'Prepare to be immersed in the heat and vibrancy of Florida's natural world, full of such sensual detail that to read it is to breathe it in.' -Jo Shapcott [review of Greyhound Night Service]

River Walk at Maidenhead

Last night I finally did my homework for the third session of our Tidemarks and Timelines course at the Poetry School: walk along a river and see things, all the while noting them down but without putting any of our own memories of feelings into it, at least at first.  This was inspired by a lovely passage from Hopkins's Journals about the sea.

The location for my walk was a bit of a last minute decision.  Originally I had planned to do a long walk beside the Thames from central London outward, but then changed my mind.  I live in its more rural reaches and didn't think a city river walk would feel akin to my writing at the moment. (Even though we had a brilliant outing to the Thames Barrier at the weekend and I took copious notes).  After discarding the city walk idea I thought I'd like to make a visit to Teddington Lock, the boundary of sorts where the Thames becomes tidal, but Tuesday evening rush hour and the intermittent downpours of rain made me think yet again.  Then the suggestion of walking along the river at Maidenhead.

All day yesterday I had been struggling with a poem about summer.  I kept coming up against my known cliched thoughts: I only seem to be able to write about summer in Florida, never summer anywhere else in the world.  The imagery and experiences from my youth and the repeated trips home are so strong and I had yet to find any other imagery as potent.  With this in mind, I set off for the walk around 6pm, the air already zinging with midges and the sky a blanket of ever darkening rain clouds.  Good, I thought, interesting weather!

Along the way I took notes, it seemed easy to jot down sensory information in front of me and it was a nice relief not to think too much about what any one thing meant.  It was curious to notice what I was writing down too: oh yes, my obsession with signage, birds, water and trees in general filled quite a few pages in jarred scrawl as I walked and occasionally sat and did my seeing.

This morning, as soon as I woke, I took the notes and shaped them into something which really surprised me.  As I worked with the words, I found a river language for here, for the Thames, that was totally unlike the language I have used in the lots and lots of river writing I had done over the last decade about my favourite river in Florida.  The Thames brought out crisp and colourful words, and as I typed I saw a landscape arrive on the page that felt new.  Nowhere did I write about the summer and yet summer was everywhere in the detail.  What a gift this walk has brought me.  And another one too...

My friend came along on the walk yesterday and as I wrote he took photos, of what I wasn't sure, until today when I opened the files.  Each of the ways of seeing I had done with pen and paper he had done with a camera, down to the smallest detail.