Shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize and the East Anglian Book Awards. Steeped in the imagery of windswept fenland and the smoke of the roundhouse, Flatlands unearths a living world from a time before Britain’s recorded history.
Set in what is now East Anglia, this sequence of prize-winning poems takes us on a panoramic journey from the flint miners and hunters of four thousand years ago to the harsh existence of Bronze Age villagers, Celtic tribal warriors and Boudica’s army rebelling against Roman rule.
Written in a stripped language with stark, sculpted forms, the poems evoke voices whose haunting rhythms and echoes arise in a landscape where a wooden idol, buried in river mud for millennia, tells us: ‘Find me in your own face’.
In this deep past, we see a reflection of ourselves. Through their often bleak symbolism and metaphorical associations, the poems explore universal themes: love and infidelity, ageing and bereavement, tenderness, political suppression and, ultimately, the eruption of murderous hatreds.
As eastern England becomes an early cultural crossing point with the European mainland, sea-trade develops, but Rome’s influence destabilises the local population. Regional kings mint currencies to reinforce their power, villagers are captured by neighbours and sold as slaves to foreign masters, tribes fight for territory and resources, and refugees from Gaul flee across the Channel as the legions’ grip tightens.
The narrative thread that runs through Flatlands, reminiscent of the ancient trackways where early farmers drove their animals, leads to a bloody climax, until the ancestral voices fade back into the sacred streams and pastures.
‘These poems are laid out like a hoard of archaeological finds. They are glinting slivers of our ancient past in the East of England. Subject to the threats of starvation and pillage, these voices of the indigenous tribes and then of the conquering Romans have an entirely convincing timbre and compel our engagement. Flatlands is an impressive and mature first collection.’ —Tony Curtis
‘Find me in your own time
find me in your own face
says the centuries-old "Thames Idol", and so say the others who people East Anglia's prehistory in these spare, telling poems. The arrow-maker's methods are arcane, his tension as he awaits his prey is instantly recognisable. An old person nowadays might use a bottled version of nettle balm, but the rheumatic twinge is the same. These traders, lovers, refugees are part of us, and even the way the "Tidal Dwellers" live at the mercy of the elements strikes an alarmingly contemporary note:
There is nothing distant about these people, nor the poems they inhabit: they are immediate, compelling, alive.’ —Sheenagh Pugh