Wendy Pratt: Communicating with the Dead

Throughout 2018 the four quarterly High Window  essay slots will be devoted to work which was originally featured in Anthony Costello’s series of Kava Poetry Lectures. Each lecture was written and delivered by an outstanding contemporary poet as part of the Kava Poetry series which Anthony  organized in Todmorden, West Yorkshire. The full set of lectures will be appearting as a book in the course of 2018.

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The first of the lectures to be featured here will be a piece by Wendy Pratt on the subject of Poetry and Archaeology.  So we take the opportunity here to showcase some of Wendy’s poems which were inspired by her involvement with the excavations at Star Carr. The poems were originally published in her collection Museum Pieces published by Prole Books in 2013. Further information about the work done at Star Carr will be found here: http://www.starcarr.com

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Four Poems by Wendy Pratt from Museum Pieces

STAR CARR

Mesolithic site, Seamer, North Yorkshire

Flint arrow heads spilled like lost teeth,
found again, drawn up through the black
peat. They surfaced so often against

the shear side of a spade or beneath
the soft sole of a Wellington boot,
that they became common: a currency

in the playground; pocketed
with leaf skeletons and vole skulls;
our own histories marked out

along the chipped edges. And later,
at the official dig, deer skull hunting-masks
rose from the forgotten lake bed.

Glimpsed through the billow
of a white plastic tent they eyed us
with unwitting curiosity, watching

the new world; their faceless mouths
un-stoppered.

A64

Round the lake edge,
the A64 flattens like reeds
to meet the forgotten shape. Islands
heave from the wheat fields higher
than ground level, sea level, lake level.
Round and round, to work, to home,
always the background of water
chatters beneath my ground. When the mist
settles, the lake is a ghost of itself;
a white shroud, swaddling the earth.
Casting around for arrow heads
on dog walks, measuring out the distance
from Magdaleine Farm, Lingholme Farm,
touching the shallows to the solid. Back drop
to the present, the past smoulders.
I drive through the lake villages,
their names lap a tattoo on my skull: Muston,
Flixton, Folkton, Heslerton. Seamer holds the
ballast, merged to the edge, in memory,
the church built on the remnants of the shore.
Death in the measured church yard meets
the raw pull of the earth, the death rattling down
with fire and water in the underworld
of the lake people. Silent now, awaiting
the next stone to be unturned.

ROUND HOUSE

Discovered at Star Carr, North Yorkshire.
Dated 8,500 BC

This house looks insignificant:
felted to the peat it is a ship come aground,
the worked beams atrophied beneath
the black. We peer down
into its sunken wound.

It is impossible to imagine a death
that could last ten thousand years,
we can’t help but search the bones
of the house for fingerprints:

the heat from the hearth and the gentle rhythm
of blood, a mother moving
amongst the family, counting them up
with smoothing palms.

There are no hearts left in this shell,
no voices to pen a family together. The thing
that was the centre of this place is gone,
this grave is not important.

TRENCH SEVEN

That day, the sun blustered roughly
over ground still springy from the lake.
Twelve thousand years gone and the ground

still drinking its glacial ghost. Peat trench, thin
like a skin over the gravel and sand
where the lake people lay horse bones to rest.

Looking west to Star Carr, it seemed a nothing place,
a field, off against a tree line. But I felt a presence,
I felt possessed by the people and their

deaths. In the quiet scraping of many trowels,
the archaeologist’s constant, I felt
I had undressed them, skinned their lives

in wet, flat pieces. Knelt in the damp- back aching,
eye level with the very ground they walked on,
the very bones that they had touched – I was

a bad maggot, inching into the apple of their existence,
breaking the anaerobic seal to let the hot breath
of fourteen thousand years begin their destruction.

Wendy Pratt is a poet and freelance writer, living just outside Filey in North Yorkshire.  Wendy is widely published in journals and magazines and has won or been highly placed in several well respected competitions. She is in her third year of a PhD at Hull university. Her latest collection is Gifts the Mole Gave Me (Valley Press. 2017). It will be reviewed in the spring issue of The High Window.

 

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One thought on “Wendy Pratt: Communicating with the Dead

  1. I love these poems by Wendy Pratt! Thanks for posting them. I was also looking for her lecture/essay… will that be published in High Window in advance of the book of essays?

    Your magazine is always a treat. Many thanks for your critical judgment and hard work in producing it.

    All best

    Nancy Mattson

    Liked by 1 person

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