On Tughall Links the cows crowd the path
Heifer-low, calf-called, they meander and sway
One eye of disdain and disinterest, the other
Mindful of small things in the peripheries.
On the approach my heart picks up its beat
The muscle popping as the herd begins to gather
Around a single point of nervousness.
I see them then as fleshy carriers of massive
Bovine hearts: hearts the size of bread machines
or school firebuckets, blood-surging, pumping.
Waiting a while a man and woman catch up with me,
I fall in line behind them, checking the locations of
The nearest gates, ready to drop my bag and shoes,
Never looking back as I pelt towards the horizon.
Draft poem-in-progress, by Lisa Matthews
Some people ask where a poet gets their inspiration. For me this is an interesting question. For other poets it is not. The origin of a poem cannot be traced back to a single point of origin. Everything about poetry – as is true of most important things in life – is hugely contested and on the whole, unknowable. As a poet part of me thinks it is not my place to talk about the writing of poems, rather I must write them, as I am compelled to do. However, undertaking such a creative collaboration as A Year In Beadnell makes me think about my craft.
Today we have the poet Linda France visiting us and as Mel and her spend time with the plants and grasses on Tughall Links I go ahead and walk to Low Newton. On the middle section of the path, close to the farm, there is a large herd of black cows – mature females and a healthy collection of this year’s grown calves. I walk through them and they part for me as I pass. There’s a few grunts and soft lowing, but I am largely ignored. On the way back though it is a very different story. A fell runner has just passed quickly; the herd parted for him and reassumed their formation. Then a couple, a man and woman, come up over the dunes from the beach. They have a dog and immediately the mood of the heifers changes. The dog runs forward wagging its tail, the man and woman can see there are a lot of cows; the dog picks up their hesitancy and stops wagging its tail. They turn back and leave for the beach route round to Long Nanny. I walk on and the cows begin to follow me, I can hear two large adults breathing very close behind me. Heifers are running fast on either side of me, skittering to get past. I can’t tell if they see me as a potential threat or the gate to their last-light feed.
The moment I feel my heart start to race I double back and find myself surrounded. In this moment I wonder if the cows’ hearts are beating as fast as mine. Then I wonder how large a mature cow’s heart is. Could I hold one in my hands, or would I need both arms to bear it?
In one sense the scene I’ve described is one of the beginnings of this poem I am currently calling Bovine Heart. But this is not the only point of origin for this poem. This poem started when Mel and I planned this project; and it started when I visited Beadnell on previous writing residences with my friend Jane, but really – did this poem start when my maternal grandparents visited on their honeymoon and their many subsequent holidays? Or did it start when the plates settled and life proliferated. Cows need land to run across, after all. I write a poem. The world does not stop, everything just goes on.