What follows isn’t Scottish poet Ian Hamilton Finlay’s poem Green Waters.
In fact, it’s a list of boat names that I wrote down as I was walking along the so-called Keelmans’ Way, through Gateshead to Heworth along the south bank of the Tyne. A list of boats like that is evocative, poetic even: I like the hint of local history in Wild Reiver – the reivers being border raiders and rustlers associated with Border Counties of England and Scotland; there are hints of visitors from further afield too, Braw Lass being definitely Scottish, Afon Solva Welsh and Goose Bay reminiscent (to me at least) of the Solway. Other names hint at the mystery and majesty of the sea… a little, anyway. Nevertheless, it’s a list, not a poem. Finlay, however, manages to make a poem out of what is on the surface of it exactly the same thing – a list of boat names.
(This blog respects copyright. To read the rest of the poem, try your local library, or else where on the internet – or, if you really like it, buy it.)
(Ian Hamilton Finlay, taken from , The Bloodaxe Book of 20th century Poetry, ed. Edna Longley, Newcastle, 2000)
Finlay’s boatnames are as suggestive and elusive as those sitting on the Tyne. There is the pride and beauty of the sea-faring life here too, intermingled with some more personal-sounding names. There is subtle craft in the sounds of the words, however, that makes a poem of a mere list, a poem that seems to create both visually and aurally a bay full of boats rocking dreamily back and forth on the waves. In the first stanza, sounds from the first two lines are subtle repeated and reshaped in the third: the ‘gr’ of ‘Green’ and the ‘ay’ of ‘spray’ into the ‘gray’ of ‘Grayfish’. There is a similar effect in the second stanza, as ‘Anna’ ‘-en’ and ‘T’ shift into ‘Netta’ and ‘Karen’ morphs into ‘Croan’, anticipating the sounds of the word ‘Constant’ in the next stanza. Whole words are repeated in the last two stanzas, a jumbled coda around the words, ‘star’, ‘lit’ and ‘waters’. This continuous repetition and variation is suggestive of the shifting and continuous rhythm of the waves rocking the boats listed in the poem.