Peter Burrows – The Sea

Peter Burrows’ The Sea is in Issue 3 of Marble. He is on Twitter as @peter_Burrows74. Here, he explains the background to his poem.

The Sea was originally part of a longer unwieldy poem that I’d been picking up and putting aside for several years after I started writing again, and I couldn’t get a handle on it even when I broke it down into sections. 

Despite the reworking, the poem’s essence remained intact and malleable as I believe it never lost what Robert Frost called the ‘central image’ of the poem: the line or original vision that first introduced itself as the core idea that needed to be explored. In this case, it was the image my Nan wrote in a letter to me about her brushing away the encroaching sea from her front door.

I think as long as you keep sight of this among the mess of words you can rewrite a poem and find its form without losing the impetus for what made you need to write it in the first piece. What I realised after was that I was trying to squeeze several ideas into one long poem, whereas they really needed to be separate entities on a shared theme. Seamus Heaney’s Clearances was helpful in finding the way forward, and once I realised this the long poem ended up as an eight-sonnet sequence (of varying forms). As I now knew each of the poems had their own ‘central image’ which had been long mulled over they were became freed up and then worked on simultaneously were finished quickly. Six of the eight have been published. 

The Sea is set on the Lincolnshire coast, near Mablethorpe where my Grandad wanted to retire to his childhood home, though my Nan was homesick for Birmingham especially for the last 20 years of her life after he died. The place always had an allure due to the 1953 winter floods when the sea came two miles inland for several months, and although they built new defences my Nan wrote to me about the sea still coming up to the house. 

The poem’s first line refers not to the night that the sea came, but the topics of another poem not in the sequence, The Night Shift (originally published in The North) about the night my Nan refused to work in the ammunition factory in Birmingham and it was bombed. This and lamenting a first love who was denied to her became the stories she would repeat later in her life as she grew frailer and the past became more vivid. 

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