Peter Wellby, a Neighbourhood Watch member from Sussex, has been sharing poems during lockdown to 45 friends, neighbours and relatives.
This is my equivalent to the arias sung by Italians from their balconies and the night calling from Wuhan in lockdown: a reaching out to others and a refocusing of the mind for a moment.
Many are about Sussex and the creatures we live with here. Perhaps they help some to open their eyes wider. The more local and the more personal the poems, the stronger the response. They often stir memories in others and all help to break the claustrophobia of lockdown and remind us of the beauty immediately around us, which we may not have leisure to notice in our usually over-stretched lives.
In the frost-salted wind the blackthorns creak and writhe
on undulating ridges, in rabbit-shaven dells
where whirring pheasants fly like gorgeous toys.
Arlington water’s caught in opaline moonspell.
Beyond the sinuous Cuckmere and the channelled Ouse
the Wilmington Long Man resumes his staves in mist,
recalling an Adonis Blue once lighted on his wrist.
Full-bladdered cumulonimbus sweep up from Seaford Bay.
Chalk and flint this country is, chalk and flint and clay,
Ravilious serge this country is, ridged khaki corduroy,
acres of grassland chalk now lost, digging for victory.
Constable clouds churn in thick toils, curl up from the world’s lip,
fling rain blades, stab at cracks where the hung tiles have slipped.
At sea off Brighton, sea-planes high on stilts
race their propellers in the southwest wind.
Over the burnt pier’s elegant, tormented ribs
the pixelating starlings swirl in sheets.
The train to Hastings trundles up the tracks,
encounters the wrong type of rain, so slides
gently but inexorably, back down the line again.
Hove herring-gulls welcome it home, heckle approvingly,
until it halts at last on the buffers of the sea.
The shingle grates from Saltdean to the line of Norman’s Bay,
skirting libidinous Charleston where London egos played.
At Exceat a silver-grey serpent uncoiled to rest
in Cuckmere’s hooped meanders, where the geese and redshank nest.
The languorous Downs stretch out long limbs over the sheep-cropped chalk,
spring cowslips pout out honey-scented sky,
coconut-scented gorse blooms sharp and saffron
cross-stitched with dodder, sporting redstart, stonechat sentinels;
to swaddled sheep the buzzards mewling on their soaring gyres,
the skylarks’ exultation are a muted choir.
Squalls winnow rooks and jackdaws croak
in ragged tumblings, open confessionals
above tall hangers of ash, beech and oak.
Exhaling at Firle Beacon, human dragonflies
borne by ribbed awnings swoop above the hikers,
startle the dogs that hunt the mountain bikers.
New vines stretch silver wires of braided hair:
Rathfinny, Breaky Bottom, Ridgeview, Bluebell, Bolney,
their sparkling whites gold-medalled at the French concours.
They’re cutting turf in the long fields from Chalvington to Ripe:
piles of Swiss-roll brown and green to fashion instant gardens
to hide the mud and rubble on the crowded new estates.
The ponderous Newhaven ferry climbs white horses to Dieppe;
pale chalky swag-waves drag where land and ocean mingle
past Belle Tout, Birling Gap and Beachy Head,
where Seven Sisters wash their frothy petticoats in shingle.
At Pevensey the levels catch the declining sun -
scarves from orange, blue, citron and scarlet spun
glint gaudily from ditch and dyke, this day is done.