No North Western Passage

no north western passage colin simms

Colin Simms, No North Western Passage, Writers' Forum, London, 1976

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.

No North Western Passage, first page

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.

from ‘Mappemounde’

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

the cliffs

this coast is going bad’: the oystercatchers are all black. Oh She,she has us


Singing by chains the Ocean

swirling solving

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


Colin Simms, No North Western Passage (1976)


~ by amycutler on March 29, 2010.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: