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Dart by Alice Oswald
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1441125,048 (3.98)5
  1. 00
    I Could Read the Sky by Timothy O'Grady (wandering_star)
    wandering_star: Both these books do an excellent job of ventriloquising the unexpected poetry in the way that ordinary people speak.
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» See also 5 mentions

Dart is about the river of that name, in Devon, and Oswald apparently interviewed a large number of people who work or play on the river. Their voices appear in the poem, interleaved with imaginary voices, such as here where a waternymph and a woodsman share the page:

when the lithe water turns
and its tongue flatters the ferns
do you speak this kind of sound:
whirlpool whisking round?

Listen, I can clap and slide
my hollow hands along my side.
imagine the bare feel of water,
woodman, to the wrinkled timber

When nesting starts I move out. Leaving the thickety places for the birds. Redstart, Pied Flycatchers. Or if I'm thinning, say every twelve trees I'll orange-tape what I want to keep. I'll find a fine one, a maiden oak, well-formed with a good crop of acorns and knock down the trees around it. And that tree'll stand getting slowly thicker and taller, taking care of its surroundings, full of birds and moss and cavities where bats'll roost and fly out when you work into dusk


My favourite parts were those where Oswald took the words of the real people and inflected them with poetry. There is such a range of people, from boatbuilders and fishers to the less glamorous (sewage worker), and yet you can always hear the real voices in the lines that she has picked out. I felt I got a real sense of the living river, the potential beauty of everyday language, and the way that everyone has great insights if you can get them on the right subject.

So here are a few more:

Stonewaller -
You get upriver stones and downriver stones. Beyond Totnes bridge and above Longmarsh the stones are horrible grey chunks, a waste of haulage, but in the estuary they're slatey flat stones, much darker, maybe it's to do with the river's changes. Every beach has its own species, I can read them, volcanic, sedimentary, red sandstone, they all nest in the Dart, but it's the rock that settles in layers and then flakes and cracks that gives me my flat walling stone.

Boatbuilder -
now if this was a wooden boat you'd have to steam the planks, they used to peg them on the tide line to get salt into the timber, you can still see grown oak boats, where you cut the bilge beams straight out of the trees, keeping the line sweet, fairing it by eye, its a different mindset - when I was a boy all boats leaked like a basket, if you were sailing you were bailing

Poacher - the most Dylan Thomasy of all -
Back in the days when I was handsome and the river was just river -

not all these buoys everywhere that trip your net so that you've got to cut the headrope and the mesh goes fshoo like a zip. Terrifying.
And there was so many salmon you could sit up to your knees in dead fish keeping your legs warm.
I used to hear the tramp tramp tramp under my window of men going down to the boats at three in the morning.
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1 vote wandering_star | Aug 28, 2012 |
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Epigraph
'water always comes with an ego and an alter ego'
IVAN ILLYICH
Dedication
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Who's this moving alive over the moor?
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
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Using conversations with people who live and work on the River Dart in Devon as a poetic census, Oswald creates a narrative of the river, tracking its life from source to sea. The voices are varied and idiomatic - poacher, ferryman, sewage worker.

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