The Two-Way Poetry Podcast: James Caruth

Posted on 11th December 2023 in News

In this episode, James Caruth discusses Anne Stevenson’s ‘North Sea off Carnoustie’ and how reading this work influenced the writing of his own poem ‘Coast Road, North Antrim’.

In the interview, James discusses the importance of workshopping and writing days. He reflects on ideas of the north in both his and Anne Stevenson’s poetry. He also talks about the significance of landscape and the elements in terms of how it affects the world view of individuals in a community. James goes onto discuss ‘North Sea off Carnoustie’ as a touchstone poem.  He explores different ideas of viewpoint or ‘stance’ by reflecting on his own poem ‘Coast Road, North Antrim.’ He reflects on why his early poems were about leaving, and now why he writes about returning to his homeland.

James Caruth was born in Belfast but has lived in Sheffield for the last 33 years.
His first collection A Stone’s Throw was published by Staple in 2007.
Dark Peak a long sequence appeared from Longbarrow in 2008 followed by Marking The Lambs in 2010 and The Death of Narrative 2014 both published by Smith Doorstop.
His poems have appeared in a number of anthologies including The Footing (Longbarrow Press 2013), The Sheffield Anthology (2012); Cast – The Poetry Business Book of New Contemporary Poets (2014) and One For The Road (2017).
His last pamphlet Narrow Water was published by Poetry Salzburg in 2017
A full-length collection Speechless at Inch (Smith Doorstop, 2021) was shortlisted for The Derek Walcott Poetry Prize.  

‘Coast Road, North Antrim’ comes from Speechless at Inch.

Coast Road, North Antrim

It holds a narrow course
between abrupt hills and the sea,
where a cold sheen off the water
tells us this is the north,

our Ocean Drive that skirts
the island’s rim, where a Zen Master
might sit to watch waves shatter,
counting each iridescent fragment
as an evening sun flares over Donegal.

Somewhere out there,
Rockall hides its face,
a storm gathering
before its luminous approach.

Strings of fairy-lights dance
along deserted promenades
in the small seaside towns,
streets glinting with rain.

This shore, the edge of all we know.
Beyond the horizon we are strangers
guarding our small square of earth,
faces to the wind, translating a language
of clouds, the taste of a breeze,

cautious when the shore birds up and leave
but trusting the ocean’s persistence,
safe in the consolation of a faith
that each year grows closer to extinction.

North Sea Off Carnoustie
You know it by the northern look of the shore,
by salt-worried faces,
an absence of trees, an abundance of lighthouses.
It’s a serious ocean.
Along marram-scarred, sandbitten margins
wired roofs straggle out to where
a cold little holiday fair
has floated in and pitched itself
safely near the prairie of a golf course.
Coloured lights have sunk deep into the solid wind,
but all they’ve caught is a pair of lovers
and three silly boys.
Everyone else has a dog.
Or a room to get to.
The smells are of fish and of sewage and cut grass.
Oystercatchers, doubtful of habitation,
clamour weep, weep, weep, as they fuss over
scummy black rocks the tide leaves for them.
The sea is as near as we come to another world.
But there in your stony and windswept garden
a blackbird is confirming the grip of the land.
You, you, he murmurs, dark purple in his voice.
And now in far quarters of the horizon
lighthouses are awake, sending messages –
invitations to the landlocked,
warnings to the experienced,
but to anyone returning from the planet ocean,
candles in the windows of a safe earth.

from The Collected Poems 1955 – 1995 by Anne Stevenson (Oxford University Press, 1996)