Sarah Acton, the Jurassic Coast’s poet-in-residence, has just published a Jurassic Coast Poetry book, compiling pieces written during her residency in East Devon museums this year. Here, Sarah reflects on the poems’ creation and the stories behind them.
You can’t spend time walking out on the coastline as I have, and as you probably have too, and not feel a physical and emotional response to the land. Call it nature connection, call it the knowing of rock whispered into our bones, call it perhaps the sorrow and joy of universal love, or bearing witness to the Earth in this present moment, but this feeling is direct and as suddenly here as it is gone again. It passes through us. Its passing touch tingles the skin, fizzes the brain and tumbles us all into ancient myth, breath and story. A story that we all play a tiny tiny part in.
It’s my great joy and privilege to give voice to the images and stories I see and hear and feel as I spend time on the coastal paths, river valleys and coastal communities of the Jurassic Coast as poet-in residence. It was my great privilege this summer to spend four months along the East Devon Triassic section of the coastline, working with local museums and their exhibits to produce a body of site specific work. Some of this work was intended to be displayed at the museums, and some was to be included in a Jurassic Coast poetry book that I have now produced.
If I loved the local natural features and Earth history of the East Devon coastal area before, I was completely saturated, immersed and wrapped in the living landscape during my residency that took me from Beer to Budleigh Salterton to Exmouth to Sidmouth.
Beside the daunting shadow of the cliffs, and the wild frontier of the ocean, I found the recorded local history of marginal coastal communities that have lived and made their trade from the sea and coastal landscape for centuries. I met pirates, smugglers, lace-makers, fishermen, monks, soldiers and farmers.
Working with the museums, my amateur geology and experience of walking along the coast path was informed by exhibits in the collections and the stories they had to tell. The effect in my imagination is a vibrant vision of what life might have been like at various moments in the past. A past that jumps and straddles millennia. This seems more relevant and exciting when finding repetitions, patterns and cycles of what went before in the places that they happened, holding up a torch to the way we live today.
I wrote over a hundred poems during my residency this summer, kept sixty, and finally worked up twenty three in the Jurassic Coast poetry book that I launched at the Jurassic Coast Trust’s recent launch event. The poetry is set within prose that tells some of the story of the residency and of the places I visited. My three year project continues next year into West Dorset.
There are 150 copies of this limited edition pressing of Jurassic Coast Poems East Devon, and each will be signed and numbered. They are printed at Creeds in Bridport on 48 pages of recycled paper with a recycled card cover. If you would like to buy a copy whilst they are available, for £6 plus £1.30 postage, please email me for payment details.
Or to pick up a copy of my Jurassic Coast poetry book in person, and without postage, come and celebrate the launch with me! I’ll be making a brief tour with the pamphlets on Friday 15th December, so do come and say hello.
I’ll be having many coffees throughout the day at:
Exmouth: at The Point bar near the Starcross ferry slipway 12-1pm
Budleigh Salterton: at The Feathers pub on the high street 2-3pm
Sidmouth: at The Anchor Inn, Old Fore Street 4-5pm
Beet: at The Dolphin pub 6.30-7.30pm
Hope to see you there!