Saturday, 1 August 2009

Poetry by Gillian Dyson

Former Arc staff member, Gillian Dyson's creative practice includes the process of enabling communities and engaging others through formal or informal education. She is currently Senior Lecturer in Performance Arts, with The School of Film, TV & Performance, Leeds Metropolitan University. This is her take on hullness.

Big Sky

The sky is mostly blue. Or grey.

It is mostly grey.

And when it is blue there are Cirrus – long streaks of white like broad, wet brush strokes. Easily mistaken for the vapour trails of planes. Or the streaked droppings of gulls.

High winds. South Westerly, rushing from the backbone across the chest and out to sea.

A flat, steel, calming grey that melds land to heaven.

Since Howard’s classification – Altostratus, middle grey cloud that cover the entire sky.

Battle of Britain skies – from the boxes of Airfix, or the pub walls of Lincolnshire.

With fierce, East Coast light that bleaches the dining table and puts the sun visors down on every lorry cab as they motor East to the shipping lines.

It is mostly blue.

In summer it is warm, in the lea of the wind, huddled in gardens, on patios and decking.

The sound of mowing always droning like some lost bumble bee searching for it’s burrow.

The smell of barbeque coals and dripping pork fat, so determinedly resisting the chilling breezes, wind against tide.

It is mostly grey. The buildings, the cars, all become grey. Without reflected light the definition is lost, and sea becomes land, and city becomes water, and water becomes sky.

Just as Aesop described coats are drawn closer, hoods pulled up – the wind has no chance of stripping to naked the people. Only the night can do that, when men and women and children are drawn in semi-naked pilgrimage to drink and party in shirt sleeves and bare legs and breasts and cold blue skin, stained only by the even bluer ink of the tattoo needle, or the temporary gravy staining of fake tan.

But it is mostly blue.

Flat lands

The land flattens to the east, allowing great vents of South Westerly wind to prevail uninterrupted, unchecked until they exhaust somewhere in the North Sea.

The City is edged by the great estuary. Not a coastal edging/ border with infinite longing over a churning foam of breaking waves. Instead, a near-to view of South bank neighbors, with equally (or greater) flat expanses in the distance.

This edging is over a breach of water – breaking through and leaching out, hemouraging nitrogen enriched clay into the cold sea water.

It is as if the city was washed up with the clay, caught in the matting of reeds and flotsum and sheeps wool.

Underlying chalk has little or no influence on the topography.

It grows like a boil/ seed against the undulating line of the estuary. Blistering out into the surrounding earth, to grow wheat, and rape, and linseed.

That estuary line itself peaters out with a florish, a serif, and upstroke that becomes the Spurn. Just a meter or two. Head above the waves. That is all of that city to resist the tide and keep from becoming drift wood.

Spurn, to reject, scorn, refuse.

A refusal to sit still. Shifting sands. Transient. Vagrant. Un-named.


The Hull in tributary to the estuary cuts north. The naming of the city weds it to the body of the vessels upon which it becomes to reliant. The bulk of the ship, the bulging belly of it, fat with grain or salt or mutton or men to be carried out on the tide. Becoming invisible to the naked eye, to tip over the horizon. Or off loading, on the dockside, fish spewed from sea-sick stomachs when they become static on shore. Sick of the constant churning, but not-allowing to become part of the land, forced to keep returning – to be the hull of the ship, the cargo hold, the ballast.

The hulls of ships lie in their hundreds out, east from the city. Splintered and lost their plates fall open with great moans, to be sought out, unseen, by day fishermen, canny to the activity of guillemot and gannets over wrecks that shelter Pollack and whiting, ling and codling. Or found, seen, by divers who covet metals and trinkets but even more cherish their histories. Or worst of all swept aside by great dredgers and salvage vessels, with the disinterest and distain of an abusive parent who knock aside a wimpering child.

Un naming

Our friends in the north. Five percent remained. Five percent of the city left untouched by bombing raids and the subsequent and necessary bull dozers to render rubble safe, to sweep aside unfound bodies and bury family treasures. Never named. Too important to be named. The foundling babe that unchristened is left in limbo. Resistance.

© G. Dyson 2009

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