White Thorns

White thorns, spinning sky,
each horizontal axis
sings the trinity.
One zenith, then another,
the crowns abide in the air.

Between the towns of Doncaster, Scunthorpe and Goole, less than 10 metres above sea level, 100 square miles of sparsely populated, predominantly agricultural land lie flat to the horizon. The low levels form the northern part of the Isle of Axholme, most of which belongs to North Lincolnshire, with outlying parcels in the East Riding and South Yorkshire. This reclaimed marshland is the setting of White Thorns, a sequence of poems that developed from several walks in 2016 and 2017.

The area is bounded on the east by the Trent, and on the north by the Ouse; at Blacktoft Sands, the confluence of the two rivers forms the Humber. In the 1620s, the Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden was commissioned to drain the low-lying land of Hatfield Chase, a process that brought an end to the ‘islanding’ (or flooding) of Axholme, and also transformed much of the surrounding landscape. As part of the drainage project, Vermuyden re-routed the rivers Don and Idle, creating a new channel, the Dutch River, to the north, with a terminus at Goole. The Stainforth and Keadby canal, opened in 1802, links the Don in the west to the Trent in the east; its course through the isle runs parallel to the railway line, just below the villages of Ealand, Crowle and Keadby. A third parallel is provided by the M180, shadowing the railway and canal at a distance of a mile or so, and, with the M18 (linking Doncaster to Goole), effecting a contemporary ‘islanding’ of North Axholme to the south and west.

Since the middle ages, the area has been regarded as a source of fuel, with small-scale peat cutting on Thorne Moors preparing the ground for commercial extraction; by the 1980s, increasingly intensive methods had stripped large areas of the raised peat bog. A colliery – frequently troubled by flooding and faults, and mostly unproductive – also fissured the moors: the pithead was eventually demolished in 2014, and the resurfaced site is now home to a solar park. A few miles south, at Nun Moors, a 22-turbine wind farm stands at the edge of the Humberhead Peatlands National Nature Reserve. Six miles east, near Keadby, rising 90 metres from the flatlands, is a 34-turbine array; the largest onshore wind farm in England. It’s a dynamic illustration of how the exploration and extraction of energy continues to shape this landscape, the wheeling mesh of towers, hubs and blades visible throughout North Axholme, from arable field to depleted mire. It also invites us to consider the expansion of the grid laid down by Vermuyden, its field lines and drainage channels criss-crossed by the remnants of a light railway (serving passengers until 1933, and the peat works until 1963) and, latterly, the buried networks of utility cables and pipes, while, to the south and east, the skies are latticed with power-lines, the net thickening at Keadby, where, between the Warping Drain and the power station, the pylons and turbines seem to meet and interlace, white compasses turning through grey parallels.

On high, a freehold
of six thousand square metres
threshed by a rotor.
All the feathering threefold
swept into pitch cylinders.

I entered this grid through another: OS Landranger Sheet 112, which I studied before starting out, a new edition, the blank squares filling up with clustered blades. The walks began in Ealand, shortly after dawn on 25 March 2016 (Good Friday), and ended in Thorne around 15 months later, the last of these being an anti-clockwise tour of North Axholme, from dusk until the following afternoon. These weren’t so much linear or circular journeys as transits of a square, or squares within squares, the line (of towpath, track, or minor road) almost always straight, the direction (reset at each corner of the isle) undivided. At certain points in the walks – an intersection of canal and bridge, a chain of pylons making a 90-degree turn – my head would fill with right angles, some imagined, some real, rising out of the flat terrain and my unfamiliarity with the landscape. All this was heightened by walking at night, the senses manufacturing events from scraps of sound (waterfowl in the soak drains, the faint hum of an electric current) and patches of available light (the moon in the water, a signalman’s lamp), and always the filigree of infrastructure, the pylons and turbines compressed to a single plane, the distance collapsed, become abstract, then suddenly present, almost measurable, perception sharpened and distorted by turns, the mind filling in the blanks.

There’s another kind of compression at work in the 68 poems of White Thorns: an isle-wide trek distilled into a series of five-line, thirty-one syllable units, each, perhaps, expanding into its own space, its own plot. There are other passages through this landscape, too, including that of the freight train bearing wood pellets from Louisiana to North Yorkshire (via the Humberhead Peatlands, which sits atop the blackened trunks of a Paleolithic forest, burned by the Romans), and its own story of exhaustion and recovery:

Slow burn, right to left,
twenty-four frames per second.
Twenty-four wagons
of biomass, bound for Drax,
a forest’s offcuts and husks.

 

White Thorns is the second pamphlet by Brian Lewis (following East Wind, a sequence of lyrical essays and haiku, which appeared from Gordian Projects in 2015). It is published by Gordian Projects as a hand-stitched pamphlet with hand-stamped covers, and comes with an individual poem, presented in an envelope as an artist’s multiple.

To order White Thorns, please click on the relevant PayPal link below:

UK orders (£5 + £0.90 postage)

Europe orders (£5 + £2.70 postage)

Rest of World orders (£5 + £3.30 postage)

Alternatively, you can order the pamphlet via the Gordian Projects site at the same rates.

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Red Flag

Wind Rose 1Depletion, decline
or drift: we cannot retreat,
halt or hold the line.

East Wind is now available in a new edition from Gordian Projects. This second edition of 40 unnumbered copies is published as a single 36-page hand-stitched, hand-stamped pamphlet, and comes with an individual haiku, presented in an envelope as an artist’s multiple. The first edition, a set of three hand-stitched and stamped pamphlets in a numbered edition of 25, sold out within two weeks of release in late 2015. East Wind is a sequence of lyrical essays and haiku that narrate the author’s walk from Hull to Withernsea and Hornsea over the 10th and 11th May 2014. Gordian Projects will be publishing a full collection of Brian Lewis’s essays and poems (provisionally titled Eastings) in 2017. You can order East Wind by clicking on the relevant PayPal button below:

img_1053East Wind
Brian Lewis

UK orders
(£5 + £1.25 postage)

Europe orders (£5 + £3.75 postage)

Rest of World orders (£5 + £5 postage)

Click on the links below to read several recent essays by Brian Lewis for the Longbarrow Press blog:

‘Field Systems’ (on virtual maps, physical space, trespass and belonging)
‘Self-build’ (a brief social history of a working town and its self-build housing schemes)
‘Dead Ends’ (on the development of Hillsborough, Sheffield, and the road north to the former South Yorkshire Asylum)
‘The House of Numbers’ (on the growth, decline and restructuring of London’s docklands, and the poet Ken Smith)

 

 

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Eight Winds

IMG_0878East of the old port:
our fortified terminals,
diminished resorts.

East Wind is a set of three hand-stitched and hand-stamped pamphlets containing a sequence of lyric essays and haiku that narrate a continuous 24 hour walk from Hull to Withernsea and Hornsea on 10-11 May 2014 (earlier versions of the essays appeared on this site between August 2014 and March 2015 under the titles Half-winds, The Compass Rose and The Wind Rose). Priced at just £10, the set is available now from Gordian Projects, and is limited to a numbered edition of 25. Each set comes with a extra enveloped haiku unique to that copy. More details here (update: please note that the limited edition set of 3 pamphlets has now sold out; a limited single-pamphlet edition will appear in January 2016).

IMG_0882A full-length collection of poems and lyric essays, provisionally titled Eastings, is due to appear from Gordian Projects in late 2016. The poems and prose in the book are informed by several years’ walking around the east coast of England, from the Thames estuary to the Humber estuary.

Two recent sequences of poems, Lych-gates and Wichel, shift the focus to south-west England.

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The Wind Rose

A mile of coast, leasehold and freehold, blocked out in the west, clean lines along the flat sheet. To the south, The Willows; to the north, Withernsea Sands. The park is not a public park, it is a retirement camp, hedged and fenced, orderly plots, concrete stops the drift into back country. The centre of the camp is left blank. The caravans look through the town, facing front, letting go of the east. A mile of sands, staked from end to end: the stakes make up the groyne fields, every hundred yards a forced beach, timber sticking out of the sea wall into the sea. It is the town’s measure and protection. At the north end, as Waxholme Road is bent inland, the waves sink the timbers, the waves sink the field lines. The town doesn’t move. Another camp is settled next to Withernsea Sands, Seathorne, an overspill, the camps divided by Waxholme Road. Seathorne is not on the town plan and has no revetments to the east. For every position held by a caravan, two lie vacant: grey-green gaps where the chassis used to rest, a caravan’s width between them. It is not enough to make rank.

Wind Rose 2Withernsea to Hornsea, 11 May 2014

This is the first section of the third and final account in the East Wind series. You can read the full text of  The Wind Rose on Caught by the River. An extract from the first part, Half-winds, appears here; an extract from the second, The Compass Rose, appears here.

The complete texts of the East Wind series, with additional haiku, are now available in a limited edition set of three hand-stitched, hand-stamped pamphlets from Gordian Projects. Click here for more details.

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The Compass Rose

In 1854 a line opened between Kingston upon Hull and the North Sea coast. The Hull and Holderness Railway made the village of Withernsea a town, a terminus, and, in the decades that followed, a popular resort, the branch line drawing visitors from port and plain, through Keyingham, Ottringham and Patrington, villages that remained villages. A grand hotel, later to become a convalescent home, appeared shortly after work on the railway was completed, known as the Station Hotel, then the Queens Hotel, at the junction of Queen Street and Station Road. The pier followed in 1877, its beached turrets forming a seafront entrance, gating the shore. A straight line from rail to sea, a gain of 1196 feet from promenade to pier’s end: a terminus beyond the terminus, a line extended beyond the land. In 1880, 1882, 1888 and 1893, this line was broken, the pier breached and diminished by storms and storm-wrecked vessels, the last of these, the Henry Parr, shortening the pier to 50 feet. By 1903 it was gone, sea and land divided, a new wall on the front. Then wire along the waterline, the summer of 1940, one thin barbed roll stretched out on the sand. Armoured trains arrived later that year, fortifying the town and the weak cliffs to the north, laying down ditches, anti-tank blocks and pillboxes. Soon the war receded and the defences were left to themselves. The seaside resettled its visitors, threading back along the branch line, until 1964, when the passenger service was cut and the line went dead.

Withernsea, 11 May 2014

This is the first section of the second account in the East Wind series; an extract from the first account, Half-winds, appears here. You can read the full text of the third and final account, The Wind Rose, on Caught by the River. The complete texts of the East Wind series, with additional haiku, are now available in a limited edition set of three hand-stitched, hand-stamped pamphlets from Gordian Projects. Click here for more details.

 

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Half-winds

I have forgotten how it was, the last time, the old mistakes in a heap at the station. I leave Hull Paragon, fumbling for a north to put behind me, thinking the bands of retail are a south to set before me, thick clouded fronts, Barracuda, Storm Queen, Wild West Show Bar. The fronts flatten out and the traffic flattens out and I am caught between a car dealership and a budget hotel, neither of which fit the outline of the marina, sinking from memory. The marina is a mile west, a mile south, along the carriageway, crossing the port. 10pm. I am just starting out and the bearings have gone.

Hull to Withernsea, 10-11 May 2014

This is the first section of the first account in the East Wind series (Hull to Hornsea via Withernsea). An extract from the second, The Compass Rose, appears here. The full text of the third and final account (The Wind Rose) appears on Caught by the RiverThe complete texts of the East Wind series, with additional haiku, are now available in a limited edition set of three hand-stitched, hand-stamped pamphlets from Gordian Projects. Click here for more details.

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East Wind

No cross, no colour.
The fields marked and abandoned
by flag and flower.


‘East Wind’ was filmed in the East Riding of Yorkshire, on a strip of land six miles south of the coastal town of Hornsea. The film’s setting is bounded by a MOD training area to the north, a wind farm to the west, East Hill farm to the south, and the North Sea to the east.

The title derives from the Dylan Thomas poem ‘Why east wind chills’; three lines in the film (spoken by Emma Bolland) are taken from another Thomas poem, ‘I make this in a warring absence.’ Commissioned for the 2014 Laugharne Castle Poetry and Film Festival. Scripted, shot and edited by Brian Lewis.

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