Poetry Profiles #1 Whitby


Whitby (from Still Growing) 2007 

The town of Whitby, located on the north east coast of England, is probably best associated with the literary character Dracula. Thanks to Bram Stoker, the town has become a Mecca for Goths and those who love their fiction with a bit more bite. My association with Whitby is a little less to do with Transylvanian Vampires, and more to do with a bible I found in my parent’s attic some years ago.

I found it in a long-forgotten brown cardboard box full of dust and other collected trinkets. I was drawn to it immediately, not because I have any religious leanings, but because it is a book. Books fascinate and intrigue me, as you might imagine, and I love spending hours in bookstores looking through their vast shelves of wonders. I can’t pinpoint exactly why, but bookstores relax me. Their smell, the quiet slowness of the whole endeavour of choosing a book to buy is unlike any other shopping experience, which, when it comes to past-times, I mainly loath. Whatever the reason, or combined reasons for loving books and bookstores, here I was crouched in my parent’s attic with an brown faux-leather bound bible, fascinated.

I transferred the small handheld torch I was carrying into my mouth, and shone the light down at the book. I wiped the years-old dust away with my hand and opened the bible. Thumbing through its old discoloured pages I came to a handwritten inscription, that read: To Sandra, Give to the world the best you have, and the best will come back to you. Love Dad. Whitby, 1956. 

I realised it must be my mum’s bible, I didn’t know my mum had a bible, she certainly wasn’t religious. I imagined that back in ’56 kids were either forced to study the bible in school or were, like myself when I was younger, subject to the right of passage known as Sunday School. Whatever the reason for needing the bible, I found out from mum it was bought for her by her father in Whitby, hence the inscription. I loved the sentiment of those few short words so much I put them in the front of my first book of poems Still Growing.

What an amazing thing, I thought, my grandfather, the one I had sadly never met as he died before I was born, was a poet!? That’s where I get it from, I thought, as my eyes read over and over his handwritten note to mum. For years I thought he was the reason I had the urge to write poetry. That somehow poetic DNA had been passed down directly from him. Some years later I would find out the line was taken from a poem called, Life’s Mirror by Madeline S Bridges. Still, he obviously read some poetry to know of that line, and that, in my own head is enough to keep the idea that some genetic love of poetry was passed down. I had always been told by mum that we would have got on well, my grandfather and I, so any insight into his psyche was always welcome.

It was my fascination with my never met grandfather that lead me to Whitby. I knew of Whitby, of course, England is not a big place, but to my knowledge I had never been. I was wrong on that front too, my parent’s took me there when I was very young, so mum said, but we had never visited since. I needed to change that. I was so fascinated with going there since discovering the bible. Some deep part of me knew I had to go.

Me and my best friend Chris visited Whitby in early April 2007 and, as I suspected, I fell in love with it straight away; its marvellously crooked cobbled streets, its ancient houses and buildings, the church of St Mary – which has one of the most hauntingly stunning graveyards I have ever seen, and of course, the Abbey, towering over the town like some eroding monolith. The whole place captivated me. It came as no surprise to me that it had inspired several writers aside from Bram Stoker, although he by far has left the greatest mark on the town.

My own small contribution to the literary story of Whitby was conceived shortly after returning from this trip. Not many places I have been have inspired me enough to put pen to paper in tribute, but Whitby, for me is no ordinary place. Before I left Whitby on that visit in 2007, I took a panoramic picture of the whole town as I was stood at the top of the one-hundred and ninety-nine steps. I wanted to capture the place in hope that I could transport some of that magic back home with me. It worked, because it was while I was looking at this photograph that the first lines of the poem came. I recreated the panorama during a recent visit to Whitby with my wife. I was so excited to show Heather round and see her experience for the first time, this place I loved so much. I have to say, I lived vicariously through her and was able to recapture some of the wonder of my own first visit.

Whether it be the legend of Dracula, the historic Abbey, St Mary’s Church and it’s magical graveyard with salt eroded tombstones, the smokey kippers eaten straight from a newspaper or merely being by the sea, I hope if you haven’t been to Whitby, you will have the opportunity to go and experience it for yourselves. There really is something magical in the air there. Thank goodness I found that bible and for my grandfather’s inscription in that bible to my mum. I must  remember to credit Madeline S Bridges for writing it in any reprints of Still Growing, as well as my grandfather for rewriting it for a grandson he would never know to read. As for me and Whitby, I have been back several times since that visit in 2007, and I never tire of it. It remains to this day one of my favourite places on earth.



Here on the hill by the Abbey
an almost silence caresses your ears.
The whispered crash of the sea
on the sand below; the soft
sighs of salty air.
A distant memory may touch
your thoughts but the breeze
will blow it away. Wash it out of mind
and make you think like new again.
And as you lift your face to the sun you can
almost feel the sea spray on your skin,
and your troubles ebbing away.

Oh how I love this quaint little town.
It’s winding hilly streets so narrowly filled with feet.
The smell of smoking kippers in the air,
the gulls that swoop and soar.
The Jet as black as Dracula’s heart,
the seaweed on the shore.
The 199 steps to count as you climb,
a heaven to ascend, a dream to find
the sweeping panoramic view of the town,
as standing alone you look down
to see the boats on the Esk,
coming and going,
leaving white tails behind them
in a foaming bottleneck.

Copyright Phillip Mellor 2007, 2017

Taken from Drawing Outside of The Lines: Poems 2007 – 2017 
Available to purchase 1st July 2017

Poetry (an Essay)

What is poetry? I got asked this the other day by someone who was curious about my writing and what made me choose to write poetry. The latter question is easy, I didn’t choose to, it just happened. It seemed to be the way that felt most natural for me to express what I needed to express. Just like what makes a painter paint or a singer sing; poetry was just my way into that deeper realm of expression. 
When you find your calling you know. It fits you like a perfectly tailored suit. It sits so well with you that you work at it for hours, days, weeks and years and it is never a burden to you. It’s a joy. But that first question, what is poetry? That is not as simple to answer.  
The following is the definition you will find on Wikipedia:
“Poetry is a form of literature that uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language—such as phonaestheticssound symbolism, and metre—to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, the prosaic ostensible meaning.” 

It isn’t incorrect, I am not saying that, it’s merely incomplete. 
Poetry is ancient. Old as the breeze. It existed long before mankind came into being. Before we chose a word and a definition to please. Poetry is the way the universe expresses itself, how it interacts with itself. It is creation itself. Stars, planets, trees, birds, clouds, mountains, snowflakes, the list is endless. You, yourself are poetry. For without your awareness to perceive poetry, how could poetry be? All is poetry to the eyes and ears and most importantly, to the heart. For this is its true home, the deep wells of the heart. 
We are loving beings underneath the wars we rage; underneath the superficial skin we wear. We are all interwoven into this poetry of life. We all express it. All of us. Whether we define ourselves as poets or not. For we are the dancers of dance and the dreamers of dreams. We sing the songs of the stars both consciously and subconsciously. There are no divides between our notes, no divisions between our creeds. 
We build our poetry like palaces and we either destroy them in the end or we make them beautiful, building them up into a symphony; letting the Angels and the Devils find their middle grounds, to shake hands and sign their peace treaties. And should we choose the destructive path, we can even find poetry in the rubble and the ruins; in the bones and the broken hearts of lost loves, and shattered dreams. For even in the cracks of the pavement flowers grow. 
Yet we don’t have to be Tennyson, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Heaney or Hughes to find our place in this rich tapestry of creation. We merely must be ourselves, brave enough to write our deepest thoughts and feelings, live with an open heart and love fearlessly. 
To me poetry is a way of life, not just writing in lines of rhyme and metre with symbolic images and metaphors. The writing of it sustains me, nurtures my soul. My hope in sharing this vision, is that it might sustain and nurture another, and in time nurture the whole. 
Poetry is all of the definitions you might read in Internet searches, but more, so much more. Merely in its very indefinable endless existence it creates itself. 
In times of happiness and in times of tragedy, we turn to it to explain our deepest emotions; why we are here and where we are going. But I believe poetry to be much more than just a cathartic thing. It is a spiritual expression of the soul, and when another feels the poem, connects with it, it reenforces the spirit itself. It perpetuates its very being. 
Poetry should be transformative. It should find those deep unspoken places within a person and turn them inside out; define the very essence of what it is to Be. You could say it is impossible to fully define poetry, yet it defines us. The best poetry does that. If I can write a handful of poems that achieve this, then I will have done my job well. 
Phillip Mellor 9th March 2015