Chris Considine’s ‘The Island’
This pamphlet evokes Looe Island, a small island off the coast of Cornwall. This is a remote place, both of the world and yet apart from it, where when one arrives or departs depends on the elements more than one’s own decisions. Her writing conjures its many moods – its quiet, its storms – and offers a clear-eyed glimpse of the practical and the other-worldly aspects of spending time there. Her poem Rough contains what I take to be the essence of the place.
Woke at five to a muted booming – wind
drumming on the thick-walled house and water
smashing itself on the shore. Hard to make out
much through the salted glass.
A phone call – there’s no going to the mainland
today. The harbour bar impassable – wind in the east
(which the gulls on their rocks expected yesterday
facing Rame Head instead of Talland).
There’s fish in the freezer (boatman’s gift), tomatoes
reddening in the greenhouse, plenty of windfalls
for the pigs. Shame the ducks have stopped laying
and hens hide their nests in the wood.
I unpack my packed bag, put on the kettle,
hope the gas will last. The beamed rooms
have a look of strangeness as if containing,
as well as me, my anticipated absence.
How long, how long? The islanders were marooned
three weeks last winter. The clock in the hall has stopped
and I don’t know how to get it going.
I wonder – can time move on without it?
Here are many of Chris Considine’s characteristic traits. A voice which is relaxed and authentic, expressed economically in poised and paced language, moving amongst and illustrating underlying ideas and emotions with an undemanding ease.
I enjoy they way it unfolds, starting with that almost claustrophic and timeless first description, then the phone call which brings in the wider world and might redeem the situation slightly were it not for the fact it confirms the speaker’s isolation. The reference to the gulls facing in to the anticipated wind seems to gently point to how other creatures are better adapted than us to the elemental world.
But that sense of vulnerability dissipates with the taking stock of the third stanza and the realisation it will be ok. All you have to do is wait it out. But wait it out in a shifted space where the ‘familiar beamed rooms/ have a look of strangeness as if containing,/as well as me, my anticipated absence.’ This brief eloquent sentence seems to contain something crucial about the nature of places like this, timelessness intruded upon by time-bound humanity. And unease returns with the prospect of being marooned with a broken clock and that existential final question. Which somehow sends me back to the beginning of the poem with its other-worldly evocation.