Emma Lee reviews a handsome anthology of poems inspired by the South Lookout on Aldeburgh Beach

Lookout: poetry from Aldeburgh Beach
edited by Tamar Yoseloff
Lookout Editions www.aldeburghbeachlookout.com
ISBN 978 0 9956250 0 6

Some of the poems in this anthology about the South Lookout at Aldeburgh Beach were inspired by a night spent in residence, some arose in art-based workshops, and some came from just a visit. Each poem is presented with an introduction on its origin or inspiration by the poet. Julia Bird’s night in residence was in February, and unsurprisingly her thoughts turn to fire, in “The Boast”

    In the morning when you think the hearth is dead
I'll find the dull red sweeties in the ash 
     and, with a twist of paper handkerchief
and whispered streams of coaxing spells,
    will breed a bed of yellow crocus flames.
Yellow dancing girls. Orange soldiers
    who will follow any orders that I make.
When we've charred our way through every forest,
    torched our chopped up chairs and kicked in doors;
when all that's left to warm up in the embers 
    is crab-apples and stones, you may call me on this boast.

Anne-Marie Fyfe’s residency took her back to her roots near the Sea of Moyle in Ireland in “On the Slipway”

eerily giant footprints in wet sand,
cooling slap of calamine lotion after sunshine,
my uncle's accordion shanties from a darkening porch,

dip and pull of each oar in serious waters,
the stark white of our house from this side of the point,
that homecoming judder as a keel grates on beachstones once again.

There’s a mix of personal memories and observations, such as footprints in wet sand or dip and pull of each oar in serious waters the reference to beachstones, that could be common to both locations. Blake Morrison’s sequence “Flotsam” also has hints of mystery,

There's a hiss in the reeds, a shush in the surf.
Scrunch your heel in the sand and it whispers.
There's a secret, you know there's a secret.
But the shingle keeps it. The pebbles stay schtum.

Its rhythm is as regular as the ebb and flow of waves. The susurus of “s” sounds could be lulling or sinister depending on a reader’s interpretation. Blake Morrison’s poem didn’t arise from a residency but he clearly knows the local coast well. Penelope Shuttle took advantage of a chance to spend an hour at the Lookout and wrote “Moth and Rain” which ends

The winds lie low

letting clouds and rain
take the rap

Strokes of silver light
to southward

and when the sun warms
the lookout tower 

those darn flies wake up
and cuss.

George Szirtes’ “Howard Hodgkin Considers the Moon” resulted from a collaboration between The London Magazine and the art gallery at the Lookout.

When it comes to me green through the green window
it is not green but brown. When it enters the back
of the eyes it is not brown but black with a faint afterglow.
When I wake in the night, once again it is black,
then swells into a kind of gold or foxed yellow.

This captures the changing effect of light and the difficulty of pinning down an image, telling how a perspective can be altered by time of day or mood. Like the poets, the artist is left to narrow down choices and pick a significant moment to turn into art. Naturally rain appears in Tamar Yoseloff’s “The Rain”

The sky carries her dark warnings, her weapons;
the earth releases its hidden subjects,
stems blossoming in her name.

She declaims against the frivolous sun; no good
can come in a world at play. We must suffer
and love it. We must work for joy.

I have not been to Aldeburgh so can’t comment on the accuracy of description in the poems. I am familiar with British beach landscapes and these poems felt true. The cumulative effect of reading each in turn gave me a sense that the poets felt a deep respect for their surroundings and the power of the sea and the effects of weather. The poems work on many layers. They serve as a souvenir for those who’ve visited Aldeburgh and the poetry festival, an introduction to those who have yet to visit and a reminder of the power of communication and the balancing act of nature: sun after rain, spring after winter. What’s more, the poems are complemented by accompanying images, including views from the Lookout and of Aldeburgh beach. These add to the sense of place and impress on the reader the care that went into the presentation of this anthology. The images do not intrude on the poems but enhance them. Lookout: poetry from Aldeburgh beach is a treasure to return to and dip into.

Emma Lee‘s most recent collection is Ghosts in the Desert  (Indigo Dreams, 2015). She was co-editor for Over Land Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves, 2015) and blogs at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com