Come hail, rain or shine, every day for the last five years Paul Summers has taken a ritual walk along the rocky shore at the mouth of the River Tyne. For Summers, Freestone Point is a place of meditation and contemplation, observation, observance, celebration and grief. It is also the source of all the poems in his new collection, a space in which the imaginary and the documentary, the private and the political, the living and the dead can be seen, and rage, love, hope and despair heard above the hysterical gossip of the insatiable gulls.
Cover image: detail from DIORAMA SS.8.67 by Ian Stephenson, 1967
‘In den finsteren Zeiten, wird da auch gesungen werden? Da wird auch gesungen werden. Von den finsteren Zeiten.’ Bertolt Brecht & on the eighth day there was darkness again. even darker than the last time but not a patch on the next if you believe that weird, little god-nik fucker at the monument. darker than that time you gaffer taped my eyes. darker than that night we hammered the poitin in davy’s da’s shed & you bit off the ears of his sister’s classroom gerbil. darker than the entire contents of johnny cash’s wardrobe. darker than the core of an overlooked verruca. dark as fuck, apart from a pulse of weak, pale light emitted in the west from the burntout convoy of overturned police-vans currently blocking all six lanes of the A1(M) in both directions, & from jimmy upstairs, who has somehow rigged an old black & white portable to a carbattery so he can watch attheraces completely unimpeded by events of global significance, & your slightly eccentric, europhile neighbour; the one with the nice job & the buy-to-let mortgage, engaged in an act of quiet immolation there in the back-lane, precariously close to our wheelie-bin. apart from all that though, it’s dark as fuck. much darker than the last time, not a patch on the next.
wallsend the billet hearth retreats to ash, its flicker dulled. i dream the plains of friesland green, my children’s breath, my wife’s warm curves, my mother’s smile; grief ’s battalions unrelenting. tomorrow we march, the next day too, lost in the rhythm of our advancement; we learn another word for cold.
‘the old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.’ Antonio Gramsci & the way will be perilous; black ice & shark-eyed smiles, several heaps of hogmanay vomit, a vacant pizza-box draped with hoar, its palimpsest of feast & greed, bleak litany of the new & old, dog-shit & fag-ends & crumbling roads, the hours’ lash, the pains of labour, the endless cycle of peddled fact. & then the sanctuary of frozen sand; its confluence of salt & wind-whipped crows, the hymn of a sea cathedral hollow. kick off your shoes my love & walk; due east, towards the burgeoning sun. plough on through the grave mounds of haddock-frames & listless kelp, tread slowly on the pebble field, avoid the triggers of its toad-back traps; then walk & wade & catch your breath, beyond the bar where codling lurk, let swell becalm your troubled blood, squeeze shut your jaded eyes & dream; the rapture of tectonic plates entwined in acts of violence & of love, the red raw ooze of magma’s birthing, each push, each jolt, each breathless force exerted sees citadels emergent from these waves, a glimpse of doggerland’s trembling plains, its strongholds of hope re-rendered now un-drowned, their beacons still charged, their gates agape, their monsters slain; each edifice an altar awaiting our faith.
each brittle shaft of autumn light draughts distance darker, ill-defined, renders this grief both arbitrary & vane. the salt looks back, retracing the wake of the biggest adventure. beyond the anarchy of restless waves, the shrinking smirk of cold, black rock; the basalt fists of home, its petrified heart, a mother’s weak magic, a tight-lipped arc, the great refusal.
spanish battery, tynemouth reluctantly, a shivering crow utters the semblance of a blunt hello. framed by grey, the crabbers pray the next pot full & in the lull between the haul, the bait & set, a moment gifted to sweet regret. the wind has shifted, the swell grown loud, her slapped percussion on the hull & in the lull of wane & surge, their eyes are bowed in quiet mourning, entranced by the dirge of the fog horn’s warning, their losses replete: each narrow defeat, some love forsaken, the road not taken, their promise spurned, the bridges burned, a crust unearned. the tide has turned.
the sun is fake news; luring the hipsters to hunt out espadrilles & ice-cooled ciders. slave to the rigours of her lunar obligations, the sea, grown weary, eternally deprived of sleep; reluctantly whips up a swell, her choir of waves reduced to whispers. this maudlin light throws down her shade, redraws the detail of some blunt townscape: the cathedral of mistrust, the morgue of hope, the grey necropolis of dreams, the cold panopticon of incarcerated fact, the bleak infirmary of all our passion. a billion blunt faces roughly rendered from a low-cost amalgam of grief & mediocrity: their deafened ears, wax-sealed, their cheek-bones ignoble, their mouths agape, their eyes unseeing. in scarcity of certainty, we relish in constants: the stairwell at wetherspoons rife with the perfumes of debt & burnt chips, the till-queue at aldi resplendent with the glow of defeated northern smiles, & outside the co-op, the yokes of our apathy, abundant as leaves.
‘Amid the uncertain, transitional landscape of the Tyne estuary, Paul Summers confronts disappointment, betrayal and grief and places them against the immense cycles of geology, weather, tide and season. Identifying grace and freedom in the ever-changing landscape and its birds, he participates in nature’s regenerative act, transforming bleakness into a love-song that transcends despair.’
‘In this powerful new collection, Summers extends his habitual beach-comber’s patrol North of rapture, North of grief. The lines, tightening and toughening, pick up on the brute force of politics, economics, time and change. His exact skill is in setting the right ratio of passing bliss off against this largely bleak terrain, to glow disproportionately, to retrieve just enough’.
‘The poetry is in the fury, a righteous anguish which singles this work out as radical, renewing, and indispensable.’