J O Morgan lives on a small farm in the Scottish Borders. He writes book-length narrative poems for which he has received a number of accolades. Natural Mechanical (CB editions, 2009) won the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize; its sequel, Long Cuts (CBE, 2011) was shortlisted for a Scottish Book Award. At Maldon (CBE, 2013), his third book, took its bearings from a historic battle, and was shortlisted for the 2014 Saltire Society Poetry Book of the Year Award.
In his new book, a hard-backed volume, Morgan takes up a very different kind of idea. In Casting Off is, among other things, a love story. In this poem-novella, different aspects of love pull against different hearts, in the setting of a remote fishing community with its own particular customs and traditions. It is a strange and haunting tale.
Here is a brief flavour of it:
Her new-made-mother-in-law is old and husbandless,
tall and unhurried, and carries her selflessness
lightly, as though her own concerns
were of little matter any more.
Nearly four years. Gone. Though with him
at sea all day and tired all night the change
was hardly noticeable, but for the extra work.
She has a small round face
with soft puffy cheeks, the skin
like the skin of a dusted marshmallow,
fine crinkles—though only when talking.
The wrong wave striking the boat at just
the wrong moment is all it takes. They know storms.
They love them, they need them, but
to be beneath that wrong wave coming down . . .
A vanishing act: complete when the water
has pulled away clean from the deck.