Sea swimming

There’s a charge to swimming in the Atlantic that you don’t get at the local leisure centre. Perhaps it’s the abrasive quality of salt, or the electric feel of the cold. Getting in is the hard part. The passive among us may let the waves do the work: a progressive submergence. The bold will run and dive, but this is rash. Showboating may be followed by an abrupt exit. Waist deep is significant progress. Then all that’s required is one duck into the water. Once you’re wet, you’re wet. You might as well start swimming to keep warm.

Once in, the waves move you and cold surrounds you, making feel connected to something larger than yourself. At Porthgwidden beach you see birds arc around the chapel, and Godrevy lighthouse bob on the horizon. Boats cut the water out beyond the buoys. It may even feel that the experience wouldn’t be as refreshing were the water a mediterranean 25ºC. Just be sure to have a warm coffee waiting when you get out.

An early draft of ‘The Edge’

There’s a poem in The Tide Clock titled ‘The Edge’. Here’s an earlier version of it that perhaps works in its own right, before the poem took a different turn. This version is more overtly about zazen: zen meditation practice.

Just Sitting

Waves relinquish the carracks,
make fractals, circles, then stillness.
My shadow drifts on the water,
part of the headland, tailed with rock.

Children play on the fringe of all
they can and cannot imagine.
The green sea peels back and here I am
between the inbetween; grateful,

coping, very nearly thriving,
content to be this not-self after all.
I’m scenery in someone else’s childhood
on a spit of land between blue nothings.

A fishing boat threads the bay
golden with a brazen shining stitch
lit by the falling sun. My legs ache.
So much for zazen. I have an itch.

The Tide Clock version:

The Edge by Mark Cooper

Read the rest of The Tide Clock here.

The Tide Clock – free PDF

A PDF version of our poetry collection, The Tide Clock, is now available. Click here to read it. Feel free to share it with others.

The Tide Clock


What do we find when the tide goes out and the coastline is exposed to light again, as if for the first time?

In The Tide Clock, three poets relate their experiences of the sea and everyday living. These are poems about looking afresh at what life places before us.

The Tide Clock proof has arrived

The new poetry pamphlet I’ve been working on with Hugh Greasley and Joe Franklin has arrived in proof form. There are a couple of minor errors to be fixed: I didn’t leave enough room between the bleed and the page margin on the cover, for one thing. These should now be resolved and I’ve put the order in for the first printing.

The cover art is Paziols Morning by Hugh. Check out more of his art at

Get in touch if you’d like me to post you one!

The Tide Clock proof

The Tide Clock - Mark's poems

Sea music: foreword to a poetry pamphlet

Sea music - foreword to a poetry pamphlet

I’m hoping to send our new poetry pamphlet to the printers this weekend. It’s the second collaboration between myself and poets Joe Franklin and Hugh Greasley. To whet your appetite, here’s a draft of the foreword:

Sea music

Ted Hughes once said that if the reason we travelled to the coast during our holidays was to relax, we’d be better off avoiding the traffic and crowded beaches to stay at home in the garden. He was hinting at another reason for our habit of staring out over an ocean, and that is to connect with a reality much larger than the habitual selves we usually are. Returning to the sea frames our lives. It presents a new surface each time we visit.

Viewing the expanse of the ocean brings the mind back to the immensity of reality, and broadens our perspective. No wonder it has been a central character in the work of poets from Homer to Walcott. And yet in nearly 3,000 years there are still new things to say about the sea. The way people relate to it and earn their livelihoods from it continues to change. Yet the sea can hold our lives because it’s both a uniform vastness and a unique weathering of the coastline. The stretch of coast between St. Ives and Zennor that Hugh and I walked last summer is famed for resembling a splayed hand grasping the edge of the water.

Many things have happened in our lives since our first shared collection, The Inner Sea: much of which can be glimpsed in these poems. It seems fitting, then, that The Tide Clock and Other Poems is centred around coastal transformations. One of the oldest truths is that everything changes but change. Nowhere is this more obvious than at the fringe between land and sea: the intertidal zone where, even when it seems the waters are calm, they ebb or flood imperceptibly under the hidden influence of the moon.

So, The Tide Clock… is an exploration of boundaries and connections. With this in mind, we collaborated on the title poem, each writing one of its three movements. The intention is that our theme will flow between the boundaries of our individual styles and perspectives to find its own expression in this particular pamphlet you now hold. We hope you enjoy it.

Mark Cooper, Cornwall, 1st March 2015.

If you’d like a copy of The Tide Clock, email me at I’d welcome any reviewers, bloggers, or readers who’d like to take a look at it. In the meantime, have a read of our first poetry pamphlet, The Inner Sea.

You had to be there

We were talking about travelling and a friend said that if he were to embark on another big trip, he wouldn’t pack a laptop, tablet, smartphone or a camera. Not even a notebook. We’d been in total agreement until that moment. What would be the point of travelling if you didn’t take artsy photos with an SLR? Or bore your friends and family with constant updates on your adventures? I wondered at the time. Not even a notebook…

Recently, I thought twice about taking my phone with me on an errand. Now I’m a father, that doesn’t happen as often as it used to. I remembered that conversation. What if someone needs to get hold of me? I thought. What if I see something cool and need to take a photo? To hell with it! One by one, I peeled my fingers from around the handset and left it on the counter looking like the sinister monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

As I was leaving town a spectacular double rainbow lit darkening clouds above the harbour. My first instinct was to take a photo, but I consoled myself in the knowledge that even a professional cameraman would struggle to capture what I could simply take in with my eyes and other senses. I decided to extend my walk to properly absorb the scene and ended up getting fairly well rained on. Really heading home now, two seals were playing in the waves. I watched them for ten minutes and understood what my friend had been talking about a little better.

Ishmael’s Leg

I’ve just finished typesetting the first draft of The Tide Clock and Other Poems. This will be a shared pamphlet featuring poetry by Joe Franklin, Hugh Greasley and myself. It’s not unlike the split 7″ singles bands used to put out to share production costs and pool their fanbases. You might remember a similar collection we produced in 2013, The Inner Sea.

As a taste of what’s to come, here’s one of mine that draws on Melville’s classic, Moby Dick. Check back here soon for more news about The Tide Clock

Ishmael’s Leg

“I was crowded for space, and wished the other parts of my body to remain a blank page for a poem I was then composing.”

— Moby Dick.

I’ll leave it blank.
These patterns are only as permanent as skin
though a decent word might outlast the sea-places
I go to fish or through which I leave a life.
Shallows are quick to warm but never the same
from one wave to the next: like the bays, beaches and ports
long cast out of which, even if I’m gone an hour,
swell with strangers, new winds, tides.
You can never go back.

My mind’s tattooed with dreams,
changing more than my blue-inked body shows.
Nothing I write could fill the absence of friends
more central than myself in a life between storms.
Tyrants, bad weather and worse luck have marked me
more indelibly than ink but I love the tale
because I’ve never been the author of my fate
and yet there is a silent part to tell.

A philistine visits Tate St. Ives

However spellbinding the exhibitions at the Tate St. Ives, I’ve always felt that nothing can beat the view of Porthmeor beach from the upper gallery. Pulling your attention away from the indigo waves you’ll notice fascinating sculptures and paintings encased in glass, such as Alfred Wallace’s slanted and enchanted daubings of his life at sea. The thought occurred to me though, that all art is in some way incidental, depending on a particular piece of material, thought, observation, moment or brushstroke. It may have been while looking at Ben Law’s series of minimalist penciled squares… which according to a plaque were produced in a single day. No shit. What makes this work interesting, if anything, is that it is what it is.

When Dan and I visited MoMA in New York, there were several huge Jackson Pollock canvases. I can’t remember which numbers they were. A guard dressed in black security gear carrying a sub-machine gun stood at one corner of the room. He could have raised that mp5 and mown us all down at any point, which I found much less conducive to viewing the work as the artist intended. Anyway, a little lad wandered up towards one of these sprawling pieces encouraged by his parents who were standing back to take a photo of him in front it. Everyone looked at the security guy, including the boy, who was a bit older than a toddler, to see what he made of it. Sub-machine gun dude seemed affable and watched with a fond smile. So the child went ahead and leant on the painting. The whole canvas trembled. People gasped. His parents rushed forward gesturing for him to come away. Maybe Jackson Pollock’s No. 4 will fall on us and its protector will commit seppuku in a hail of bullets. Instead, the canvas ceased to shake and the guard tiptoed over to the boy to gently ask him not to lean on the painting, looking around sheepishly to see if he was in for a bollocking. But he was right to be relaxed about what is, in an absolute sense, splashings of dried paint. In what scenario was the gun necessary, I wonder.

You can make or stultify art depending on how you present it. There’s a curious effect in the upper gallery of the Tate St. Ives, where if you look sideways at the large curved window – neither at the waves or human attempts to represent them – it seems as though the sea is flowing into the room, reclaiming all of the works it inspired in the glass. Then, as you leave the gallery altogether, the sea air hits and you come into the entranceway outside the large curved window. Another sense is restored. You can’t see them yet but you hear waves echoing in this concrete cylinder. Another few steps and you’ll see waves, hear waves, perhaps even walk in them. And maybe that’s what art is really for: to make sure we’re awake for experiences it can only point to.