Joint third 2003 - Matt Merritt
It might as well be the sea, we say, and
gaze across wave after flowering wave.
These cinema skies, your eyes, the last
few days, inundated, never dry, and as
time, tide and rain play their restless push
and pull game, we are swept along to the
same sinking moment. Percolating from
every pore underfoot is the truth - the likes
of us were never cut out to cut loose. What
on earth kidded us all we needed was space,
when every molehill's a mountain in this
place? What should keep us awake nights
is not the bitterns, or the frogs, but the pumps
that can never stop. We pray, but we'll
wait for our Vermuyden until flitting day.
The huge horizon softens and dims, and
somewhere, we know, the ocean is rushing in.
I had to look up 'Vermuyden'. The fact that I didn't know the word did act as a barrier for me in this poem: I wasn't sure whether it was a place, a battle or a person. In fact, it's the man who reclaimed the fens in the 17th century, and after I knew that, I liked the poem very much. I didn't mind having to look him up either, but I do wonder about that barrier. I think this is a good poem.
At first I hesitated about all the commas in the first stanza, but I think the poet is trying to capture waves in the sound, because the wave movement continues into the second stanza and it is very controlled. If I have a misgiving about the poem though, it is the complexity of lines three and four. However, I like the way even the line breaks help control the rise and fall of sound: "..we are swept along to the/ same sinking moment". Like the Bedsit Age, I think the central metaphor (which is also a reality) is carried through beautifully.
I like the sharpness of the question in the third stanza, and the playful irony of the tone. I like the sound of the poem read aloud: it is very pleasing the way the 'say, save, dry, play, place, space, place, awake, pray, day' sounds ripple through the text. And the sound of the last words: "ocean is rushing in" is so very different that it is really scary, especially given that it was just 'the sea' in the first line, but by the end, the risk is 'the ocean' and the 'sh' sounds are like a great gush of water. No wonder they are 'Yellow Bellies'. Who would not be afraid in this environment?