by Alan Jenkins, John Kinsella


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781910392072
Publisher: Enitharmon Press
Publication date: 07/01/2015
Pages: 80
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Alan Jenkins is a poet whose works include Drunken Boats; Harm, which won the Forward Prize for Best Collection; Revenants; and A Shorter Life. He is deputy editor and poetry editor of the Times Literary Supplement, and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. John Kinsella is a poet whose works include Armour, Jam Tree Gully, and Sack. He is editor and author of anthologies and works of criticism, fiction, and poetry. He is an extraordinary fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge University.

Read an Excerpt


By Alan Jenkins, John Kinsella

Enitharmon Press

Copyright © 2015 Alan Jenkins & John Kinsella
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-910392-37-9



    A small wreck is a large wreck when a species is in
    undertow and wave-sets soothe and stress between
    slate hills:
    the rise & fall, the artwork re-inscribed in sand which
    gradually wash away, the full weight of the Atlantic.

    So attuned, so sensitive, so determined to pull
    themselves down –
    foot anchored hydraulic pull to start again down down
    down –
    razorshell feedertube sucking low-tide sweet and sour
    into the glasses-case body, enrapture, huddling

    snug against a cut-throat world's predators, the larger
    making small changes massive, prescribe low-tide
    test hope as St Jude's Day swell ripped the world
    apart, a mass
    of brethren exposed to make detritus of selves, the

    of origins and excrescence sharply in bands of shifting
    dozens scattered on this earthquake beach, this
    harbour wave jewel
    where corpses cut bare feet to bone or sinew, ghouls
    and gods
    make sense of spring-water bottles and plastic ropes

    'best kept secrets'. So many starved here, and
    razorshells make
    discrete sub-fences that will briefly hold the residue of
    Lisbon's collapse,
    a history divined in shell, its dead reflections,
    separations along
    vaguely perfect faultlines, what fate saw from below
    the sand.


    The little cruiser chugged past Faversham, upstream
    on the Swale;
    Diesel, bilge and backwash and a stink of adolescent
    Filled the wheelhouse as I ran her shattered bows
    into the shale.

    'Hurrumph.' The tannoy screeched and rasped and
    spluttered into life
    And from it came a voice I knew: 'You boy! Get it cut!
    Or – or –
    (His hand had gripped a hank of hair): 'Or give me that
    sail- knife!

    That long-dead master-mariner! So hugely-eared
    He could have gull-winged down the rope-hung
    Who growled his orders through a nicotine-flecked

    Who barked at us through yellow teeth clenched on
    his pipe
    Now scowled at me and grunted, 'And how is our little
    Of Babylon? I've got your measure, boy, I know your

    Remember summer evenings with that stink at ebb
    and flood –
    Not of post-match changing rooms, stale jock-straps,
    staler socks
    But rotting gulls and fish-heads on the bottle-littered

    Where treasure-twitchers picked through tidal
    leavings, pungent silt? –
    The sewer-sump that was the Thames, the bilge of
    Surrey Docks?
    The greenish wood at waterline, froth that factories
    had spilt?

    I've seen you hoist a tattered sail, jib and tack and navigate
    Among the shoals and sheltered moles owned by the drinking
    In the stews of Notting Dale, in Portobello's narrow strait;

    I've seen you search midshipmen's souls while eyeing up their
    pretty arses.
    I've seen you come about and heave to in the chill of early
    As you used to do, a motley crew, at Wapping Stair when day
    was dawning
    After shipping grog all night in Muldoon's with the bo'sun,
    Mick, and Kydd, first mate; after trying tricks you learnt in

    Down below with Moll or Kate. Remember all the knocks and
    You took in bare-knuckle fights behind the boating sheds?
    Remember when those big pressed men, your shipmates,
    grabbed their cocks
    And tossed themselves off, leering, to your cheering in the

    The harbour at Rangoon! Indecision on the poop!
    The sea roads not taken! And that ship of fools, your little
    sloop ...
    True north, Trafalgar, trade routes, polar circumnavigation –
    Things that might have made a man of you! Your birthright
    and your nation!

    Today at fifty-five you feel your daemon has been
    The time-wasting, skirt-chasing years when nothing
    Everything you are and care for standing ready to be

    Like Ark Royal and half the fleet. The sea-roads not
    The shadows on the wave-ridged, gull-flecked,
    glistening sand;
    The captains and the shipmates gone, the quiet
     berths forsaken!

    Now I see your flag flying at half-mast, and wonder
    The burden of their memory, who "must not
    altogether die"?
    Or of the knowledge, late-acquired, that you yourself
    must die?

    Or is it that you think of England, of her historic
    And of her people fed on lies and lotteries and sex,
    The shit-showers of stupidity that rain down on her

    Now England loves, when brought low by defeat or
    death or fright
    Not quiet consolation in the watches of the night
    But to make an exhibition of herself when she's tight;

    She loves the march-past (rather than the past), the
    And flowers on coffins, the weeping and the body-
    The raw emotion and the chat-show cheer, the awful

    Of slappers, slags; the rolling English drunkard and
    the vulgar
    English tongue. Who now expects that, as once at
    Every man shall do ...? Who now can recall its fulgor?'

    Then he faded, with the shore where he'd tarnished
    at quiet anchor,
    With the wharves and sheds, the rigs and derricks
    and the tanker
    He had captained, and my 'shipmates' shouting
    Wanker! ...


    This is what I dream, inland,
    Perched on the hillside, leeward,
    Bush volatile and the heat peeling
    Away layers. A grey-blue world,
    Ocean and a sky that is an ocean
    As well. A three-masted barque
    And a man on the verge of fifty
    At the wheel: not struggling,
    And too sure of himself, taking
    For granted a lifetime of skill,
    His crew all below deck, un-
    Wanted. I have been compiling
    Stories of the oceans. Waves
    Are heavy and break the gunwales,
    The sails well-sewn but ghostly.
    This quasi-nightmare I cannot
    Wake from I will steer through.
    And, in truth, it's not grey-blue
    Nor steely, and has no colour:
    Salt and krill in the eyes,
    Night and storm blindness.
    I'll – we'll – get through,
    But what landfall awaits me,
    And who will be there to greet us?


    Now the grey-green briny slopped through my hull
    And sluiced my planking, stained with the blood
    And rotgut I'd puked up; strafed by a single gull,
    Like a hulk when high water creeps up the mud

    To lap around it where it lies, I awoke
    But the steering gear had gone, the starboard stays
    Were rusted through, dark rot patched the varnished
    Of my timbers, the log was missing several torn-off days ...

    The louring sky, the sudden squalls dismayed me,
    The jagged lee-shore off my starboard beam.
    And that long-familiar, long-lost voice belayed me:
    'Are you the same suburban boy whose dream

    Was not to set sail in Gypsy Moth III
    From Greenwich to Durban via Finisterre
    With Sir Francis Chichester, to master the sea,
    But to take wine with Byron, opium with Baudelaire?

    Look at you now! Your verse bobs like a yacht
    In heavy seas, it veers and bobs and weaves
    As if the helmsman were unfit, a soak, a sot;
    In its wake the wash an empty vessel leaves ...

    "England expects" is the signal that one sends
    But what you expect is somehow to stay afloat
    And somehow not to have to make amends
    For what can't be undone, for the little boat

    You sailed on the municipal pond, and sank,
    For the endless rounds that killed your friends,
    For those who were abandoned on the bank –
    For all who loved you, and met watery ends!' ...


    Dark grey waves take you nowhere
    fast and deep you're going, have gone
    where you come from, a driving force
    a weighty concern, never conducive
    to arrival or departure for all their pace
    and compulsion, record of signature lost,
    signing-off your warrant your papers
    as fingerprints rub off, rope burnt,
    surging, tilting and hauling: expectation,
    certainty; the stomach a crystal ball
    of swell to slosh so persistently,
    predictably at a pitch around the ball
    of our planet: a coastal cliff or beckoning
    mass of rock just surfaces to dash against,
    keeping bow and sprit aligned to enter
    to leave to confront be pursued but show
    no better side to overhang, the ledge:
    what's not dust is liquid is mud:
    in all seas experience sails instinct,
    learning, superstition, the tying-off
    of knots and trimming of sails
    (I've had my encounters) stretched
    between boats too close in fate in fact,
    black with shades and those shadows,
    shadows of those bruising waves.


    The jagged lee-shore loomed. Had I picked up a dose
    Of trouble from that pick-up in the last port of call –
    And was that Porto, Portobello or Porthcawl?
    What did it matter? The two of us had not been
    close ...

    I'd hoped for so long to be, once more, under sail
    And tacking into harbour, rich with smells of rope and
    But I was not alone, the air I sniffed was stale
    No-air, sweat-and-tobacco, drinkers' breath – a bar!

    One in which I'd often had to navigate
    The reef, the rock that should be off the stern
    (The stews of Wapping, Portobello's narrow strait!)
    And learned to expect the unexpected turn

    Of events, of the tide. ... 'Those nights are gone;
    You've been in the wind and rain of your inner
    For so long, you've barely noticed what's been going
    I'd say it was time you got your act together.

    You never understood that it ain't no good ...'
    This was a woman's voice, with words that flayed me:
    'Whenever you go out, in your little craft of wood,
    Your little craft of words, it will be me you hear

    Reminding you of how you scorned your mother
    And all the others who loved you – God knows why –
    It will be me reminding you that you will die,
    It will be me reminding you of everything you fear....'


    What blackness holds the white steam
    In its black funnel; heavy, dense
    Smoke out of the funnel, the sea taking
    On the ironclad character, bearing its weight,
    Its progress? I am reminded of the metal
    Fire-fighter's tank my grandfather
    Of the forests left to my father in his will.
    Metal tank strapped to the back, webbed
    To cotton and flesh, black rubber hose,
    Brass nozzle, pressured by pumping
    To spray a mist, or squirt a jet. Maybe
    A language of boiler rooms and steam
    Ships? To fight forest-fires, dozens
    Of men formed a phalanx, each watching
    The exposed side of their neighbour,
    Watery shields melded. Futile as walls
    Of flame bore down. Inside the furnace,
    The charring, the black residue. Fire
    On everyone's lips as the southern half
    Of a country smoulders, burns. Newspapers
    And amateurs record images. The steam-
    Ship ploughs through contrary but willing
    Waters. The terracotta of ancient fires
    Spread around: a definitive presence.

    (after Rimbaud)

    My sad heart slobbers on the poop,
    My heart all black-tobacco-blue;
    They chuck at it their gobs of gloop,
    My sad heart slobbering on the poop –
    Under the piss-taking of this crew
    Who laugh themselves to death it's true
    My sad heart slobbers on the poop,
    My heart all black-tobacco-blue.

    Ithyphallic, squaddie-like
    Their pissy little jokes have fucked it.
    In the wheelhouse, carved with a spike
    They left the legend, squaddie-like:
    Jenkins loves my cock, and sucked it.
    Abracadabra! Waves, conduct it
    To be washed (my heart, I mean); it's like,
    Their pissy little jokes have fucked it.

    When they have chewed their baccy dry
    What shall we do, my heart, old shag?
    There'll be Bacchic hiccups by and by
    When they have chewed their baccy dry;
    I'll heave up my guts, sky-high,
    Me, if it doesn't make them gag.
    When they have chewed their baccy dry,
    What shall we do, my heart, old shag?


    I thought I saw one being buffeted and tossed
    In dark surf on a beach near Geraldton. Fifteen,
    And skindiving with a mate under a full moon,
    Where silt in the water was the only illumination
    In seas choppy over reef; bands of ribbonweed
    Crossing ankles above flippers filling my head
    With seasnakes, I propelled myself back to shore,
    Knocked about by mid-sized breakers carving
    The beach, snorkel, mask and buoyant skin,
    Leaden middle a fulcrum for surf. A lady lifted
    Like Marianne out of the foam, but washed
    Of tricolours and with a split that drew her
    Eyes apart, her breasts ghostly and smooth
    Against the wormy wood of her torso, splintering
    Sand and phosphorescence. I reached out for her,
    Trident in hand – an offering or parody – but
    She flinched back into the sea and I stumbled,
    James Bond pantomime, Fool of the Deep,
    Mask sloshing behind the glass that fogs,
    That you clear with spit, and Marianne's breasts
    Out of reach, so treacherous free of their bondage
    Below bowsprit, de-masted wreck flailing
    On aquarium floor, bust carved out of air
    And soil and forests of France, ship gone down
    Unrecorded, haunting as violence and sex.


    Aged four, I was hypnotized by swirls
    Of white foam in the waves, their film of slime;
    By fronds of weed that swayed in rock-pools, girls'
    Drifting hair ... What's he doing all this time?
    The words my mother called out, ten years on,
    As I sat tugging at my raw, stiff, straining cock
    (The bathwater going cold, the light already gone),
    Remembering that strange girl leaning on a rock,
    Pulling up her jeans – the sudden, startling blur
    Against the pale skin of her narrow thighs,
    A pointed dark isosceles of fur;
    Still in store, the unrepeatable surprise,
    All that lay out of sight, beyond, inside:
    Slithery bivalve, quick-darting fishes, salt tide.


    From memory, what will be will bee,
    Effigy reaching out to the pale swell
    Nursing the great three-master warship
    Tethered below an empty sky. Description
    Fills imagination of where figurehead
    Reaches, portending layers of gundecks,
    Bowsprit that would lift into heavens: nexus
    Between eras of defence and conquest.
    No seraphim and cherubim, but one
    Fellow reaching down through surface.
    But even a gently surging harbour sea
    Close to shore holds the vast weight
    Of world on shoulders, sea legs on land,
    House swaying like a hammock.
    Company? Flags stiff with the breeze.
    And there's nothing naive about fate:
    When the sails are packed away
    The rigging plays the weight of vastness.
    Figurehead reaching out with stick arms,
    Its posture male, as if the loss of women
    Is too hard to trawl from the deep,
    Murmuring out of the escutcheon:
    Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense.


Excerpted from Marine by Alan Jenkins, John Kinsella. Copyright © 2015 Alan Jenkins & John Kinsella. Excerpted by permission of Enitharmon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Razorshell Wreck on Barleycove Beach on the Eve of All Saints' Day,
The little cruiser chugged past Faversham,
On Alfred Wallis's Barque With a Man at the Wheel On a Stormy Sea (1936–38),
Now the grey-green briny slopped through my hull,
Two Black Boats Sailing Up Dark Grey Waves,
The jagged lee-shore loomed,
On Alfred Wallis's Black Steamship (1934–38),
The Ravished Heart,
On the Figurehead of The Old Victry (a painting by Alfred Wallis),
Painted Bellows,
Looking Out to Sea, Prevelly Park, 1974,
Natural Bridge, Torndirrup, 1967,
The Drunken Boat,
Le Piton des Neiges,
Bats at Grand Fond,
Cabots sauteurs,
Catamaran Works to Round Pointe des Aigrettes,
The sea is wild today and the no swim signs are up everywhere,
La Mer cassée,
I knew this path through cypresses, an olive-grove,
The Bourbon Baudelaire,
In my new life I am the skipper,
Passage Through Icebergs (painted as ITLVoyage to Labrador by Alfred Wallis, 1935–6),
Carraiglea Aubade,
Long After (Jean Genet),
Out of the Cottage's Big Feature Windows,
Ship of Fools,
Wrecked Spanish Galleon and Vestigial Property and Identity Anxieties,
Figurehead of the Clipper Samuel Plimsoll,
Long After (Euaristos Kalfas),
Emptied Vessel,
Anointed, sweat-streaked, reddened, raw,
Full Moon Over Long Island Bay,
I was in irons. The bulkheads groaned; and then a lull,
Selkies Lashing the Rocks,
I knew this path, the promenade, the lanes,
The Pragmatism of Inland Birds,
Mute Swans Over Carraiglea,
Lot's Wife,
Mermaid (The Sailor's Memory),
I knew this path, a thin brown arm around the cliff,
St Ives,
Long After (Julien Gracq),
Brise marine,
Belle Étoile,

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