Found at Sea is the new poetry collection from Andrew Greig, published by Polygon. The book also features artwork by Mike McDonnell from Yell, Shetland.
Below, Andrew Greig introduces the book, together with a poem and an illustration from the collection.
This series of poems was written about an open dinghy sail I did in Orkney two summers ago on The Arctic Whaler (a 16'3" Bill Bailiff design) with my friend Mark Shiner, from Stromness out into Scapa Flow, to overnight on the abandoned island of Cava.
The poems are about the sail, about sailing as a physical and emotional experience (neither of us had been that far out before in a small craft), making landfall, having an island to oneself, the stories we told each other, and the remarkable story of the two women who had lived there without other company or electricity or running water for 27 years.
It's about sailing, being in ones middle years, being all at sea and yet found there. Simple!
A theatrical version of the book, with additional music and stories, directed by David Greig, is completing a sold out run at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, and hopes to go on tour later this year before returning for an extended run.
Ida and Meg
Miss Woodham and Miss Peckham
known inevitably by the gossiping classes
– aka the inquisitive and mostly kind
citizens of Stromness, Houton, Orphir –
as The Woodpeckers
in Muckle House (not so big)
were the sole inhabitants of Cava
without company or electricity for near-on thirty years.
They were not a couple
(all who knew them insist
as, scandalised, did they).
That is not the issue.
That does not seal the deal,
whatever they signed up to
1st April 1959 in Clevedon
when they packed everything that mattered
(it was very little)
(it was essential)
in a tea chest on an axle with two pram wheels,
(Ida’s work, the maker and fixer)
topped by Fanny the cat in a box with a window,
Meg’s peddler’s licence in her purse,
attached the rope harness,
looked at each other –
and if you want to get a handle
on a door into your life,
you could start by reaching for
whatever passed between them
– a promise, a joke, a shared
sense of how things shall be –
that morning in 1959
when Meg fitted the harness across Ida’s shoulders
and they took a deep breath, stepped North.
* * *
There must have been
the island they carried in their heads,
and the island they themselves invented
every unswerving step away from Clevedon.
In the Borders the pram wheel broke.
They left the bogie with a farmer’s boy,
put the tea chest on a train,
picked up the cat and walked on.
* * *
How they chose to live
and what they inhabited,
their daily living by each other
with nowhere to hide,
each other’s staff,
makes marriage seem faint-hearted.
The sheer bloody work of it!
After the first 400 bags of sheep-shit, bottles,
floats and bruck carried from the House,
Meg stopped counting.
peat for heat, a harmonium, books and radio,
a flower garden in one ruin, veg in another,
their lives together so long in such proximity:
a bare island
only vision and work make habitable.
Peat dug from the Calf, Meg rowed,
Ida bagged and worked the pulleys.
There was a well of sorts,
for water always seeps in Orkney
between sandstone layers; buckets lowered, yoked,
staggered to the house, till Ida rigged
a hosepipe, pump and storage tank.
Standing in the debris of their lives
among buckets, a rusted Singer, curtain rags,
whatever kept them bound together
(Meg slept in the Muckle House,
Ida in the Wendy by the shore)
is more intriguing than desire
to one in his life’s October.
It could be each had sunk
a shaft down through their days
of necessary work, bird-silence, sea,
and reached the water table, life itself,
and there lived as they wished
Andrew Greig was born in Stirling in 1951. His childhood was in Bannockburn (the river ran through the garden), and adolescence in the East Fife coastal town of Anstruther. After a year of drifting, salmon netting, hop-picking and writing, he went to Edinburgh University (Honours Philosophy 1975), and lived there and in South Queensferry for nearly 20 years. Through the mid-80s he climbed on a series of Himalayan expeditions, and spent time in Canada (usual reasons). Round 1989 he began spending winters in Stromness, Orkney. He had the sense to propose to novelist Lesley Glaister at Skaill Bay in Orkney. Married in Stromness in 2001, they now live in Edinburgh and Orkney.
Andrew is the author of six books of poetry, two Himalayan mountaineering expedition books, and five novels including That Summer, When They Lay Bare, In Another Light (Scottish Book of the Year) and Romanno Bridge. His most recent book is the highly acclaimed non-fiction work, At the Loch of the Green Corrie.
Mike McDonnell is a doctor by profession, but an artist by passion. Although originally a Clydesider, he is a Yell man by adoption, having been the G.P. in Mid Yell for many years. He has been a prolific sculptor over the years and his work is renowned for its wit and humour. However, if you scratch the surface, you will often find an underlying serious message.