Littoral Magazine - Winter Solstice - December 21st 2022
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For details of my poetry collection Credo published by Mica Press
and my latest prose work The Incidental Marshman published by Campanula Books
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Credo, by Mervyn Linford. Mica Press. 62pp., £9
Mervyn Linford’s ninth collection of poems, Credo, is a bold statement of faith in the natural world.
Linford’s main viewpoints are the shorelines, salt marshes, mudflats and tidal creeks of Essex. Anticipating the claim that these places are unprepossessing, he writes in ‘Indistinguishable (Marsh Road – Burnham on Crouch)’ ‘Who could love/such a landscape?’ For a celebrant of the natural world, love is a haunting, an imaginative involvement in the life of the land. That poem’s title, and the titles of several poems of place, give precise locations: ‘Wet & Westerly (Bradwell Waterside)’, ‘November the Fifth – Two Tree Island’, ‘Black-Tailed Godwits – Mersea Island’, and the promissory precision of the titles is fully realised in the keenly observed detail in the poems, details that includes variations in the quality of light in the landscape.
In the opening lines of ‘November the Fifth – Two Tree Island’ he writes
the sea – like silver foil –
refracts the fallen sunlight from a tide
that sears the mudflats.
The birds in ‘Black-Tailed Godwits – Mersea Island’ are seen ‘silhouetted in the heat of late September/and the sun-shot, glittering, shatter of the sea/in smithereens.’ In contrast to the luminescence of these two poems, he writes lyrically of a level light in ‘Esox Lucius’ (the Latin binomial for pike)
How calm this river glides:
the willow-herb, the willows, autumn light –
where green as jade the water holds the sun
And he captures the absence of light in the playful virtuosity of ‘Soundless’: ‘Mist across the meadows/amputates alders:/leaves oaks in mid-air − /cuts cattle in half.’
The natural world of Credo ranges from land and sea to the skies. ‘Through the Leaves – Through the Branches’ ends with the lines ‘I can see the planets and the stars/held after midnight, like the fruits of darkness’, and in ‘Spate – Liston Mill – River Stour’ he speaks of ‘a firmament so deep and drenched with stars’. Through this encompassing vision and a profound imaginative involvement in the life of the land, Linford is, in a pure and simple sense, a visionary and mystical poet. He himself is aware of this condition when he writes of sunlight on a mill pool in ‘Miracle’
Who said that miracles don’t happen –
that epiphanies and other forms of mystic revelation
are dreams and wishes?
Miracles exist only when a person has the capacity for the miraculous, and it is this capacity that allows Linford to apprehend the spirit as well as the topography of a place.
These lines from ‘Miracle’ are prompted, I believe, by a religious as well as a creative impulse. Linford’s religious impulse, a non-doctrinal twenty-first-century variant of animism, appears in the title poem, ‘Credo’, where he writes of ‘these religious littorals of light’; ‘Gothic – Thames Estuary’ ends in ‘the sanctity of stone/in dawn’s cathedral’; and he speaks of watching an ‘aspect of creation’ and realising ‘a joy/that’s unexplained’ in ‘Black-Headed Gulls – Sudbury’. His explicitly religious poems, ‘Il Est Né’ and ‘Epiphany at Chartres’, lack a Christian presence and seem merely dutiful.
His love poems, too, lack a presence: the loved one is less substantial than the contexts in which she appears; her presence is displaced by features of the natural world; she is not seen as a subject of adoration. In ‘Golden Shower’ he speaks of ‘each cruel event’ and sees the loved one not in her own right but ‘in every flower/in every star’; ‘Song & Dance’ speaks of the end of love, and perhaps the end of life
where darkness snuffs
the snowdrop and the rose
and rooks are silent.
And yet, perhaps ironically, ‘Old Man’s Fancy’, a poem in which the loved one appears, or disappears, among bluebells, anemones, bees and nettles, is one of Linford’s most lyrical. His lyricism is apparent throughout the book; Credo sings.
James Aitchison, October 2017
The Incidental Marshman by Mervyn Linford
Reviewed by Neil Leadbeater
The full title of author, poet and pantheist Mervyn Linford’s latest book is ‘The Incidental Marshman: From Mucking Creek to the Broomway’. A marshman is the name given to a person who lives in marshy country, an inhabitant of a specific area of marshland. It’s a term I had not come across before but Linford, having moved from the bombsites of Canning Town in the East End of London over sixty-seven years ago to the freshwater fleets, dykes and creeks in the Essex coastlands, more than fits this definition.
At the start of this book, which is part poetry and part prose, Linford pitches his readers into a distinctive landscape that is marked (some might say marred) by oil refineries, pipelines, flare-stacks, standpipes and landfill sites. Some might regard this as an unlikely place for poetry, especially poetry that relates to the natural world, but Linford is perfectly at home here drawing endless inspiration from creeks, guts, gulleys, saltings and marshes in the coastal environs of Essex: strange worlds that are neither land nor sea. Despite what Linford terms as ‘our eleventh-hour inability to face the environmental and climate facts’, there are success stories to be found within these pages. The Thames, for one thing, is far less polluted than it used to be.
Linford’s powers of description make this a memorable read: a single daffodil is described as ‘a bright idea’ and Spring is ‘a green idea.’ The sun is ‘a burning question in the west’. A little egret is ‘a circus performer on stilts’ as it teeters on the edge of the tide and brent geese ‘bob about on the waves like burnt corks’. Reading this book, you can almost smell the oyster smacks, cockle spits and brine coming off the sea.
Never one for towns, Linford is happiest when he is communing with nature: ‘the curlew’s lost and lonely call speaks to the soul whereas the sound of traffic and aircraft doesn’t. Somehow it’s where we came from.’
The book is a fund of information. Linford’s knowledge of his local area is encyclopaedic. If you want to know where the Peasants’ Revolt began, why a pub called ‘The Dun Cow’ on Canvey Island changed its name to ‘The King Canute’ or the name of the plant that used to be seen on the back of the old thruppenny bit, the answers are all here.
Key events are described such as The Great North Sea Flood, interesting insights are given on the possible origins of Dutch Elm Disease and an account is given of the life cycle of the European eel. Always one to document the vicissitudes of our English weather, the Great Storm of October 1987 is given some prominence in a chapter on Southend-on-Sea when ‘Michael Fish went ex-directory’.
We catch the author’s surprise and delight in coming across masses of the relatively rare golden samphire below a seawall in Hole Haven, sense his wonder at seeing a phosphorescent bloom of plankton out in the estuary, marvel at his description of sand martins massing for migration at Paglesham and share the joy of patience rewarded when he finally comes face to face with a short-eared owl quartering the banks of Two Tree Island.
Linford’s love of fishing is all pervasive. Many fish swim through the pages of this book: eel, rudd, roach, perch, tench, flounder and skate are all there in phenomenal numbers just waiting to take the bait on the end of our line. He writes extensively about the shellfish trade at Old Leigh and the oyster fisheries at Paglesham.
I never knew that Essex had so many interesting place-names. As well as Mucking there is Messing followed by places with names such as Fobbing, Sutton-with-Shopland and Ballards Gore. In many cases, Linford gives us their derivations and sometimes he writes poems which play on these names.
The book ends at the Broomway: a public right of way across the foreshore at Maplin Sands. When the tide is out it provides access to Foulness Island. The Broomway is named after the ‘withies’ or ‘brooms’, bundles of twigs attached to short poles, that were used to mark the route. The track is extremely dangerous in misty weather as incoming tides can flood across the sands at high speed obscuring the direction of the shoreline.
This book is complemented with many colour photographs taken by the author to illustrate the local geography. With his wealth of knowledge and at times, irrepressible sense of humour, Linford leads us on an inspiring journey that is accessible, informative and enjoyable. Fully recommended.
The Incidental Marshman
By Mervyn Linford
Released – 1 June 2022
First Published in The Poet