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Bristol , United Kingdom
I'm co-director of the Leaping Word Poetry Consultancy, which provides advice for poets on writing, editing and publishing, as well as qualified counselling support for those exploring personal issues in their work - https://theleapingword.com. My fifth poetry collection, Learning Finity, is now available from Indigo Dreams or directly from me.

Wednesday 6 June 2012

The Poet and the Boatman

Another poem takes its (very modest) place in the world, having won second prize in this year's Chipping Sodbury Poetry Competition and earning me a discretionary twenty quid, which I shall spend on petrol for a jaunt somewhere with Ted.

So here it is, flushed with success (rather than tuberculosis).  

(Incidentally, the Boatman was James Harvey, my great-great-great-great-I-can't-remember-how-many-exactly-greats-grandfather, who travelled around the south-western peninsula and lived briefly in Teignmouth in the very early 1830s, having married a woman from just along the coast at St Marychurch.  He would never have met Keats, having moved there some fourteen years after the poet's sojourn.)

                  The Poet and the Boatman

                  Tidal here, and salt - 
                  the final turn of Teign
                  before its fretful merging with the sea
                  creates a harbour in the lee of land,
                  this curved blood-coloured beach.

                  Through mist that lifts like linen wraiths

                  I glimpse the poet stripping off
                  his white ballooning shirt and britches,
                  bathing in a manner 
                  far from gentlemanly

                  The water's cold, 

                  he'll catch a chill

while over here a boatman's sanding smooth

                  a newly mended hull.
                  He'll check the caulk is watertight
                  before he ventures out to rescue souls
                  condemned to whelming death.

                  Both men are bright-faced,

                  close in age
                  yet they'll never share a jar
                  for by the time the boatman's posted here,
                  John Keats is twelve years dead.

                  No one could have saved the poet

                  from drowning in his blood

Instead the boatman heads for breakfast

                  and John is gone with a flap of his red-stained shirt
                  to flirt with the sleep-soft girls
                  stirring in their beds
                  above the bonnet shop.

©Deborah Harvey 2009, 2012


In Spring 1818, Keats spent three months in Teignmouth on the South Devon coast in the vain hope that the temperate climate and sea air would cure his brother's consumption.

1 comment:

  1. Second try. Deborah, your modesty is proper but the poem is great. Every line is a solid step in a vivid and meaningful music. Speaking of a jaunt with Ted, thanks to you and Patrick Harpur I've been reading Ted Hughes' Winter Pollen. Much more Ted ahead, and Deborah too.