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.
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, anywhere.
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
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.
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’
‘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.’
‘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.’