In which, as the year comes to its end, our friends and collaborators look back and share their moments;
Ah yes; Winter. It’s finally here, or so I keep hearing. And this morning, when I walked the dog, there was indeed a certain chill in the air that had, hitherto, been notably absent considering we’re a week into December. Though the sky was as blue as I can remember, the redshanks and other waders were arrows flung from Winter’s bow, arcing overhead in volleys from the tide-line, and the shallow sea a boiling broth where it broke over the peat beds of Holme-Next-The Sea beach. I hadn’t intended to write a Shadows and Reflections piece because I find it quite difficult to write criticisms of other people’s work, and so often it comes out sounding pretentious. However, I grudgingly have to admit that, without critics and reviews there are countless books that I would never have discovered. The real highlight of my year though is just communing with the outside world; whether fishing this very beach for sea-bass in the Spring and Summer; wading the upper reaches of one of Norfolk’s hidden chalk streams, or just wandering along like I did this morning, trying not to lose the dog amongst the house-high dunes.
I hadn’t intended to; that is until I read Alice Oswald’s Dart and, at the risk of sounding pretentious, was carried along by it like a leaf on the current: twisting and twirling along its many eddies, caught for a moment by one of its turbulent voices, before being whipped inevitably to ‘the last bone of the Dart/ where the shag stands criticising the weather.’ I read it in a single sitting, and though there were other highlights of my literary year – discovering the poetry of Norman MacCaig; reading William W. Warner’s Pullitzer prize-winning Beautiful Swimmers; re-reading Haruki Murakami’s beautiful winter lament Norwegian Wood – it is Alice Oswald’s epic poem that touched me the most.
It’s a source-to-sea story of the river Dart told in many voices: from an eel watcher, to a swimmer, to a poacher. The individuals she interviewed and recorded over two years combine to make the single, long voice of the river itself; they are – as the author describes in the introduction – not really individual voices, but all ‘the river’s mutterings.’ I may have seen the Dart in my childhood, but the memory is distant; so distant as to be non-existent. But Dart does what all great literature should do: it picks you up and carries you there. It carries you to where the ‘one step-width water’ appears, and takes you, unresisting, to where ‘the real Dart writhes like a black fire.’ If you read Dart – which I sincerely hope you do – you’ll have been there too; you’ll have smelt the ‘sphagnum kind of wilderness’; you’ll have returned ‘slammicking home in wet clothes, shrammed with cold,’ and, you’ll have heard the many voices of Alice Oswald’s river Dart for yourself.