The current flooding in the Thames Valley is scary.
At a really early point in my poetry writing, I went to a workshop run by Jane Draycott at the River and Rowing Museum in Henley on Thames. I was scared. Everybody else seemed to know everybody else. There had been a series of workshops about the river when Jane was Poet in Residence, and I think I tapped into the very last one. The theme was “The Rising River” and it was about floods.
Thinking about what to write, I remembered the seven years we had spent in Windsor. It was only after we bought our house there that we realised we were living on a flood plain. We worked this out after visiting the pub at the end of the road, and finding photos on the wall of people rowing down the street in 1947. Despite this our house was built in 1957 – although I noticed there were a couple of steps up to both the front and back doors. I felt a bit safer once the Eton / Dorney rowing lake was dug, but I understand that isn’t necessarily coping right now.
Reading the resulting poem out loud at the end of that workshop was the scariest thing I had done since I sat my driving test. But many of the people I met that day are now good friends and I’ve had the pleasure of being taught by Jane Draycott at the Poetry School since then.
We climb the stairs, suspecting, while we sleep,
the inundating tide will creep above its banks
bringing reeds, and planks, and water-weeds,
branches torn from their moorings, blooms adrift,
borne floating in the gift of the rising river.
The sandbags, propped rotund against our doors,
a futility of sacking, soon soaked and full,
are breached, as fish are washed, gasping and flapping,
into gardens. The flood, now feasted and replete,
making a midnight Venice of these streets.
Then we moved to our current location – on top of the Chilterns.