It's the Harbour Festival in Bristol this weekend, and I spent a while at the Scout Hut on Redcliff Backs this lunchtime, with Dru who was selling some of her books and cards, alongside other Bristol publishers. I had a thoroughly good time, drinking lots of tea and chatting to one of them, namely, Keith Taylor, who, with his wife Geraldine and son Peter, was lucky enough to meet and become the close friends of one of my heroes, the Wiltshire etcher, Robin Tanner, in the last few years of his life. So good to hear that the great man, and his wife, Heather, were as kindly and humane in real life as I'd suspected.
Dru very kindly gave three copies of my book table space, though none of them sold. In fact, far from making money, I ended up out of pocket, having succumbed to the lure of various local, heavily discounted publications. Ah well, good to know I have kept several of the city's finest booksellers solvent for another year.
I had to get back to the car park at Asda promptly for fear of being clamped, so didn't really have time to linger in the harbour. The day before, however, I'd had a post- workshop lunch at a very crowded Brunel's Buttery on Wapping Wharf with several of Bristol and Bath's finest poets, and had snapped these photos before the place really filled up with people.
I love it when the city is full of tall-masted ships. I like to think it must be a little like how it was when my great-great grandparents lived on Christmas Steps in the 1880s, selling faggots and peas in buckets to the men laying tramlines in the city centre.
The Mary Block
Pleasure, for my great-great-grandmother,
was always deferred.
You’ll get your reward in Heaven
the creed of her fellow Brethren
as they trod their narrow path towards
a stern, starch-collared God.
Abstinence deemed a virtue,
while hardship fell like blessings
on their heads.
Not that Mary never softened.
At times she pitied the wanting faces
of her offspring.
Scarlet ribbons … marbles … a waxen doll …
You’ll get it when my ship comes in!
Almost a promise when you live by the harbour
of a city a-bristle with ships,
and surely not idle
(for Mary Block was never idle).
Unlike her daughters, sent out for pig’s fry,
but sidling along the quays in search of adventure
amongst the stacked timber, the bales of tobacco,
the casks of amber Bristol Milk,
and finding a ship gilded to legend
by a shadow-shuttered dawn,
the name Mary Block engraved on her bows
and escaping like orisons from their mouths
as they hallelujah up Christmas Steps
Deborah Harvey © 2011
My first poetry collection, Communion, published by Indigo Dreams, is now available, and this poem is in it.