National Poetry Month 2014, Week Four: Jo Bell’s “The Shipwright’s Love Song”

April 25, 2014

Jo Bell; photograph ©Alastair Cook

Quite possibly the best thing about the Internet for a poet is the ease with which one can learn about other poets and their work from far-flung corners of the world.

Over the past few years I’ve come in contact with the poems of some remarkable poets whose work I may not ever have discovered through the traditional means of poetry publication and exchange.

And their work grows increasingly important to me as I get to know it better and, in some cases, get to know the poet through Facebook and other social media.

One of my absolute favorites is Jo Bell, to whose work I was first introduced by Alastair Cook. Alastair, who has made a couple of filmpoems featuring my poetry, has done a few with Jo as well.

Jo holds the unique position of UK Canal Poet Laureate, and lives on a narrow boat, “Tinker,” making her way around England. She’s a self-described “poetry freelancer,” sharing her wares like the tinkers of old their tin works. Only it’s poetry she’s repairing.  Her performances are brilliant and enjoyable (see her reading as part of Poets & Players at the Rylands Library).

Her signature verse is “The Shipwright’s Love Song,” and it’s a tour de force: replete with her timeless language, the double entendre of the ship/woman, her deft use of enjambment, such as “rudderless/ and yawing,” and slant rhymes “swell –/the smell,” the exclamation, a kind of gasp of recognition that begins the second stanza, “Oh, her skin was salt!” – and that ending, which you have to hear her read to truly appreciate the rhythm. Simply remarkable.

Much of Jo’s poetry does what poetry should do, makes you see things differently, to notice worlds new to you, and worlds you only thought you knew. Jo’s poems have what all well-written poems have in common, as I’ve written elsewhere: “They sing. They make you dance. And they give you a new way of looking at the world.”

Here is Jo Bell’s poem, “The Shipwright’s Love Song,”

 

Oh, but the lines of her!
The curve and glinting swell –
the smell, as sweet as pitch pine,
thick and hot as tar.
Oh, I was launched and splashing in the slipway,
happy to be rudderless
and yawing, mast head
touching to the foam.

Oh, but her skin was salt,
was starred with gasping salt beneath my tongue,
and slowly
she came round to me –
bucking and slipping at my touch,
making way in fits and starts
to reach me and be calm.

Later, long before she rocked me into sleep
I saw the seas, saw all of them in one blue ache:
unlandmarked, vast; horizonless.

 

c) 2003 Jo Bell. Used by permission of the author.

 

Here is Jo reading the poem: Shipwright on Soundcloud

And here is a videopoem version by Marc Neys (aka Swoon): Shipwright by Swoon

If you enjoy this poem, do yourself (and her) a favor and order Jo’s book, NAVIGATION, which is available through Moormaid Press in the UK: NAVIGATION

The Telegraph has a nice profile of Jo this weekend: Jo Bell in the Telegraph

And, finally, you can follow Jo’s blog, here: Bell Jar Blog

 

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One Response to “National Poetry Month 2014, Week Four: Jo Bell’s “The Shipwright’s Love Song””

  1. Jo Bell Says:

    Thanks again for those kind words Scott. The Shipwright was a real ex-boyfriend of mine who, like all his friends, had a girl in every port and a bit of a difficulty communicating emotion. This was my response!


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