The Letter Always Arrives at its Destination
Then I wrote often to the sea,
to its sunk rope and its salt bed,
to the large weed mass lipping the bay.
The small glass bottles would be lined
along the bedroom floor – ship green
or church-glass clear – such envelopes
of sea-mail. Only on the day
of sending would a note be fed
into each swollen, brittle hull –
I had my phases: for so long
it was maps: maps of wader nests,
burrows and foxes’ dens, maps where
nothing was in its true position –
my landscape blooming from the surf.
Later, I'd write my crushes' names
onto the paper, as a small gift.
The caps then tested and wax sealed.
None ever reached my dreamed America,
its milk-white shore, as most would sink
between the pier and the breakwater,
and I would find that I had written
about the grass to the drowned sand,
again; and to the sunken dark,
I had sent all the light I knew.
from Moontide (Hexham: Bloodaxe Books, 2014)
Moontide is Niall Campbell’s first collection: it was shortlisted for the Forward debut prize, and won him the inaugural Edwin Morgan Poetry Award for the best collection by a Scottish poet aged 30 or under, and the Saltire Award for best first Scottish book. One of the Morgan judges remarked that ‘In lightly framing the unsaid, some of these poems have a haunted quality: they are cat’s cradles between poet and reader.’
Campbell’s vision in this poem has its roots in his childhood on South Uist in the Outer Hebrides, but it was inspired by quite a different source: ‘I came across a revelatory quote “the letter always arrives at its destination” in an essay on ideology in Charlie Chaplin movies. What is important to note is that the letter does not necessarily arrive at its intended destination. For me, what this pointed towards was the potential in the falling-short; how misplacement or being “lost” could actually create an opening for something else.’ The assured poems in this collection create openings onto this world and beyond it; magical poems of ‘islands and margins’.
Find out more about Niall Campbell and hear him read the poem:
and hear Campbell in conversation about his poetry:
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