Research Visit to the Suffolk Coast

‘…But when the sea runs fast and high
And skies turn black and cormorants weep
Best watch your step on Shingle Street.’

Blake Morrison, The Ballad of Shingle Street, 2015

I should have followed Morrison’s advice when I visited Shingle Street. I was far from shelter when I noticed the fishermen quickly pulling on waterproofs, swallows skimming low around me, and several fat heavy drops of rain falling on my arms – augurs of the thunderstorm moving out to sea. Even a 19th century Martello Tower, built to defend England in the Napoleonic Wars but now a holiday rental property, offered little protection from the leading edge of the storm. It was a lesson in how quickly the conditions here can change.

Thanks to a successful Student Development Fund application to Midlands3Cities, I undertook my first research visit in August relating to my PhD thesis on contemporary poetry and coastal change. The visit to Suffolk supported my examination of Blake Morrison’s poetry collection Shingle Street (Chatto and Windus, 2015), which is set along the East Coast and conflates mortality, military defence and coastal erosion.

Blake Morrison Reads ‘The Ballad of Shingle Street’

In addition to supporting the cultural and geographic context of my critical writing, the visit allowed me to generate site-specific writing to develop into new poems for my poetry collection. I visited the following locations, which are vulnerable to coastal erosion: Shingle Street, Dunwich, Covehithe church and Benacre, Orford Ness, Southwold Museum, Bawdsey, Thorpeness, and Aldeburgh. I also accessed the collections in Dunwich Museum and Orford Museum, which hold a large amount of information on the changing Suffolk coast.

My reading list for the East Coast includes:

Liz Feretti, Suffolk’s Changing Coast
Tim Holt-Wilson, Tides of Change
Blake Morrison, Shingle Street
Wendy Mulford, The East Anglia Sequence
W.G Sebald, The Rings of Saturn
A. C Swinburne, By The North Sea 

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