linocuts by James Dodds
‘We’ve always lived on the edge, boy;
Small boats, lines and nets.
We’ve always fished as the old men fished,
And the old men showed the sea respect.’
When I visited Aldeburgh, the Suffolk coast was new to me. Its physical geography surprised me, its stony shores unexpectedly bleaker and more exposed than the sandy beaches of Northumberland. In the four weeks I spent there, however, I soon found many similarities to home – particularly in the crisis facing the longshore fishermen, who use small boats and traditional methods to catch cod, soles, herring and crabs. When I wrote this poem, seven boats fished from the beach at Aldeburgh. Two years later, only three are left.
As I crunched along the Suffolk beaches, I reflected on the mutability of the coast. I looked out towards the lost city of Dunwich, once one of England’s biggest ports, now almost entirely sunk beneath the sea:
‘White-veined, white fretted, brown
And snagged with angry light.’
I thought of the decline of the longshoremen’s way of life, handed down for generations, and now vanishing before our eyes. Longshore Drift is an attempt to capture a glimpse of what we are losing.
Longshore Drift was written for radio and first broadcast on BBC Radio 3.
Jardine Press Ltd 2005
148 x 200mm, 48pp