No North Western Passage
Colin Simms’ No North Western Passage (1976) combines topographical notation of the landscape of Cleveland, Yorkshire – the headlands and coasts of Captain Cook country and the North Sea – with latitude and longitude quotations, natural history, etc., from Cook’s voyages to the North Western Passage. It is full of both typed errors, corrected or otherwise (giving a convincing visual impression of a ‘travel log’), and accounts of mapping errors by the surveyors. This may be compared to Canadian poet Earle Birney’s account of the same failed survey of the North West Passage in The Strait of Anian (1948), with its epigraph from Cook. Simms’ more recent account internalises the ideas of voyage and questionable cartography within the British home landscape, while also seeking out the remaining traces of Cook’s movements in Yorkshire.
Not this old whalehall can whelm us,
shiptamed, gullgraced, soft to our glidings.
Harrows that mere more that squares our map.
See in its north where scribe has marked mermen,
shore-sneakers who croon, to the sea-farer’s girl,
next year’s gleewords. East and West nadders,
flamefanged baletwisters; their breath dries up tears,
chars in the breast-hoard the dear face-charm.
Southward Cetegrande, that sly beast who sucks in
with whirlwind also the wanderer’s pledges.
That sea is hight Time, it hems heart’s landtrace.
Men say the redeless, reaching its bounds,
topple in maelstrom, tread back never.
Adread in that mere we drift toward map’s end.
Earle Birney, The Strait of Anian (1948)
beyond and from the Rockies off the Divides Cascades Coast Ranges
range on range seastacks dont calve
like icebergs do, clear ice fronts or halve their dirt like the shelving
of East Yorkshire’s till (the black ships left behind) Oh Sir ‘I’m sick for
this coast is going bad’: the oystercatchers are all black. Oh She,she has us
Singing by chains the Ocean
posing in the intercross of ripples an undertow
the questions row
like gulls in off the sea heavy with offal, slow
they know :
they’ve been to the edge and looked over
and the Bald Eagle,dark with light points,steadily followed their whiteness in
round to The Indians to Mackenzie had been sure ‘this is a stinking shore’
like the sea-cole shore of Blackhall,County Durham, rounded death
what the Brontes could balance from the actual recording of slow lines
: one sister in the kitchen while the Gondals worked out the geography
of Gaaldine, and all is mind and the journal is one breath
from IV THE INLET
Colin Simms, No North Western Passage (1976)