Judi Sutherland’s book-length river poem begins with these lines:
gravity downhill, becomes a rill,
a rickle of old stones, then hurtles rocks,
purls and pools in reeds, broadens, welcomes in
the tribute of the lesser streams …
The sense of motion, the ebb and flow of Sutherland’s cadences, the unforced use of alliteration and internal rhyme: everything coheres into an exquisite aesthetic statement of intent which is developed and delivered on as the book progresses.
Following Teisa - the word is the ancient name of the River Tees - has its root (or should I say its wellspring?) in an earlier book-length poetical work, Teisa: A Descriptive Poem of the River Teese, its Towns and Antiquities, by Anne Wilson, apparently self-published in 1778 and long since forgotten. Sutherland includes a facsimile of Wilson’s title page along with a short but informative introduction providing context on Wilson’s life and work, as well as setting out her own stall.
Sutherland’s achievements in Following Teisa are certainly not to be under-appreciated: the book functions with equal success as a work of poetry, an evocation of the natural world, a travelogue and a social document. Each stage of her journey is carefully delineated with relevant place names, while a scattering of beautifully rendered line drawings by Holly Magdalene Scott perfectly complement Sutherland’s words.
Only two other works came to mind as I read Following Teisa: Nancy Gaffield’s Meridian and Alan Baker’s Riverrun; Following Teisa deserves to stand head and shoulders alongside them. By turns lyrical, contemplative, urgent and incisive, it is a joy.
Neil Fulwood lives and works in Nottingham. He has published three full poetry collections with Shoestring Press, No Avoiding It, Can’t Take Me Anywhere and Service Cancelled. Smokestack Books will publish his new collection, Mad Parade, in July 2022.