Issue 30 – 2019 – Nancy Gaffield

Nancy Gaffield



at the beginning:
                                                     mud flats

then sand dunes                       land of

        shams                    draggle-tail delusions             deliquium

the Reverend Barham, writing in 1793, called it the Fifth Continent
after Europe, Asia, Africa, America

Romney Marsh
                                                     Welland Marsh
                                                     Denge Marsh
farmlands too
                                                     The Dowel’s

so many autumns, ay, and winter days, spent outside
trying to hear what was in the wind


it was always like this                               carcasses flayed by the wind

vargavinter [svenska]: wolf-winter
                           deep biting wind
                                       wolves hunting

—Do you ever think about moving inland?
—Why would I? Somebody’s got to stay. Somebody’s got to remember.


(today the insects are going missing
you’ll notice it
                                        along the canal
                                        in your garden
                                        under streetlights

                                                                 on your windscreen

the sheer quantity                   of absence                      the sixth


I am eglande
              gouty with streams
                           quivering polder
              ancient landscape
my patterns Saxon:       lanes
those later
             drained the marsh
                           populated it

after the plague             land put down
             to sheep pasture
                                                                 (five hundred years pass)


Welland Marsh Little Cheyne Court
                                          wind farm
                                          salt marsh
reclaimed for grazing
             no public roads
                           no settlement

long and uninterrupted


Against all manner of pestilence and plague

Take an onion and cut it overthwart, then make a little hole in the middle of each piece, the which you shall fill with treacle, and lay the pieces together again, and wrap them in wet brown paper and roast them in the hot embers; and being roasted enough, press out the juice of it, and give the patient to drink thereof a spoonful and suddenly he shall feel himself better.
(Salvator Winter and Francisco Dickinson, 1649)



Brookland Farms          strong linear landscape
                                                                   (field boundaries)
             parallel lines of willow
                           ragged hawthorn
                                          fertile, peaty soil
                           with tracks
                                          still in tact

on the horizon the scarp          the houses of the High Weald
             a crowded mantelpiece
                           above a fruitful plain

and Dowels Farmland
             pastoral fields divided by
                           a drainage ditch
             crossed by a wooden plank

             boggy reeds
                           and rushes
             relics of sheep grazing
             looker’s huts

Fairfield Church in sheep pasture
             deep layers
                           of peat
            no hiding            the sun
                                          the moon
                                          the truth


(marshlands are natural carbon sinks
lose them we also lose their capacity
to absorb carbon
lose them
the carbon
they’ve absorbed
over thousands
of years
is released)

the grass when the wind passes over it bends


Dungeness Shingle      vegetated scree         scattered cottages
             and power stations
                           nearest the shore
             constantly evolving
evidence of prehistoric tools
             Roman salt making amongst the rubbish
                                          hair clips
                                          ring pulls
                                          bic lighters

natural shingle
                           horizontal form
the lighthouse
             the power station
                           vertical structure

the only desert
             in western

10,000 years ago
chalk bedrock warmed and frozen
broke part
washed down into flint nodules
by rivers
washed down
into the English Channel
                                     out of synch land
                                     decrepit fishing huts
                                     railway carriages
                                                   horizons of pylons

a town called Hope
             built on the razor’s edge
                           rendered null


(in the early part of day
heard a stray goose
groping about
over the water
as if
             lost or like
                           the spirit of the fog)


the Dymchurch Wall has been maintained
for eight hundred years
“A wall is fear in three dimensions”

20th century                                 bungalows
                                                      caravan parks
                                                      housing estates

below sea level                threatened
             by the sea
             by invasion
Martello Towers stand

spit of shingle                  breached
             by storms
marsh phantoms
             a scarecrow

             (dress a scarecrow in your last shift, you standing shiftless by)


St Clements at Old Romney
             had a secret passageway
                           to the undertaker’s
             the blood of
                           Dr Syn’s smugglers
                                        lingers in the ditches

the marsh frog laughs
             wa ha ha wa ha ha

and all that’s left
             of Ogarswick
                           is a cross that marks
             the spot


St Nicholas New Romney
             still bears the scars
                           of the storm [1247] four feet of sand and shingle
             filled the port
                           the Rother Estuary
             relocated to Rye
New Romney buried in debris

you can see the flood levels
             on the church pillars
                           rooks in shaggy trousers
             grumble and gripe


(am barrel jellyfish
90% water and my small dense tentacles contain hundreds of little mouths

am brown-tailed moth caterpillar
populating the sea hawthorn in ever larger numbers
as the temperatures rise

we evening primrose               red valerian
cover the shingle

and I the pygmy footman moth
love lichen and light

am sea               am something
that doesn’t love a wall)


Near permanent flooding predicted for Romney Marsh
More intense storm surges
Loss of peat → release of methane →
Higher temperatures in summer and winter
Warmer weather → greater stress on trees
Increased rainfall and storm events
New pests and disease

Marshland reclaimed by the sea


  • The title Rumenea is an Old English name for Romney (Marsh), meaning “at the spacious, or wide, river”. Romney Marsh is in Kent, in the southeast corner of England.
  • Italicised material is from Walden by Henry David Thoreau. This poem is part of a longer sequence entitled Weald[en].
  • Salvator Winter and Francis Dickinson in Julian Walker (2013) How to Cure the Plague & Other Curious Remedies. London: The British Library Books.
  • The word eglande dates to Cnut of Kemble’s Charter dated 1023.



Nancy Gaffield is the author of five poetry publications, most recently Meridian (Longbarrow Press 2019). She adapted her first book of poems, Tokaido Road (CB editions 2011) into a libretto; the opera, composed by Nicola LeFanu, premiered at the Cheltenham Music Festival in 2014 before touring nationally. Her recent work, Weald[en], explores the consonance between nature, poetry and electronic music. She lectures in Creative Writing at the University of Kent.​​