‘Ferries at Southsea’ by Stephanie Norgate – Poem of the Month, June 2021
Writing Literary Portsmouth launches our 'Poem of the Month' feature. We’re really excited at the prospect of being able to place a different verse in front of you every month, so that together we can explore this city’s amazing poetic scene.
We're particularly interested in poems that give a strong flavour of the city, its urban spaces and unique natural landscapes – but just as much in poems that help us to explore the lives of its inhabitants and communities. The poems we select may be funny, moving, heartbreaking, or inspiring, but we’re sure that you will enjoy taking a poetic journey with us, meandering through Portsmouth’s fascinating past, present, and future, and using this most mercurial and vivid of literary forms to explore the city’s many, varied, and vibrant identities.
Writing Literary Portsmouth is the vehicle of the Portsmouth Literary Map, a project devoted to mapping, exploring, sharing, and celebrating our city’s remarkable literary energies. See our Introductory Blog, Welcome to Writing Literary Portsmouth to find out more about everything that we are doing.
The poet: Stephanie Norgate
Our first Poem of the Month is by the playwright, poet, and academic, Stephanie Norgate, whose excellent collections are Hidden River (shortlisted for the Forward First Collection and Jerwood Aldeburgh prizes) and The Blue Den (both with Bloodaxe Books). Her much-anticipated third collection, The Conversation, will be published in September 2021: look forward to a review here when we get our hands on it.
Norgate’s novel, Storm, was shortlisted for the prestigious Cinnamon Award 2019, while a number of her plays have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4. After many years running the MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University, Norgate has taken up a Royal Literary Fund Fellowship at Southampton University where she provides invaluable advice to students on essays and other forms of writing. A gifted academic, Norgate has written a chapter about the imagery of houses in her poetry for Architectural Space and the Imagination (Palgrave, 2020).
Stephanie was very pleased to have ‘Ferries at Southsea’ selected for the Portsmouth Literary Map as she was born and grew up in nearby Selborne, has been visiting Portsmouth all her life, and now lives not far away, just over the border in West Sussex. We were equally pleased (and grateful) that Stephanie agreed to let us feature the poem on the map, and to use it to launch our Poem of the Month feature.
The poem: 'Ferries at Southsea'
The poem is a welcome burst of human feeling at a time when humanitarianism often feels in short supply. A rich, sympathetic, and evocative poem, it turns on the ways that ferries are intimately bound up with the myriad movements of human life. The poem muses on the issue of migration, and the plight and the aspirations of refugees arriving in this country seeking a better life.
Strongly rooted in the local – the area in and around Clarence Parade and its Isle Of Wight ferry port – it is at the same time global in its perspectives and universal in its sympathies. It arose from Norgate’s regular attendance at a poetry workshop in Southsea where the ferries were often in sight. It is quoted here with the kind permission of the author.
'Ferries at Southsea'
At George’s, we see the ferries coming in,
huge trays of light buoyant in the dark blue evening,
floating out of the night towards the palm trees,
towards the young drunk spraycanning the pavement,
his words sputtering away. We watch the ferries,
coming in, their unsteady flickerings like poems,
freighted with the dead, the living and the refugees,
carrying those who don’t mind the long way over,
lotus-eaters or dreamers or souls returning,
lit up and floating, like lights themselves,
like the strings of light that curve and stretch
along Clarence Parade, lighting us to our cars
when we leave at midnight. Soon those night-travellers
will disembark too, dragging their rucksacks
down slipways, smuggling their talents through customs,
dreaming firm ground under their feet,
dreaming, as they try to enter a new berth,
of their children in safe houses
in quiet streets where nights can be dull,
and the only flash is the light of a car’s light
on the elder flowers, crowded and sultry
In a world of hostile environments, people smuggling, perilous journeys, incredible suffering, and widespread misunderstanding of the status and plight of refugees and migrants, Norgate’s appeal to the things that we all share – the desire for peace, warmth, shelter, and happiness – resonates powerfully, while her reference to night-travellers smuggling their 'talents' through customs is a welcome reminder of the benefits (economic and otherwise) that accompany migration and multiculturalism.
If you have any thoughts you would like to share about this particular poem, or your experiences of this part of the city or the issues the poem raises, do get in touch with Mark Frost, Director of the Portsmouth Literary Map, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And get in touch, too, if you have suggestions for a future Poem of the Month. Remember it has to be poetic and it has to have something to do with Portsmouth.