Singing Bass

singing_bass

by Landeg White
Parthian Press 2009

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Revealing what it means to settle and age in a foreign country, this collection explores Portugal through the eyes of a Welsh poet. Poems that are versatile in form, sensuous in language, and cosmopolitan in range renew poetry’s most classic themes – love, language, anger, and mortality. Musical and passionate, this is a vividly written celebration of Portuguese culture.

On Saints’ days, July and August,
in these towns huddled along the Atlantic coast,

fishermens’ wives before the sun is up
flock to the tiny chapel on the cliff top

and receive from the priest the waist-high image
of Our Lady of a Safe Voyage,

processing with her to the harbour
where their men have already appointed the honour

whose vessel Nossa Senhora will pilot
that day as the familial inshore fleet

rounds the breakwater and puts to sea.
There’s never much trawling done that day,

just enough for a sea-fresh caldeirada
washed down by a good red from Bairrada

They show Our Lady their fishing grounds
where Ricardo and young Hélio drowned,

where the currents are worst on a rising tide,
and the choicest crayfish and octopus hide,

where they lay their nets in a half-mile arc
for tuna, and three kinds of shark,

or risk all, casting in the shoals,
chasing the mackerel or sardine schools.

They don’t leave off till they’re content
She’s taken on board all that’s meant

by men’s work – not like the priest
their wives are wed to, that holy ghost!

At dusk, still steered by Nossa Senhora,
the little trawlers head for harbour,

each brightly lit from prow to stern
with multi-coloured bulbs and lanterns

a rich necklace, shimmering in the bay,
then dividing, each boat to her buoy.

On the breakwater and along the promenade
and the jetty, waiting to applaud,

are mega-families of market traders,
clerks, shoe-shine boys and waiters,

the old remembering days at sea,
the toddlers in Catholic finery.

lawyers, cooks, teachers, receptionists,
policemen, farmers, and footloose tourists.

Wives greet the fishermen on the strand
blessing the image from their hands,

and restore her to her chapel niche
until next Our Lady’s inclined to fish.

(Matters like these I record in doggerel
to keep disbelief alive and well.)

I’ll do it so love confers life,
painting its thousand delicate mysteries,

its blank rages, its heart-felt sighs,
it foolhardy courage, its remote grief.

But in writing of the highborn disdain
of your tender and fastidious eyes,
I’m content to play the lesser part.

For to sing of your face, a composition
in itself sublime and marvelous,
I lack knowledge, Lady; and wit and art.

from “Singing Bass” by Landeg White


Reviews

Singing Bass is Landeg White’s eighth collection of poems, and it shows the author in fine form, tackling subjects such as love, anger and mortality with an immediacy and veracity that are heart warming. Expansive and internationalist in outlook, these are sensual snippets of linguistic skill that draw the reader in and make you look again at the world with fresh eyes, like all good poetry should.”

Doug Johnstone, The Big Issue


“ … spiced with insight, wit and cross-cultural sharpness, this is poetry as celebration of fundamental age-old issues like death, love, language and life itself.”

Western Mail