Poetry Centre

Weekly Poem for 12 December 2011

  • Backpacking Across Pangea

    In its last throes, when the earth huddled back together
    for warmth, a single crust floating in a soup bowl,
    you could walk ten thousand miles and never reach the sea.

    We packed The Rough Guide to Pangea, a work in seven parts,
    a stack of t-shirts, and a compass that did nothing but spin.
    We crossed the great land bridge that rose out of the Channel.

    We stepped from Eurasia to Gondwana while they scanned
    our retinas and rummaged through our DNA.
    In the mountains of Oman, we met musicians

    who plied us with Yak blood and sweet potatoes
    while we listened to their songs of a separated world: the spindle
    of central America; the anachronism of island nations.

    In the old Aegean, the sole of my boot peeled off
    like a transfer; within six steps the other did the same.
    Our navigation implants made our heads ache.

    This was many years ago, before the mantle
    began to melt, when you could tread the earth in bare feet,
    all of the world a golden outback.

    In the hills of Matabeleland, the devil appeared to us
    in the form of a toad, while an angel drove by
    disguised as a tractor driver with a swollen hand.

    It was possible we had skipped an injection or two.
    When we awoke we found ourselves on a white headland
    with a single red hut selling herring and Coca-Cola.

    We returned on the Trans-Pangea Express – forty three days
    without a stop. On the train a beautiful old woman smiled at us
    with our golden hair and brown skin

    while we drifted into sleep; we dreamt of the slow dance
    of the continents joining hands in a ceilidh of lithospheric plates
    parting and drifting back together.

    We arrived on The Last Night of The Proms
    and sang ‘Rule Pangea, Pangea Rules the Waves’.
    As the waters rose, we waved our single flag of woe.

    by Christopher James

    'Backpacking Across Pangea' is copyright © Christopher James, 2011. It is reprinted by permission of Arc Publications from Farewell to the Earth .

    Christopher James won the National Poetry Competition 2008 for his poem ‘Farewell to the Earth’. He also took the Bridport Prize in 2002 and the Ledbury Poetry Prize in both 2003 and 2006. His previous collection The Invention of Butterfly was listed by The Independent as one of its top ten poetry books, and Christopher James has been described by Poetry Society’s Judith Palmer as ‘the UK’s brightest newcomer’. Christopher is also the recipient of an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors. His poems have appeared in The Rialto, Smiths Knoll, London Magazine, Iota, Magma, The Spectator, and many other periodicals. He has read at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, the Ledbury Poetry Festival and twice at the Aldeburgh Festival, has hosted poetry workshops and has been commissioned by the Tate. Christopher was born in Scotland in 1975 and educated at Newcastle and UEA, where he graduated with an MA in Creative Writing. He now lives in Suffolk with his wife, guitar and three young children. You can read more poems from Farewell to the Earth here, and watch Christopher James read his National Poetry Competition-winning poem here.

    Since it was founded in 1969, Arc Publications has adhered to its fundamental principles – to introduce the best of new talent to a UK readership, including voices from overseas that would otherwise remain unheard in this country, and to remain at the cutting edge of contemporary poetry. Arc also has a music imprint, Arc Music, for the publication of books about music and musicians. As well as its page on Facebook, you can now find Arc on Twitter: search for @Arc_Poetry. Visit Arc's website too for full details of all publications and writers. Arc offers a 10% discount on all books purchased from the website (except Collectors' Corner titles). Postage and packing is free within the UK.