Poem for the Summer Solstice

Four Seasons, BBC Radio 4, Weds 21st June

For the last 12 months writer and radio producer Tim Dee has celebrated the year’s turning-points – solstices and equinoxes – as days of poems on Radio 4. This summer solstice, June 21st, he has invited me to read a poem ‘made from the middle of the year’ live on Woman’s Hour.

I’ve chosen my reading from a long poem about a ruined castle, Dunstanburgh on the Northumberland coast. I love this place for its remoteness – to reach it you have to walk a mile across fields – and for its mystery. It stands on a crag at the edge of the sea, and – while its human purpose passed centuries ago – now, reclaimed by the natural world, it seems more alive than ever. All winter it sings in the wind; and all summer, swallows animate its hollow towers.

How will it feel to read this poem, originally recorded on site, in a windowless studio in central London? How will listeners receive it in very different parts of the country?  I hope that, whoever and wherever you are, there is universal appeal in a place where sea meets land, in its wild birdsong at dawn, at midsummer. I like to think that if listeners close their eyes for a moment, radio will take them there.

In the last half century we’ve seen a profound change in the way that people relate to place. It’s not something that we tend to talk about. In my own coastal area, a generation which knew every inch of the local land and sea-bed has given way to one which is less hands-on, which sometimes seems to appreciate the world around it primarily through a smartphone app, a camera or a screen. This is a sudden change, a fault-line, and it brings with it far-reaching consequences, spiritual, intellectual and environmental. It is as if we have all become outsiders looking in.

How can we reconnect with the non-human world? ‘Nature writing’ is a slippery term, as if Nature was not an essential part of us, or us of it. I am interested in art and writing which explores human culture, not as separate from Nature but as an efflorescence of it; and which places the human in a multiple perspective – glorious and terrible in what the imagination can achieve, vanishingly small in the history of the planet.

I hope that listeners who catch my solstice reading through the magic of technology, whether it be digital or old-fashioned ‘wireless’, will let the magic of imagination carry them to that place. I hope that the edges – sea and land, night and day, human and not-human – will flow into one another. Poetry, that most ancient art-form, can help reconnect these broken sentences, promising a wholeness that we yearn for, often without even knowing what it is we miss.

Catch the reading on Wednesday June 21st between 10am and 10.45 and afterwards on i-player.

The full poem, Dunstanburgh, is available in my collection, Two Countries, published by Bloodaxe Books.

2 Dunstanburgh by Katrina Porteous

Photo by Katrina Porteous


On Holy Island

Peregrini Lindisfarne Heritage Festival

Voices of the Sea

Insights into 700 years of Holy Island’s fishing traditions, with poet and historian Katrina Porteous, accompanied on Northumbrian pipes by BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Musician of the Year finalist Alice Burn.

The Old Lifeboat House, Holy Island

Saturday June 17th, 1pm and 3pm (50 mins)

An informal presentation, touching on Holy Island’s medieval fishing history, the Island’s herring industry and upturned boats, women and fishing, the bark pots, fishing lore and superstitions, shipwrecks and the Island’s lifeboats – interspersed with traditional local tunes, and the odd poem.

The newly-restored Old Lifeboat House is on the west-facing shore at the south end of the Island, close to St Cuthbert’s Isle (Hobthrush). It can be accessed on foot by following the road on the mainland side of St Mary’s Church, as it winds down to the shore. Alternatively there is a way-marked footpath across Easter field opposite St Mary’s Church.

Peregrini Lindisfarne Heritage Festival offers a host of free heritage demos, craft activities, exhibitions and guided walks on the Island over two afternoons, Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th June, 12-6pm

More here about Peregrini Lindisfarne Landscape Partnership


Don’t let this be you!

Click here for Holy Island causeway safe crossing times for the festival.