On Watching a Lemon Sail the Sea

HOW a LEMON on a WELSH BEACH inspired a POETRY COLLECTION

Some two years ago we were walking the dog at Aberporth, a stunning beach in West Wales surrounded by cliffs, a favourite for families with all sorts of activities. In the winter it’s quiet, there was just the three of us, and apart from throwing the ball for the dog, it’s the sort of beach you just want to stroll along, with your feet at the tideline. All sorts of things come in of course, driftwood, mermaid’s purses, the odd crab. What you don’t expect is a lemon, and no ordinary lemon, but one of those large ones, this one as perfect and shiny as a lemon could be. I picked it up and looked it over, wondering where it had come from, and temporarily even considering whether I could take it home and make use of it. But I placed it back in the water and let it go on its way.

Something about it perked me though, and I found myself thinking about it on the way home, and later that day drafted four consecutive poems on it, its presence on the beach, enquiries about its journey, and an immediate connection to my Caribbean history of slavery, trade and travelling. My brain made connections between it and home-made lemonade, plantations, fruit and tourism. In my mind, the lemon brought in his sister, Lime, who had her own similiar connections as well as the word ‘liming’, a Caribbean word which means to hang out, have fun, take life easy. Other less pleasant connections came up too – I remembered being called ‘Scurvy’ because of my white skin growing up in Guyana. The word ‘scurvy’ then jumped to sailors and the sea so you can see where all this is going!

The voice of the poem had come in fairly quickly, the first line suggesting itself and setting the tone – ‘and I’m singing you are my sunshine thinking/ of my childhood across the sea of incubation/go Honey go/you self-contained cargo ship you…’

I entered the first poem of the sequence (at the last minute!) into the Welsh International Poetry Competition in 2017 and was thrilled when the poem won a prize. My lemon, after launching itself into my life, seemed to be insisting that I launch him further into the world. I had two choices then, I could either write an entire collection about lemons, or I could write poems on the many questions the lemon had stirred me to think about -where is our home, how do we blend the past and the present , how free are we, are we subject to market forces as well? How and when do we as migrants feel we belong in a landscape?How do we write about landscape without immersing ourselves in it? The list is endless. And then there are poems that creep in, surreal, Frida Kahlo’s unborn children coming to life as birds, settling ‘like bromeliads/in the shade of their father’s light’. The poems are gathered in section by places where I’ve lived or had significant or memorable experiences, England, Wales, Ireland and Guyana, the final section simply ‘Elsewhere’.

I’ll be reading from the new book in the following places: Weds 17th April, 7-9pm, Poetry Cafe Refreshed, Smokey Joe’s, Bennington St, Cheltenham GL50 4ED and on Weds 1st May, 7.30 , Tongue Punch, Tom Thumb Theatre, Margate

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