On the Saltmarsh

On the Saltmarsh is a book about language and silence. There is the historical silence that refuses to say where the bodies lie in Chile, Kosovo and Baghdad. There is the language of old photographs, bloody handprints and broken headstones. There are the suppressed memories of the survivors, the redrawn borders of the victors and the unmarked graves of the defeated. It is a book about migration and exile, contemporary history and everyday losses, a lost map of shifting sands, rising tides and the swollen silences of the Saltmarsh.

Sample Poems

The Boat on the Saltmarsh

What happens to light on the saltmarsh?
It skids to mud.
What happens to language?
Under bulging cloud,
the larks gabble syllables.
What happens to the children?
They lie on the mud-bed,
on the dunlin's scrawling,
in channels where the tide
trespasses, plunges,
and the rowing-boat
rotting amongst sea-purslane
won't skim towards them.

The Saltmarsh as Port of Entry

The children sailed in at night.
The stars were scheming.
Fog spilled from the moon.
The tide was rising
and snared them into the saltmarsh.
The boat foundered.
The children stumbled in mud.
So far they'd travelled
from Kalashnikovs
burning houses
people burning.
They waded into the dark.
The marsh plants scoured them,
glasswort, sea wormwood,
the lapwings screeched around them.
The saltmarsh woke,
had them airlifted out
in handcuffs, blindfolds,
kept them apart in prison.

The Saltmarsh as No Man's Land

There were children, but the marsh
fed them rock-salt,
left them drenched, in their underwear.
The marsh gave them
the half-life sea for a plaything,
she gave them freedom
to trudge in the dark, to flop
in the brimming mud,
to lie on their backs and blink at the constellations.
They hauled back rusted land-mines,
sprung themselves into scrap-iron,
trying to shake her.


'Ruth Valentine takes us to places such as Kosovo and Baghdad to show us ordinary people in the epicentre of conflict; those who are missing, those who are executed, those who survive. It is rare (and reassuring) to find a poet writing about the political in these difficult times; Valentine's poems are powerful, but never dogmatic, always humane and honest.'

Tamar Yoseloff

'Valentine is a very gifted poet. She has mastered the craft of starting a poem in a low key, almost conversational style, describing a past event, quietly dropping a single disconcerting word into the lines which unsettles but you’re not sure why. So you read on, and there are further hints, subtle, understated, but always pulling you towards an exploration of something you realise has universal importance.'


'It is refreshing to come across a poet who is not afraid to re-enact, and in this way confront, uncomfortable political and historical truths.'

Poetry Salzburg Review

'Valentine is unafraid to talk about real things, difficult things, injustice, warm politics, losses and privations, death.'


‘a beguiling, exceptionally composed volume of poems touching on some of the most sensitive nerve-points of mid-to-late twentieth century history.’

Socialist History