Open to the Unexpected

Interland: Six Steps Underwater
Steve Dearden, Kath McKay, Ralf Andtbacka, Carita Nystršm,
Adam Strickson, Marko Hautala
(168pp, £14.95, Smith/Doorstop Books)

Six writers get together, visit each other between Yorkshire and Ostrobothnia, Finland, decide water is to be the thing to work at (then let this drain away a bit as an absolute task), and over a period of years do it, responding, translating, putting together a book in both languages - or Swedish - with a few photos.

The book shows no trace of self or group-indulgence, whatever they did to achieve it, the result, while often personal in subject, is always investigating, always making discoveries in life and art. And it doesn't much matter whether you call it prose or poetry; the writers themselves appear happily free of such a debate, while engaged in what seems to me the intensity, the precision, the strangeness, the open-to-the-unexpected, the risk-it of the poetic consciousness.

A fragment by Adam Strickson:
     The last day at school is tribal
     for Claire and Molly and Martha and Nina and Lily and
     It's not just the abuse of uniform:
     wide lapels, undone buttons,
     the large knots of tied worn just above the breasts.
     It's the abandonment of uniform for
     rah-rah skirts, red tights, pink sequinned shoes
     and spotty dotty socks.

And a fragment of a section by Carita Nystršm:

     Four hundred years ago Finn Bay still lay
     under water, waiting to transform into fertile soil.
     And now we're fighting the forest from taking over.

    On summer nights I think I see them row the shallow waters,
    setting their nets in our fields where once pike and perch
    swam in rich waters, feeding the poor village.

The Kalevala and Beowulf took a hold on the group along the way, and it is evident how discussion, hanging out together, engagement via emails (of which a selection is included) kept the enterprise humanly real. There's a lot to learn here - both as a provocation to other such adventures and to notions of what crafted writing is and why - and there is a lot to enjoy. How unusual such co-operation is, among the world's mainly individual poets' voices. What does a bookshop do with such a book, where put it? Display it on a table, I hope, invite in new, collaborative readers.

         © David Hart 2007