A Crew

There is a slight run of resonance
with squared dips of catches –

it quickens with timed recoveries
along those rumbled turns

of leather-collared connections –
so that the forward lean-to-timings

lever everything to leant finishes
and the opening up of your lungs –

and we haven’t even talked
of power with the blade’s bowing –

We can master the cockboat’s turn
through hard rudder tips into the wind –

by finding strength in fixed ways –
by using the entry and exit in unison

Sea Rowing

There – almost baiting us –
ten thousand wind-ripped
waves palpitated on the lake –
but they are merely
breeze-skipping ripples
for us would-be sea fishers
of much bigger catches –

We are required to practice
in such innocuous conditions –
this millpond darkened stew –
before that unknown swell
beyond our harbour wall –
where there are no hard tugs
of a circling gig’s rudder –

but instead sideways drifts
and cuts by undercurrents –
high sea arts to be mastered
in ungenerous conditions –
We will then be willed to shore
by pulls of oars and others’
fears – with salt on our lips
providing a taste of sea rowing

The First Racing Turn

We can start with the basics –
the lifting and full leans on oars –
but before long we will have to dig
and pull at less certain surfaces
out at sea and under the command
of racing rules – those set demands
of distance and clockwise turns
around anchored buoys – whilst
in smacking earshot of others’ boats –
those crews that can pull away –
under almost-mechanical techniques –
those we have to hone – Our finest victory
will be the first finish we achieve –
and then we will know how to row

The Pilot

Stunned by an off-keel tip –
but that was part of the deal
of any such heaved pull
under the pilot’s minimal steer
of his salt-pressed gig crew –

then the high wave-slams of
the clinker-laid hardwood boat
upon the vast ship’s tarred hull –
as if beating upon the pregnant
belly of a dark leviathan

Those men had won the right
to pull alongside – to profit –
to earn their paid return to the
dark harbour’s pints of succour –
but only with the turn of the tide

by half a dozen oars in that boat
timed by a hundred – or more –
counted out from the hefted launch
to that last profitable throw of rope
onto the huge ship of strangers


I tripped on a snake
coiled into the form
of fixed turns –
wrestled into itself
by its history of twines –
once factory-whipped
into rope – once born
to a pull of sureness –
to hefts – to shore ties
by long-known named knots
which avoid slippages –
Salt was my second skin


It’s not the same pull or heave
as it was in my rowed youth –

no – this is chalk-and-flint stuff
below fast streams and run-offs

I am far removed from the flow
of the Thames through London

I now dig at the Ouse’s history
of dead poets and burning barrels

where no old boys or public schools
oversteer on her narrow channel

We aim to somehow fly
with the feather of our honest oars –

in a boat designed for work –
not built for pots or snobbery