The Out-Islands

Poems by Martin Edwards

The Caribbean Out-Islands are a long way out, just over the horizon. Christopher Columbus made landfall here. Atlantis is said to lie beneath the waves. The Out-Islands have been safe- havens for pirates, escaped slaves and the super-rich. Although these islands are mostly uninhabited today, they carry names like Paradise Island, Peace and Plenty Island and Eleuthera Island. When the ice-caps melt they will disappear forever.

Martin Edwards lived close to the Out-Islands for a number of years. Although he never found the time to visit them, they are still there, a long way out, but just over the wide horizon. The Out-Islands is a book about Paradise and its discontents, about homesickness and utopian longing, about travellers and tourists, surfers, swimmers and drowned sailors.

Sample Poems


Leaving for Australia in a couple of days,
Dad opening a drawer

to show me wills and deeds,
insurance and pensions

all the paperwork
of a life in order.


Outside Oxford a hot air balloon
floats up from the palm of England

and I imagine him looking down
tiny spectacles in a tiny window

at the Pacific’s vast origami
folding and unfolding

suggesting this and that
some land, a runway,



I listened to his voice on the shortwave radio,
almost lost in the Roaring Forties:
It’s blowing a gale here... over.
discovered again in the calm of the Sargasso Sea:
I love you both...
then glowing with sun from the Caribbean,
frosted and scared as he rounded the Horn
to gaze for the first time on the Pacific Ocean,
quoting us Keats and describing
a nasty cut on his thumb.

How can I forget him,
out in the garage every weekend,
working on the boat,
the Morris displaced,
the varnish on its wooden trimmings peeling?

How can I forget the start of the race:
the garage demolished,
due to a miscalculation
of the relative widths of boat and door
and then out in the bay so many boats
each moving at a different angle to the wind?

And his voice on the radio and then
nothing, and nothing.

Stories in the papers for a couple of days,
my mother interviewed
and the boat at last found
dragging its anchor off Donegal.
He’d gone no further than that,
the radio’s battery exhausted by the lies,
nobody on board.


here s where the land
frays into shingle,

where the sea s pulse gets
obsessive and there s

almost nothing
for your feet to push against

so each step s a slow
analysis of a step

and you remember
how the processions

always finish in confusion,
how this coastal town s

only home for a while,
its pearly sea-mists

spoiled by dusk
like blood tick-ticking

into a proffered saucer
of bread and milk

Shanty Town

It was a cheap country
and we could afford to tip
the bus-boy a tenner
by mistake
in the Sheraton
with its marble bathrooms
and open-air
roof-top pool
like a blue silk flower.

Late at night
on a cable channel
parachuting naked girls
came floating by
like magnified seeds
and our currency ripened
and began to smell
under the immense pillows.


Nights when the moon was sunk without trace
the unlit planes would ghost in low over coral
where the sea teethed and worried the lagoon.

We took a Jeep out once beyond the last
of the guard-dogged, half-built houses
to where the only road just petered

out but kept on driving through the trees
to Freetown’s roofless, peeling shacks,
rotten, upturned boats on a littered shore.

Then further out to where the crashed planes were:
scattered like jacks around a still clearing,
Dakotas and Cessnas slewed and ditched,

and right in the middle a pool:
deep and oblong, blown from the rock
with a springboard and silver ladders.

The water was fresh and the palest blue
over white coral like air
lapping at a nest’s edge.

Frank O’Hara’s Collected Poems

It’s the same edition: Vintage Books,
with the cover collage by Larry Rivers,
never published in Britain;

the one I lifted from Bowes and Bowes
years ago when I was almost young,
tucked under my vest

under my ex-US-army jacket,
which had pockets inside pockets,
all empty save for some tiny and

mysterious deposits of sand,
that were there when I bought it,
that made me think

of shorelines and beaches:
Fire Island, the Bay of Pigs,
Juno and Gold, Castro

landing at Las Coloradas,
that I grind
between fingertips

for courage
as I wait.
As I grow old.


‘Tough, stubborn, intelligent, like knives’

Selima Hill

‘There’s a restraint and precision about Martin Edwards’ work. This is the work of someone who’s willing to wait for the poem to find its own way, to produce what – the moment you’ve read it – feels like the only possible line. Edwards frequently uses his spare, unadorned style to leave little gaps in his narratives, to particularly good effect. These are beautifully economical pieces.’

Matt Merritt

‘Edwards is a poet who knows what to put in, and what to leave out. He knows where to end a line, and where to end a poem. He seems to have an intuitive understanding of how to walk the line between looseness and tautness, and ends up with a precision that still manages to range.’

Hilary Menos