but his preoccupation with the river,
knowing the urge of the course, his easy
stride through the chatter of thin water,
place of the dippers, or, up to his waist
in deep hushes where mergansers dive,
home stretch of grayling and trout.

He makes flies from badger hair, feather,
mimics the damsel, caddis, the mayfly.
He speaks of the cast as a dance, the balance
of steady breath, the wish of the line reeling
out to the drop, knows the bite is a pleasure
not to be snatched, but a gentle bringing-in
like a good dog leashed, his hand, like sex
slipped under the fish’s belly, held still
as the hook’s sleeked out, so it hardly knows
as it glides away, that it was ever caught.

It’s not just the fishing, he says,
but he’s out of himself and part of the river,
timeless. He tells me his other story. It is dusk.
He’s up near Shatton where the river cuts sharp
through shale, his feet numb with cold
and he’s almost done, then he sees, he thinks,
a fresh-water mussel, but it’s heavy in his palm.
Like this, he says, and pulls from his pocket
a Stone-Age axe-head, drops it in my hand.
Now this, he says, is poetry.

Ann Atkinson, March 2008

Peak arts