To the Beach and Beyond – six writers respond to a Beachcombing Wild Writing Workshop
As part of the finale for Essex Book Festival 2018, on 31st March at Jaywick Martello Tower, Judith Wolton and Wendy Constance (commencing the last term of their Wild Writing MA) hosted a Beachcombing Wild Writing Workshop. Starting with a walk along the beach, the participants were encouraged to note any responses to the five senses, absorbing the coastal atmosphere whilst looking for something interesting to bring back. Returning to the Tower they took part in a variety of writing exercises, starting with flow writing as many words as they could think of about the sea. Further inspiration was provided by two trays of beachcombing collections (supplied by Judith and Wendy), as well as a memory exercise asking them to recall (or invent) a previous beach find of their own to write about,
At the end of the session participants were invited to develop a piece of writing to contribute to a group compilation. The diversity of the responses reflects the individuality of everybody’s imagination from a shared experience.
Standing at the edge of the world
When the world was flat,
And all the seas
With monsters filled,
And sweet siren songs
Called the sailors back.
When the ships that sailed
Carried golden treasure,
And crews were
Crusty old tars.
When the skies were black,
And the sun
And the clouds
Blew constantly past.
When the waves on the shore
Pushed forwards, sucked back,
And the birds in the air
When the dark horizon
And breath seemed
Impossible to take.
Then that’s how it felt
To stand as a child
At the edge of the world.
Silver skeleton by the sea,
lying in a grave of pebbles and sand.
Its black fabric
that unselfishly shielded heads
from rain and snow
lies beside it,
a shredded burial gown.
Its help is broken,
its work finished.
Someone will pick it up,
perhaps a child,
pull apart its shiny bones,
throw them at the sea,
then turn away.
The waves will take them in,
When I am broken,
will Death throw me at heaven,
then turn away?
Will God take me in
like the waves,
forgive me my selfish life,
the help I never gave
when I could have,
the work for others
Kathryn de Leon
Wind bullies my hair and buffets my face,
Gulls capture the sloping currents.
As pebbles shuffle at my feet,
I look closely at the texture there.
It is not as it seems.
I gather a handful of discards in seconds,
Carelessly thrown away fragments,
Mixed with the rain damp stones.
Tangled in weed, the broken plastic spoon,
That stirred sweet grains into hot liquid,
Stirs bitterness into the café latte shore.
This shimmering zip locked bag held fishhooks,
Cast on synthetic line to snag the mouths of supple fish.
Waves gnaw fretfully at the adulterated shingle.
Here, a firework casing, a rocket shot free,
That scattered constellations, fell empty to dark water,
Where starfish walk on paths spangled with trash.
Bottled misted water guzzled into a thirsting throat,
The containing cap holding it pure,
Casually pitched to taint the sea-slaked stones.
Spat from the lips that sipped saccharine fizz,
A pink straw pokes from twisted seaweed,
As the sucking waves foam and gag on the beach.
A clump of nylon sutured inseparable to weed,
Blight stitched into the suffering shore,
The stuff of the strandline woven with disease.
Red ribbon girdles the mouth of a ruptured balloon
Its skin tattered, its helium dispersed.
It does not fly, except in the craws of birds.
The margins above the tide line
Assimilate our greasy tossed leavings,
Bleached pale by sun, wind and swell.
In the seas, our oily refuse seems consumed,
But gives no nourishment to our Mother Ocean,
Tumours of plastic spread at her heart.
Bilious with sickly indigestion,
She oozes soured sweat from her grey face,
Spewing our waste with an injured moan.
Looking at the sea
What do I see when I look at the sea?
Rows and rows of waves, orderly and patiently waiting to come in
What do I see when I look towards the sea?
The sea wall, bricks built up one on top of the other bracing themselves against the elements
What do I see when I look alongside the sea?
A troop of caravans, arranged like soldiers waiting to move in formation
What do I see when I look up from the sea?
Birds flying in formation, and clouds floating horizontally along with the wind
What do I see when I turn away from the sea?
A solo daisy on the ground, perfect and round
The Martello Tower, strong, defensive and bound
Puddles, making their own shapes on the ground
This is what I saw the day I went to see the sea
Inspired by The Sea 1887 Jan Toorop
By the Water
Waves crash against the rock barrage,
lifting the strands of seaweed which extend,
and reach out towards the tide.
My grand-father drowned off a rowing-boat
in a choppy sea like this, leaving
a wife and six young children on their own.
A squall blew up from nowhere.
We heard he hit his head on the side
of the boat as it capsized,
that he didn’t swim and soon vanished.
The pain set in motion through many lives
was like an ocean swell born
thousands of miles away, whose force
strikes the shore without mercy.
This morning, I swim out from the beach,
staying within my depth. This isn’t our element.
The sea tastes bitter, freighted with salt.
I climb the pebble bank before water chills me.
On my way
A faceful of brown water
into my mouth, into my nose
swallowed it whole
swallowed me whole
gulping it down
scratching my throat, my nostrils
coughing it up, blowing it out
burning my nose
scalding my throat
snot hanging on my lip
blowing it up, coughing it out
and the waves at the shore
tickling mum’s painted toes
The great escape
The rain swept the dummy into the giant puddles in the road, and it bobbed along before drifting into the drain. The baby shrieked as it fell but the mum pushed the buggy and spat at a tourist, ‘no sorry I don’t know where the tower is, we’re not from round here’, thrusting it over the broken road, and the dad walked ahead looking onwards at the tip of the tower that he knew, and she knew, so well from when they were kids.
Inside she raged like the storm that had just been: that she was inside out with cold and the baby was screaming and they’d ended up in this really bad place, to see his mum again, embarrassing! And where’s the f’in dummy?
The dad felt the flatness in his belly that he could do nothing else but be quiet and keep on going. The baby was screaming and she had her jaw poking forward, like she does, and he began to walk a little faster. He started to rage a bit inside too, that they were back here again (last time it had been okay, but now she was right and he felt ashamed).
The baby raged inside and didn’t know why, but we all know he wanted the sucky rubber of the blue dummy on his tongue.
The dummy found peace on its journey to the sea, but just, just, when it was about to start its adventure, was plucked from the stream by someone that cares about sea-life and plastics. It sits in the tower on a table of found objects now, and soon it will be in a glass case in the museum-of-the-way-it-used-to-be-when-we-let-the-plastics-go-to-the-sea.