‘Arkwork’, a series of eleven sonnets by Andrew McNeillie, finds in the loss of the Stranraer-Larne ferry in January 1953, in which 133 passengers and crew drowned, a focus for a reflection on the literary history of shipwreck, death, and survival. The poems are superbly illustrated in dramatic drawings by the artist Julian Bell.
They went aboard in ones and twos,
in no great shape or order. The usual
kind of crowd and would be casual
but for those quayside feeling queasy blues.
They were thrown together… (Excuse me.)
But they’d need more than dry Ulster humour
to keep their spirits above water,
as they gasped and struggled in the sea.
Meanwhile, deep inland, the steading hove to.
As if a poem on the shipping forecast
was that moment conceiving. The radio
announced the disaster, in patrician English:
the old assault and innocence lost
that poetry is heir to, and the Irish.
Limited edition of 100 copies.
(Clutag Press, 2006)