Suddenly, the shattered hedges, ancient culverts,
our huge ruined villages, give way as
dimpled fields tilt to the Fen
and the treeless otherworld begins.
- Rory Waterman
A seductive title that draws the reader in, even before s/he’s had chance to crack the spine - whose interest can’t fail to be piqued by the claim that Something Happens, Sometimes Here? This is a short collection of poetry by a selection of writers who were either been born, lived or worked in the Lincolnshire Fenlands, and who have been inspired to turn to words to express the effect this watery landscape has had on them. Anyone familiar with the region will understand how the landscape gets under the skin, as it did with these poets' predecessor Tennyson, who liked to evoke the ‘silent woody places’ of his youth. This is a land of dykes and sluices that fight a constant war with water, keeping the sea at bay with an army of workmen who brought their own tales and superstitions. Alison Brackenbury sums this up with her poem simply titled 'Ditches':
Still they lie deep, though I have gone,
The great dykes with their glinting load,
brown winter floods, fields’ wasteful run,
planted too soon. Are there machines
which rear and dip from the firm road,
scoop glistening banks, clear rotted leaves?
Yet still, I know, there is a day –
A stone-blocked pipe, a tumble tree-
When a man slides down with a spade,
Beats back dead nettles, elder’s switch,
sunk from sky as under sea,
dig, sweats and clears the gurgling ditch.
The workmen, once locally called ‘Fen Tigers,’ are a presence in the book as they dig and clear the ditches, sweating and telling us tales as they work at the mercy of the elements and the attack of rats and the fatal Weil’s disease. This marshy land evokes memories of a time past and proves, as Robert Macfarlane claims in his book The Old Ways, that we recall a land most keenly once we have left it: ‘there are landscapes we bear with us in absentia, those places that live on in memory long after we have withdrawn in actuality.’ Some poems are an ode to a way of life which is gradually being lost, as with Rory Waterman’s simply titled: '53 9’33.17”N, 0 25’33.18”W,' a grid reference to a place long abandoned and left to be reclaimed by mother nature, and in Alison Brackenbury’s 'The House':
Hard through the dream’s cold spring I raised
My house again. My bones and heart ache
In every joist.
Waterman wanted to collate a range of voices in this book and saw it as a response to Ian Park’s Versions of the North: Contemporary Yorkshire Poetry. Setting out to showcase the poetry that was inspired by land ‘where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet,’ the fenlands are England’s second biggest county, but often a land overlooked.
The more recent ‘bastard countryside’ of mud, litter and graffiti is nicely summed up in his poem 'Pulling over to Inspect a Pillbox with a North American Tourist.' This rings true of the wasteland the Fens have become today - a home to scrapyards and dog kennels, food processing plants and used tyre collections, concrete pillar boxes and rusting Nissan huts. Nonetheless, this landscape still has the ability to inspire poetry. I can recommend this collection to anyone who has ever driven over this vast flat land on the way to somewhere else, and been curious to discover just who is it that chooses to live here?
About the reviewer
As a teacher of Art and Design for over thirty years, Tracey Foster has channelled her imagination into getting the best creative output out of others. She is now hoping to restore her create mojo and has enrolled on the Creative Writing MA course at Leicester University. Last year, she completed the Comma Press short story course with Rebecca Burns and collectively published Tales from Garden Street. She is due to have first poem published by the Poetry Bus magazine and is currently working on a poetry collection.
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