Heaney is dead and buried. ‘Death of a Naturalist’ holds no comfort, only brings streams of tears. Instead, I have turned to Greig for solace, for escape and for meaning. Greig has a similar honesty. He has the depth of emotion I crave, but without the watering eyes.
Greig’s Found at Sea lives on the shelf in my bathroom. It lies next to Chopra, Toksvig and Simon’s Cat. In the absence of a log fire I think some poetry is best read in a hot bubble bath. The first poem is called ‘The Arctic Whaler (i) The name’. I may have read it forty times or more. From the opening line “Tales of Orkney men under aurora” my imagination was spiked into action. The romance of it all hooked me.
At first the references and quotation from George Mackay Brown jarred with my reading of it. I found the words of another man interrupted Greig’s own lyric, but after thirty or so goes at it I discovered why and duly corrected the shameful omission of not having previously introduced myself to the works of Mackay Brown. After that, it made perfect sense. I had another layer to delve into and I had received free education. I return again and again to that first poem, reminding myself from any page of where it all began.
Found At Sea is a story. There are real characters with histories and hopes. It starts with Greig’s dreams of launching this boat then we watch how he and his skipper set about rebuilding and floating it. “At all times when handling remember like a poem she’s not a machine but a craft.” There are many sentences that describe the actual sailing but allude to some other greater Life. For instance, in A Small Emergency he writes; “In the middle of life, half way over we find ourselves scunnered on a dark and gurly sea.” His journey is told in beautiful waves of honesty. He veers forward and back through his life, his marriage examining his actions and trying “to know what we mean by home.”
The home he finds, on some far flung isle in Scapa Flow, is not his own but that of two women, now departed. As he examines their discarded belongings we hear the music he plays in his head. He sets a contrast between his own life and theirs. He tells their tale (and his) with humour and truly gorgeous insights. Harmonium is delicate and deep, it is swarthy and true, filled with love and life and loss in equal measure. I think this was Greig’s turning point. By looking at the lives of two English women living on remote Cava, dependent on each other and determined to make a go of it, he seems to have accepted his mid life odyssey. Immediately the language changes, becomes pared down, clear. A Cava Grace is a mere four lines, the last two – “This is the sea / Here my hand.” I cry when I read that, every time.
Found At Sea is a book to buy, a book to read and re-read. By fire side or in the bath, with gentle music playing somewhere, we look at life, struggle, love and beauty and then we carry on the best we can. “Every lover, parent, friend at the end sails away from we who harboured them.”