The Solstice Shorts Festival is an international festival held on 21st December of each year, and includes short stories, poems and songs. In 2019, it was held in seven port towns across four different countries (England, Scotland, Wales and Portugal). The theme was ‘Time and Tide’, with performers sharing work about making a living on or beside the water, and making new lives over the water. Arachne Press funded the event, along with 50 crowd funders, Arts Council England, Aberdeenshire Council, and Literature Wales. The press is directed by Cherry Potts, who edits/co-edits all the anthology. She also runs the festival connected with this book, and is one example of just one of the independent feminist ventures that makes up the live literature scene in the UK.
The book is divided into four sections, starting with the stories, followed by ‘time’ poems and ‘tide’ poems and a short section of film texts. I wondered whether there was a need for this distinction, especially as pieces tended to overlap thematically. Though the pieces were carefully placed and read well in the order, I felt the pace of the prose may have felt better if broken up with the poems at times. With nearly seventy pieces making up the anthology, it is natural to be drawn to some more than others, though all make up a general feeling, and much of the time it makes for a relaxing read, as the words wash over you like seawater.
Powell is one of the strongest writers in the anthology, where she speaks of hidden histories of the sea […] The language is both poetic and matter-of-fact.
There were places where prose and poetry seemed to merge, with some stories being under a page long, such as Listen, Noah’s Wife by Roppotucha Greenberg. In this piece, the reader is addressed directly: ‘you made clumsy footprints on the lino and let the tap drip’. Second person is also used at the start of Diana Powell’s first piece, Ballast, drawing us in from the start, as she states ‘let me speak to you about the sea.’ Powell is one of the strongest writers in the anthology, where she speaks of hidden histories of the sea and tells us secrets from ghosts in Sea Change, again, there is an immediacy from the start: ‘there are voices here.’ The language is both poetic and matter-of-fact.
At times it’s amazing how so much can be said in such little space, as with Cindy George’s The Wreck of the Kyllikki. This story is about coal mines, drowned men, heritage and the weight of this on the protagonist’s mind. This and the two stories that follow also address growing up and the passing of time. In The Professor’s Daughter, by Barbara Renel, the imagery is so beautifully vivid, we are instantly transported to the fairground pier and the first explorations of sexuality. In Granmama’s Paradise by Holland Magee, the journey from childhood to adulthood is explored through the role of the grandmother. This relationship is also shown in Paul Foy’s The Answer My Friend… where such figures are able to teach us lessons in life, where the rough waves of sea become a metaphor for ‘the fight you are fighting’.
Many poems are free verse, but Math Jones’ The nth Wave presents an incredibly well-structured rhyme that lulls us like the lapping waves of the sea, and allows us to feel present in the moment reading it, this message providing a deeper resonance.
Familial relationships also come into play in poems such as The Fisherman’s Daughter by Claire Brooker, where there is imagery woven throughout of father and daughter talking as netting is mended or made, where there is a beautiful use of language and pacing as they are described ‘unhitching stories’, imagining ‘bubbles breaking’. Many poems are free verse, but Math Jones’ The nth Wave presents an incredibly well-structured rhyme that lulls us like the lapping waves of the sea, and allows us to feel present in the moment reading it, this message providing a deeper resonance.
In Verticals by Kate Foley, wonderful descriptions later show nature’s relationship to the masculine and feminine, and in Delivery, Holly Blades uses the ocean to describe childbirth, and the way any sense of time is lost. Sarah Tait’s Hawser, uses an interesting form, appearing as the rope it describes in the middle of the page, using two words on each line: ‘muscle-burned’ and ‘moon-cupped’, until ‘gone’, like an umbilical cord, cut. The final section of film texts miss the clarity of the visual aspect, but Susan Cartwright-Smith’s prosaic text, Open Water, beautifully gets across this sense of freedom that connects to open water, and Julie Laing’s Modality gives the whole collection a sense of finality in its last words: ‘there is / peace.’
In a time now, where our spaces are limited, Time & Tide will allow you to be whisked away. In slowing down, it can bring this sense of calm escape and tranquillity as you move through its pages. You can purchase your copy from the online shop.
Featured image: Cherry Potts
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