London Grip Poetry Review – Lynda Plater

Poetry Review – SAVING FRUITRennie Halstead looks at a lost way of life in rural Lincolnshire in Lynda Plater’s latest pamphlet.

Saving Fruit 
Lynda Plater 
Wayleave Press  2020
ISBN: 978-I-9999728-5-I

Lynda Plater’s second pamphlet draws its inspiration from family history on the coast of Lincolnshire, from Great-Grandad George, the cockler and market gardener (1858-1942) through Grandad Sid, soldier and market gardener (1895-1951) to Mam (1923-1971). This strongly visual pamphlet shows the struggles of earlier generations trying to make a living in an often hostile environment, where hard physical labour was the norm.

“Great-grandad at the cockle bed, 1910” creates a picture of the experience of the cockle industry over a century ago. George rakes the cockles by hand:

	rattling shells
as waves do at a sand shelf.
Their ebb and flow 
is a roll, a gathering.

He relies on his horse and cart to help with the work:

His horse, sleep filled,
sandfly tired, utters snorts.
Cart loaded, sacks
draining their brine
on wood.

On the journey home:

a horse which can find
its own way round
butt runs and soft sand.

There is the business of unloading and preparing the cockles:

At the yard, enamel buckets
rattle as man
and wife rinse shells:
They are both singing.

This beautiful, vivid snapshot of a long-past way of working has the authenticity of a Sutcliffe photograph. The writing takes the reader into a world of long windswept beaches, harsh easterly winds and hard physical labour.

Great-Grandad reappears in “End of a Living, 1931”. The poem marks the end of an era for the family. We learn:

He will no longer be heard
calling from Eastgate
as women wait with cups
for a gill of cockles
raked from Donna Nook.

The horse, which drew the cart all these years:

has dropped amid the clatter
of buckets on to straw,
[…] heart stalled.
One eye up.

Great-Grandad kneels by his dying horse:

his hands amid the greasy mane.
The last suck of air, then 
a hessian sack drawn
over that one dull eye.

We are not just witnessing the death of the horse here. The loss devastates Great-Grandad George too:

Great-Grandma […]
leads her man home
through the yard
where numb stars
wash about his dark.

It would be easy for this poem to fall into sentimentality, but the precision of focus and sharpness of the writing avoids the danger and once again we have the crystal clarity of a photograph recording not just a death, but the passing of a way of life.

The next generation features Grandad Sid, soldier and market gardener. We first meet Sid on service in Palestine in 1918, remembering home life, and a year later in “Sid’s first days of leaving Palestine, 1919”. After a choppy journey, Sid returns home, a changed man, feeling a stranger in his family’s world. His mother threw wet arms round him:

Dad said
Now then  lad
and lit his pipe.

The experience, the inability to talk about his wartime experiences overwhelms Sid:

 […] Sid’s words 
wouldn’t come:
not in the yard or stable
where the horses slept,
not in the winter lane
nor at the shore

The memory is impossible to forget:

would not
but remained
tiding in him.

“Laboured hands 1951” revisits Sid forty years later, and looks at the effect of long hours worked in frozen fields:

he cuts greens on frosted field

until his fingers weep,
stain the long-bladed knife,

and take away the feel
of sacks of greens

This is no romantic way of life. Sid’s hands are paying for a lifetime of manual field labour:

 […] he can

no longer hold cutlery;
has to palm the cup.

His wife washes the cuts, binds and poultices the fingers with comfrey and dock leaves, but this is temporary respite:

In sleep his hands
are wound in tight,


With dawn he unwinds 
the remedy of cloth, peels

off the comfrey compress.
Fields are white with hoar frost.

The last two poems look at the wildlife of Lincolnshire. In “Rooks in winter”, Plater creates a strong image of the busy blackness of rooks, filling the air:

They have spilled their inkwell with wide wing
to dribble black down winter trees, into
untidy sticks of last spring’s nests.

They make an etch of marsh in December
with their span on papered sky

“Gather”, the last poem, describes the countryside after ploughing and has a timeless quality. “Now fields are ploughed / in lines of brown corduroy”. The hedges are bare except for “a twine / of sloes like tiny buttons / on the boughs”. The characters in the poem have come together to see the starlings gather in an autumn murmuration. They

come in and ravel up:
ten thousand wings frayed
in flight give breath to sky,
fill air with chattering bills
in a vocabulary of mystery.

and all too quickly:

they fold into the cloth of dusk,
its soil and reed, it’s hedgerow.

Saving Fruit creates a vivid and memorable picture of life in rural Lincolnshire in the first half of the twentieth century. Plater captures the wildlife, the landscape and the lives of the people living and working in it with a pictorial, almost photographic realism. She has the ability to transport the reader back into the past through her spare imagery and simple language.

Rennie Halstead