For many years I’d holiday in Suffolk, walking the salt marshes, risking all as the old seafarers’ paths changed with the tides and the storms, under big skies, flat seas and always with a consciousness that the sea was winning, most famously at Dunwich.
One day my then partner, dog and I came across Shingle Street, a hamlet facing the sea on one side or, as Blake Morrison says “A row of shacks in stone and wood, / The sea out front, the marsh out back, / Just one road in and one road out, With no road in and one road out, / With no way north except the spit, And now way south except on foot … A wrecking ground, that’s Shingle Street.” It’s a place where, for a moment you think you would like to live, but know you never will and never could. Like WG Sebald, I never saw a soul there – a position Blake reports then negates with reference to an article by the writer Tim Miller, who does live there.
Shingle Street opens with a “ballad” of the street, which leads on to other Suffolk poems. The collection then turns to a sequence, This Poem, whose star poem is Redacted, the report of a death of a soldier in Afghanistan. The collection concludes with a selection of individual poems, but most readers will return to the opening, elegiac sequence which gives the book its title.