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Philip Gross in Southword Journal

Philip Gross's The Water Table (Bloodaxe) won the T.S.Eliot Prize in 2009. I Spy Pinhole Eye (Cinnamon) won Wales Book of The Year 2010 and Off Road To Everywhere (Salt, 2010) the CLPE poetry award in 2011. A new collection, Deep Field, dealing with his father's loss of language to aphasia, was published Bloodaxe in November 2011.




Photo © Stephen Morris



from Something Like the Sea





John, this is the sea


and don’t imagine that I mean it

beautifully. We know


how silt-and salt-thick sea is,

how uneasy, ulterior, insatiably


lightless once the play

of surfaces is done with,


how it nearly did for us

both once, near Polzeath,


in the undertow. Sea:


it’s in the dissolution business,

particles suspended for a while


round sunken matter, dis-

cohering, smoking off in strands,


and don’t imagine that I want

to go there. But


(you’re saying, in the slur

and backwash of your deep aphasia


where we’re drowning men clutching at words)

we’re there already. Where we were


at the very beginning.






In a house in the heart of the wood


(I see it as spruce, as Baltic, as a brown-dark heart

contained; birch glimmers round the edges,

detaining the light)

                           our correspondent

was granted an interview

                                   (I see him

played by you sometimes, sometimes by me)


with silence. The last he was seen.


When they found the recorder

                                      (I can hear

it in your voice now)

                             it was running

with its snapped tape ticking

in the empty room.





One of us is a module in orbit.


We’re up against time lags,

like the slow light from crackled-out stars.

          The un-sound of solar wind.


Somewhere, in the skull-capsule,

          the oxygen gauge blips


dwindling. The centuries of science,


patience, hubris, your fine-

drawn notebooks, your dissections

          of the structure of small things


you loved. All your long nights

          of studying late, the one light


in the street. Just to bring us to this.





Names: let’s speak plain

and name them. Your first, my middle name,

common enough.  Hear its passage through borders:

Juhan, Johann, John — through us, then on


into Jonathan, Ioan. Beyond.

We don’t, nobody owns it: Juan, Hans, Iain, Ivan,

the simplest of marks in the air, for the bare-

foot, displaced and untitled, the wandering man.





The wind again,

and all the frontiers of the countries

of the world are breached,

strained, whining with the pressure:

                   fear, outside,

                   and, inside, fear.






I thought I had something to say

about silence. You filled it,


echolalian, a bat-vault full of panicked rags of words.


I thought I had something to say about not knowing.

(Too pat, too knowing by half.) I thought


I had something to say about the Via Negativa


till you showed me. This is positively it. 





The White Sea

struck still, slightly glaucous, by cold,

by the sheer fact of North


- not ice, quite... On the margin

between freezing and unfreezing

marshes and bedrock and blotches of snow


the sea steams,

coldly; threads of vapour

vein the hard air.


It’s further than we’ll get,

in our lifetimes, though

some wisp of our genes,


some proto-Finno-Ugric

hunting band paused here

the imponderable time


it took to chip from granite

the shape of a bird, a bird-

man, maybe dancing.


You spoke of a trip to the seaside.

This is where I saw you, John.



These poems are contained in Deep Field (Bloodaxe, November 2011).


©2012 Philip Gross




Author Links


Philip Gross homepage

Gross at Bloodaxe

Interview with Gross in the Scotsman

MPhil in Creative Writing at University of Glamorgan (course lead by Gross)







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