A Northumbrian Book of Hours, Neil Curry
Wayleave Press, 2021 £4.00
Time & tide
The more I read these prose poems, the more they draw me back. Some bring a glimpse of iconic moments from early Northumbrian history, centred on the tidal island of Lindisfarne (always Holy Island to me), from the time of Aiden and Cuthbert and just beyond. I find the combination of this time and place irresistible.
Other poems woven through, with canonical hours for titles, mark the passing of time. In ‘Sext’, for example, there’s the return of the puffins to Inner Farne in spring. In ‘Nones’ it’s the tide and heat of summer, and in ‘Vespers’ autumn is over and winter is here (the ‘history’ poems are simply numbered).
Think of Holy Island, think of time and tide. ‘Terce’ brings thoughts of the past, of Vikings, their raid on Lindisfarne, as well as the danger of being caught by the tide:
I start to count syllables here because of the line endings, then become interested in the beginnings too, which seems strange in this right-justified prose poem.
Later, I’m drawn back to ‘Nones’, to the rhythm of the tides, the quietness and stillness of a hot ‘midsummer’s afternoon’ where ‘Not a leaf / moves. No birds sing’. This quiet meditation is followed by a burst of (violent) history in the facing poem ‘9’, mirroring that time and echoing the earlier ‘Terce’.
I know now I’m more drawn to these canonical hours poems because they’re meditative. In ‘Compline’, Lindisfarne is a setting-off point for the tiny island of Hobthrush, and later the farther out Inner Farne:
so much to get away from the world as
from those who came between him and
Hobthrush becomes known as St Cuthbert’s Island. The idea of Cuthbert getting away ‘from the world’ is turned on its head, and this feels right when standing on this islet, imagining the tide closing in, being surrounded by the sea, yet at the same time more a part of the world, more in it.