“I am a northern guy. I have lived the whole of my life in the north west of England. I feel northern. It is in my accent. It is in my attitude. It is in my preferences: my favorite season is winter…”
Thus begins Andrew James Murray in the Forward of his new collection of poems, Heading North.
This idea of ‘northern-ness’ in a non-American context intrigued me.
A mere 35 miles west of Manchester where Andrew resides lies the infamous town of Liverpool. I never thought of The Beatles as being ‘northern’.
And yet, thinking on this further, it begins to fall into place – this marriage of blue-collar work ethic to the arts and education; a gritty, earthy element evident in both (he)artists’ life-work.
Damp, dark mists surround day-to-day living in the North, where cold light slants in mysterious angles. This is where Andrew draws inspiration.
“We strain against the blackness,
reaching out for worlds
on the edge of forever.
To light burning
beyond sky and foam.
To infinity, rising.” (from: Ynys Mon*)
Thumbing through the pages of verse early one morning, my eyes rested upon the poem entitled: Stromness.
A solitary road, cobbled, winding,
shaking off a ginnel here, a square there.
Engineered, perhaps to break the tumult
of wind and sea. Wearing its blue plaques
upon a proud, trench coat sleeve. (from: Stromness)
Stromness is ‘northern’?
Indeed. Stromness is the second most populated town in Orkney, Scotland, of the Northern Isles.
My only prior knowledge of this place was through the Peter Maxwell Davies piece, Farewell to Stromness as arranged and performed by the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet. Composed as part of “The Yellow Cake Revue” in 1980, Davies wrote the Revue as an artistic response to the (still current) threat of uranium mining near the town of Stromness.
Interestingly, this collection of poems is published as part of the “Songs of the North” series. Here then, is Davies’ tender, warm, sonic tribute to this ‘northern’ outpost.
The 67 poems within Heading North are “…arranged in a deliberate order to represent a journey: a journey of both geography and time.” As a musician, I understand that attention to detail in the presentation of a recording project or performance and how it shapes the totality of its message. Yes, I would honor the poet’s intent and read through his book of poetry in ‘order’, but not quite yet.
Continuing to flip through the pages, seeking entrance into the poet’s world on my own terms, snippets of random verse drew me deeper into this realm of the North.
“…and the breeze comes from the future,
nostalgic and vague.” (from: Bright Garden)
“Tapping at the window.
and quietly rot.” (from: Lighted Candles)
“I could stay here forever,
always with a book,
hidden away from life
and time’s parade,
disturbing the dogs
with insensible words.” (from: Three Poems In Stockholm)
One of my favorite pieces, New Year, Morning, spoke to me in the now of this current New Year and my own environmental surroundings. I’m not sure I would have related as much to this piece had I not been living here in the deep (American) South for the past 3 years. While it certainly doesn’t get as cold here as it does in the true north of England, it is extremely humid and more days are dark than not. Andrew unwittingly opened my eyes to the gift of birdsong, unseen but heard through the layers of a sky buried in grey.
“The sky is leaden.
The streets are all
An unknown bird calls out
this new day; this new year.
Everything is redeemable.” (from: New Year, Morning)
Everything is Redeemable
*Welsh name for the isle of Anglesey