Series Editor - Jim Bennett

Hello.  Welcome to CITN 49. This  edition features the poetry of MARTYN HALSALL


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If we lift both our arms, we become biplane

passing over a poured, then partial landscape,

forest, crags shrouded, then swept briefly clear.


Grounded, turning for shelter, out of the wind,

we mop drizzle from our faces, sense the mountains’

runnels of sweating granite as we step down.


                 from;  Biplane by Martyn Halsall





Haaf Netting

The Firth in Winter


Wordsworth’s Aviary





Evening Ponies


Borrowed Ground





Former Guardian journalist Martyn Halsall lives and writes in West Cumbria, with a special interest in reflecting that area's cultural pedigree through contemporary poetry. The interaction of poetry, journalism and other literary forms informed his PhD, examining poetic truth in times of exile, researched at the University of Cumbria.

Martyn Halsall grew up in Southport, taught in Dorset, studied in London and worked on local and regional papers before joining The Guardian in Manchester, where he specialised in, first, religious affairs then Northern industry. He currently works as a communications adviser in the Church of England.

His first, prize-winning, collection Signposts to the Interior, was published by Commonword and his poetry has been published in various magazines including Tears in the Fence, The Reader, Pennine Ink, Other Poetry, Lancaster Litfest and The Keats-Shelley Review. His awards include twice winning the Jack Clemo Memorial Prize and the Andrea Pendleton Prize. He reviews poetry for the Church Times, and is poetry editor of Third Way magazine. His work is currently on display in the Military Museum at Carlisle Castle and accepted for publication in the Zebra Publishing anthology 'Ten' and by Boyne Berries in Ireland.







Haaf Netting


March. Too early and too late for the haaf netters

who work these channels between England and Scotland, between

Spring and Autumn. Singly or in line,

pegged out against silver water, they push the beam,

an exact frame, from which the net hangs.


They tread pace with the past, their craft

Old Norse word for channel, baptised in same wet light

as sea trout and Atlantic salmon. Same dip and drive

as a Viking oar, same length as that salted shaft.

They wade up to their chests at the turn of the tide.


Landsmen, we can watch them from this bench,

its back modelled from net mesh, width same

as beam or oar’s length. We can watch without feeling

cold in the tide, fast cut of a gutting wind,

chop, slice into chain mail of scales on blood veined slabs.


Men posed for sepia. We imagine the photographer

steadying a tripod on shingle, dipping under a black hood

after tuning his brass lens on them. His subjects

relax for a moment. Measured out along the beam

but with arms folded, or at slack, with a tethered dog.


When they step out, down to the water, they follow

a thousand years of netters whose changing boot prints

are planed by each tide. On still days, up to their waists

their reflections are doubled in that first pause before

becoming once more the longboat that brought their forefathers.





The Firth in Winter


Knife point in grey shale; slit, twist, prise, old strata

opened on shoreline, splayed like mackerel gutting;

cross-section of a fossil fish slabbed to light.


Broken in curve of a plunge, scooped gesture,

jutted bone chin-strap stretched to gulp at ocean,

sheened scales, spread armour’s silver overlap,

skeleton fan finnage poised to change direction,

half shields of quivering gills. Barely an eye

returning his stare from that moment of split rock.


He’d thought they might be here, between sandstone cliff face

and the wide firth, as he chiselled names of the dead,

stonemason turning scientist. He’d sensed time

under his hands, traced rippling strata backwards

to the Genesis orchard. Old divines he’d read

had dated the world precisely counting scriptures,

setting years in stone, knew forty days of rain

covered the firth, let others handle fossils;

believed they must be verdicts drowned in judgement.


He’d traced new lines, hammered open limestone nodules

to find, leaded in the rocks, a spread of shoal;

enough, he noted, to fill a museum table.

He laid this flat fish out on his open hand.


He could turn it over, leave it among quartz cobbles,

red sea-planed sandstone where sea boots slipped on wrack,

where high tide left wedged water for reflection.


Puffed cumulus was greying into early evening,

long, slated wind had chilled his fingers numb

round the drowned fish, its brined bone pattern staining

dark canvas of his dry collectors’ bag.


A lightship flashed far out, scything the water.

A warning light. He climbed the coastal path

sensing the dangerous catch in what he carried.






You could sit out here all day; nothing would happen.

A tide might stain the slipway in the lochan,

gulls would glide over, trailing cries and shadows,

hard plait of gneiss and turf folds darken, lighten,

small waters smooth, then pattern to a salmon skin.


Sky would be kneaded, rise to spread a squall

creating a widening stipple on open water

and blot the painter’s sheet or punctuate

a line before it’s written, glaze a new stone

as it’s lifted for setting, matt the colour scheme

of lichen along brown runnels of a worn tin roof.


You could look at the rock and count four billion years,

read of a range of mountains higher than

Andes or Himalaya, see these hills

worn low  by this same rain, sense how it was

changed gradually each day; how it goes on.




Wordsworth’s Aviary


When you reach page six hundred and seventy eight you find,

ending the Poetical Works of William Wordsworth,

his aviary set down across three pages.


Vast, expeditional research by JR Tutin,

who surveyed every line, compiled

An Index to the Animal and Vegetable

Kingdoms of  Wordsworth. Birds range


from Bell-Bird’s lonely perch and single mention

to nine lines for the wren, sixty-six species,

an ark of birds, some strangers in our air,

a Whip Poor Will, Muccawiss, Blue-Cap, Sea-Mew.


He conjured them on his walks and brought to paper

their calls and colours, Lintwhite, Glead and Dor-Hawk,

balancing their syllables between their song and context.







Death had come close. He needed to rise again.

He’d spent days staring at the paper, like a map of snow

unmarked by a word or print. He reached for his coat.


High cries came closer. Circling in sunlit air

two buzzards spanned a stilled and waiting sky

harried by a crow but minds sheathed, daring him close.


It was not wings bringing them home, or their vulnerable mewing,

but their breasts that caught light, rippled under glide

in the whiteness of the forecast snow.


He watched, noting ivory mechanics of their talons,

thinking how to ground slow-motion of their vigil

to his blank page. Fall. Rip opening death strike.


‘Plumage is very variable,’ said his Oxford

Book of Birds. Sometimes an underside

might seem a fell slope, sometimes a cling


of frost on bracken, carved colour scheme of that day.

He rose towards them on a rock track ramped to sky;

sometimes he thought of the flat and a hiss of gas.


Perhaps he needed a body, something close

to work on, to see bloodstains, the stilled heart.

They remained high, spread against sky; sometimes


he thought of a note, and how she had stacked the poems,

and how she had sealed the kitchen with such precision,

and left two glasses of milk for the children’s breakfast.






Theory becomes air, wind takes off through low larches,

lifting the hill. We tramp above walls and heather

to split rock. Outstretched mist pours past us,


is vapour trail and slipstream. Boots wedge foothold.

Our bodies, braced, strum to air’s plectrum.

The west gale’s engine drone promises us uplift.


Peer forward; there is nothing near to ground us.

We are above the woods, jigsaws of fields,

heading for the coast’s spread flightpath of silver evening.


If we lift both our arms, we become biplane

passing over a poured, then partial landscape,

forest, crags shrouded, then swept briefly clear.


Grounded, turning for shelter, out of the wind,

we mop drizzle from our faces, sense the mountains’

runnels of sweating granite as we step down.







Turning the pages he remembers snow

that came between their small screen and the moon

as they watched the first man landing, from the farm.


Never very good reception, clearer now

on newsprint. He keeps returning to that shot,

first  moonman, padded out, his quilted space suit


topped by a square of backpack, goldfish bowl

of visor with the same horizon line

as the dusty pad of surface where he pauses.


Colour, now, in the paper every day,

then moon’s scheme, only black and white and grey,

like scurfed snowfall of clippings after a shearing,


or moulded limestone used to found a sheepfold.

Now, red, blue shoulder, neat patch of a flag,

like cloth sewn into a coat where ewe’s drape frayed it.


He goes out to a curved world of visor light.

No wind to comb the sedge across the moor,

or lift the full moon higher off the fell.


It seems to him to wait, seek space for landing.







Circle of gapped stones, where old light moves round,

or dancers, halted by the spell of evening,

hear Northern language they have yet to learn.


What time is it when everyone has left?

Evening we know, but here’s far side of trees,

no season and no footprint in the grass


to guide the year, or even the century.

Heather has blown about for much of time

and lichen scabbed tall stone; brown curlews bring

their falling song like water over boulder.


Stay, and time set in stone will wait, then pass

its story settling into light and silence;

green fire of Northern Lights a woman found

breaking over Brodgar, where she’d eased her journey.





Evening Ponies


There was no way round the ponies on the moorland road,

so he joined the herd, clopping in second gear

from grazing around the stone circle to the open fell.


They plodded, dogged, coats matted with peat and weather

from sleeping rough, heads down to the beat of their step,

the strength of each note returned, snare drummed to the road.


No drover fanned them; they entered weather knowing

how to defy frost, blowing back their patient breath,

how to lift heads to the barrage during thunder.


In heat they would seek a small helping of shadow, switch flies.

They would droop dark during snow, each become piebald,

moulded to that ground, even with sedge and stone.


At the turn of the road they left tarmac for rinsed shingle,

the old track that the war horse and the pack horse would have followed.








Never went anywhere without his crook,

so when she saw it hooked to his hospital bed

she knew he’d not go back to the farm and the flock’s

steep tracks that led from inbye to heft crags.


She’d brought the will, as instructed: ‘Still the church?’

‘Aye, I’ll have no truck with burning. It’s not right.’

He felt the vale would hold him, the same March

that brought lambs, herded evenings rinsed with daylight.


Folk from far came up in polished shoes,

splashing to the grave up the course of a sudden beck

from cloudburst over Gable, a slate sky loose,

dogs tethered for the day, wallpaper marked


where his crook was set each time, bone handle shined

by his grip, and carried for him up the coffin lane.





Borrowed Ground

(for Isobel)


I catch the lilt in your hair as you turn

back to the screen. I see you in profile as

you lean to engage in discussion. Your laugh

leads the chime through your group. Your smile

passes, for me to gather it, over the room.


Film clips, questions, study notes, Bible texts

take us outside the Cumbrian church hall, to France,

(in English accents), plot about chocolate that

is offered as parable. We join the cast,

here the priest’s male. Tonight you’ve left your collar


somewhere around The Vicarage, borrowed ground.

Next day we climb through Irt woods to the longer view:

water cradled among mother shield of mountains,

brown tussocks waiting for green, gradual struggle of pines

edging the ridge till height halts them. There you mention


someone’s soul friend, not married, but companion.

I hope for both. I catch the laugh in your voice

as quickly you call the day guests overstayed,

scrambling stuff to the car ‘as we always seem to’;

night journey, meal at the pub, making the bed.


This cottage, ours for the moment, a pause in passing;

our footsteps falling among three centuries, still,

growing things, cooking, getting fires going.

I catch the light on your face as the skylight changes,

sun coming up over the larch; two buzzards, spiralling.



4 - Afterword

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