Most times it’s winter. White as bandages. Red with scarlet fever. Two men wearing peaked caps appear on the road, driving a cream coloured ambulance. When I see them stop a few doors down, I hold my collar until I see a dog for luck. So do the other kids.
‘Doggerland is my memory. Particular. Singular. Almost certainly unreliable.’
Doggerland is the name of a once fertile and populated land mass, now submerged under the North Sea, that once connected the British Isles with Europe. In the winter of 2017/18, Doggerland was clearly visible once again from the coast near the town where Moya Pacey was born and raised.
In Pacey’s hands, this phenomenon works as a metaphor for how memory brings to the surface images, glimpses, stories, people and places appearing and disappearing, in no set order, around the space of this collection of poems.
Doggerland revisits a time of post World War II northern England, replete with traditional norms and values, and darknesses waiting to emerge above the water of everyday life.
‘In Doggerland, Moya Pacey offers a thrillingly sharp-eyed view of a particular time and place. The words may be formed by the adult poet, but we hear them emerge from the mind of a young girl, with extraordinary authenticity. The memories may be random, but they fit together like a perfect jigsaw, until we see a past world in perfect reconstruction, everything in its place. Comforting and disconcerting details rub shoulders – overlapping from one poem to another in a seemingly forensic process. Utterly objective in their technique, the poems are nevertheless freighted with emotional perception. Reading these poems we experience a childlike apprehension of danger in the world – and how to survive it.’
‘Moya Pacey’s collection, Doggerland, offers us a glimpse into a lost and found world infused with sound and colour and redolent with scent and taste. It is a world of kitchens and coal fires, of fathers digging in gardens, children’s chants and tadpoles in jam jars. It is also a place of missing mothers, thumbprints on a girl’s throat and bad people hiding behind bushes. Pacey’s mesmerising sleight of hand is in the voice of these poems, where luminous and whimsical details of domestic life are deftly interwoven with a child’s sense of unease and danger. Doggerland is not simply a collection of memoir poetry; it is a journey into memory itself.’
These poems are about time and how it rubs against us, how memory serves and fails us and how the human project is to try to make sense of all this. Doggerland is a wonderful book and reminds me of Robert Frost’s beautiful poem ‘Devotion’:
The heart can think of no devotion
Greater than being shore to ocean –
Holding the curve of one position,
Counting an endless repetition.