Out with the North-East London Ramblers the other weekend, a pleasant ten-miler that fetched up at Chichester – partly along the edge of the water, partly through fields, and all nicely flat – we broke off for lunch at the village of Bosham, which brought to mind Lee Harwood’s Old Bosham Bird Watch and other stories, an A4 size pamphlet published by Ric and Ann Caddel’s Newcastle-based Pig Press in 1977.
That’s Lee, right, taking a rest from some of his own rambling …
OLD BOSHAM BIRD WATCH
out of nothing comes …
nothing comes out of nothing
cut / switch to
a small room, in a building of small rooms. “Enclosed thus”. Outside there are bare trees groaning and twisting in the wind. A cold long road with houses either side that finally leads down hill to a railway station. The Exit.
Out on the estuary four people in a small dinghy at high tide. Canada geese and oyster catchers around. The pale winter sunlight and cold clear air. Onshore the village church contains the tomb of Canute’s daughter, the black Sussex raven emblazoned on the stone.
I still have mine – no. 122 out of an edition of 200 – rust-red cover fading now on the back, my inscription on the title page telling me I bought it in April, 1978 for the princely sum of 60p, almost certainly at the much-lamented Compendium bookshop in Camden Town.
Along with Libby Houston and Barry MacSweeney, Harwood was one of the more established, but sadly undervalued writers that Slow Dancer Press was always pleased and proud to support. Dream Quilt, a collection of 30 assorted prose pieces, was published by us in 1985, followed by two collections of poetry, In the Mists: Mountain Poems in 1993 and Morning Light in 1998.
In the closeness that comes with shared actions. From keeping a room clean, keeping clothes clean, cooking a meal to be eaten by the both of us. In that closeness, maybe on the edge of losing something gaining something. Questions of clarity and recognitions.
We swing hard a-port then let the current take us, the ebb tide pulling us out towards the Channel. The birds about, the colours of the sky, the waters, all the different plants growing beside the estuary, and the heavy brown ploughed fields behind those banks. Here, more that anywhere else, every thing, all becomes beautiful and exciting – and the fact of being alive at such moments, being filled with this immense beauty, right, Rilke, “ecstasy”, makes the fact of living immeasurably precious.
Those extracts show something of Harwood’s style – cinematic, often moving between precise observation of the natural world and the personal; a use of language that is, on the surface at least, straightforward and direct – pared down yet evocative. And, in that final section, his abiding concern with the luminous pleasure – if we open ourselves to it – of being alive.
Shearsman Books from Exeter, who published Lee Harwood’s Collected Poems in 2004, brought out a fine Selected Poems in 2008, which includes “Old Bosham Bird Watch” and much of Harwood’s best work and is still in print and available.