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Poem of the Week: 'Portballintrae Harbour' by Jan Carson

Portballintrae Harbour

Every New Year’s at midday we meet at the harbour and
cast our ghosted bodies into the sea. We are no longer
seventeen and , over the years, have progressed from last
night’s underwear to trunks and t-shirts and, finally,
oil-sleep wetsuits, straining to contain our spreading
guts. Like soldiers returning from the Front we are fewer
with each passing year. This morning we are two- and
a handful of bemused children sheltering beneath their
anorak hoods.

Afterwards, shivering, we say ‘Same time, next year?’ and
mean, as our fathers must once have meant, ‘All good
things come to an end, even the sea.’

Something a bit different this week- flash fiction. Flash fiction often straddles the awkward line between poetry and prose, but there is something distinctly poetic about this story, particularly in the last two lines. Like most of the entries in this anthology (Postcard Stories), it is slightly surreal and unbelievable. The thought of a group of people trekking out to Portballintrae Harbour, which Google tells me is in Northern Ireland, in January, and jumping into the sea, even purchasing wetsuits, perhaps only for this occasion, brings to mind such a stubborn narrator, a stickler for tradition even after the group dissipates. To create such a charmingly bizarre character in so few words is such a gift. Often short poems which try to tell a story leave you feeling as if you need a bit more, like the characters could have been interesting, had it been longer, or the story could have been more entertaining, had there been more words. In this story, however, I feel it is exactly as long as it needs to be, providing a simple, sweet story from a fun protagonist’s perspective, and ending in a thought-provoking manner. Overall, the slightly bizarre and perhaps metaphorical nature of this story begs the reader to question, in a world of free verse and flash fiction, what it is that differentiates poetry from prose.

This poem comes from Postcard Stories, which is available for purchase on our website here.

Blog entry by Clemmie Joly

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