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.
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 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.
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, cluster-bombs, 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.'
'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 youâ€™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.’