Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tuesday Poem - Sotto Voce


Striking, the ambiguity of language – sound
and sound, hold
and hold, birth
and berth.

Sotto voce. Sotto voce.

Our brave boat’s hull
is a dull silver arc
at odds, and at one
with the ocean’s shifting
meniscus, the sky infinite
yet Doubtful as a clenched fist,
a menace of wishful thinking.

Mariners without local knowledge
are advised to exercise caution.

I am no old man of the sea (my stomach
one of two that pitch and turn
in 4m swells), but Lance and the Breaksea Girl
are unperturbed; back and forth she rocks
back and forth, a metronome used, by now,
to holding her own in stormy waters. 

Sotto voce. Sotto voce.

Ours is hardly the first voyage, neither will it be
the last. There are records aplenty
of this coastline, these steep, hard-nosed
mountains, the seductive tongues
of waterfalls.

I have scoured the record books,
wondered more about the lines not there
than the many written; nowhere
do we find Cook – or Orton –
writing of love or lust
or loneliness at sea; in the journals, no poetry
to soften the un-yielding years, the reek
of sour beer and unwashed skin,
the loud absence of women.

These men, too, must surely have known
the sudden singe of heat
on heart, the un-confided bruise?


On the edge of the clearing weather,
mountain, sky and ocean lean towards
each other with conspiratorial intention.
They are lifetimes ahead of us
the way they know how to sleep
together, dream together, lie awake
in the dark together, rarely - and always - 
with their separate thoughts.

Where are we to drop anchor?

I am reluctant to interrupt this silence.

CB 2008 - Western Fiordland, New Zealand  - written after a waterborne residency on board the conservation yacht, Breaksea Girl.

Home again. Just

It was wonderful to read your words at last night's opening, and to talk about the journey of - and process behind - this exhibition. I'm too tired to write anything even vaguely intelligible now, but this I must say . . . Sharing your words with the community (I wrote them out on cotton paper and invited others to read them out loud) and speaking of the gift of this community - the ethos of trust and generosity that buoys us along - contributed a special something to last night's gathering. It was suggested I read one of my own poems, too; the one I chose was Sotto Voce. 


For more Tuesday Poems, please click here. 


  1. OH! This one has struck a nerve. Or a chord.
    This will send me back to visit again something I wrote many years ago...

  2. I really loved this Clare - it's a fabulous poem. It gave me goose bumps.

  3. Welcome home, Claire. Your musings in "Sotto Voce" on the unwritten stories from other voyages reminded me of wonderings I'd had about our pioneers, the wagon trains that came west. Isolation and things unspoken. You and the sea, what a history there must be in that tale.

  4. Hi Dinah - a nerve. A chord. I do hope whichever it is, it gets you humming rather than running for cover! I wonder what (or where) it was that prompted you to respond to it in writing all those years ago?
    Thanks for coming by ; )

  5. Thank you, Kathleen --- the waters of Western Fiordland are impossible to erase once you've been there. I think I had goosebumps the whole time I was there. Have you been to the Sounds? Thank you for loving this poem. I really appreciate your saying that. Hope all's well back in the UK? You have a new job, I think? (I'm off to visit your blog now. . . ) L, C

  6. Dear Marylinn - oh yes, there's a history in this tale. How quickly you see through the surface of things. Your memory of wagon trains, mine of this sea voyage. . . each one like the Aboriginal song lines, threading our separate threads into a fine, strong plait? Thank you for accompanying me to Marlborough, Marylinn, and for welcoming me home. Love, Claire

  7. So much to love in this poem, Claire, but 'at odds, and at one' is the truth I'm swinging away with. Thank you. xx

  8. claire,
    as usual your strong visual statements and the organic flow of your poetic imagery are, together, such a rich language.
    i want to share with you the work of an artist, i think you'd like it--and her; she's a friend of mine: here's an especially good introduction to her work.

  9. Glorious! What a lot of work you have been doing- and all SO BEAUTIFUL. As always, I stand in awe. Rest up and lap up (the restorative juices of 'home and haven').

  10. Dear Pen - I feel perpetually 'at odds and at one' these days; wish I had more of the Breaksea Girl's metronomic equilibrium. . . I like the way you say 'at odds and at one' is the truth you're 'swinging away with' - thanks ; ). You just added a rainbow to this image. x

  11. Dear Susan
    What riches on Rebecca Harp's site - thank you so much for this link. Your friend Emily's work is deep and wide; meditative, dramatic and immediate. It's like breath and breathing. Her ethos is one I admire, too. It speaks to some of the dilemmas I'm having regarding my own work right now. I feel as though the form of my work is undergoing some significant and necessary change, although I'm not yet sure what form it will (or will not) take or where it's going to lead me. All I know is that I must trust it to lead me (rather than the other way round). When is our creative process not an adventure, an unpredictable voyage of discovery? Thank you for endorsing my wonderings by introducing me to Emily's and Rebecca's work.

    It was a privilege to write your ocean/community words into my Standing in the Heart drawing, Susan. Thank you again for contributing so generously.

    Love, Claire

  12. Dear Kay
    It's always a treat to find you've been here. Thanks ; ). Hmmm. I've probably been doing too much lately, but it's felt like a way of steadying the boat, if that makes sense. I'd quite like to sit in my garden with my eyes closed and my hands in my lap, listening to the plants grow. (I did something similar yesterday, actually - and how very good it was, from the toes up. . .)
    Hope you're enjoying a Labour-less weekend.
    L, C x