Title: Berth-Voices of the Titanic
Author: Natalie Scott
Publisher: Bradshaw Books
Publication Date: February 23, 2012
Berth – Voices of the Titanic
Guest post by poet Natalie Scott
When I first sat down with the idea to create a poetry collection about the Titanic disaster, I felt humbled. Part of the challenge for me as a writer was to do justice to my subject matter. For a story which involves real people, memories and loss of life, I wanted to present the multiple viewpoints without a hierarchy rather than attempting to tell its story from only one viewpoint, that of an authorial narrator. I felt that I couldn’t claim authorial ownership of a subject which has touched so many lives.
I wanted to tell the story of the ship’s construction, maiden voyage, sinking and aftermath from a range of perspectives in a way that deliberately created narrative gaps, leaving the audience to make connections across poems between speakers, events and details. Some of the speakers include the widely known, influential figures of Captain Smith and Molly Brown, whilst other poems are told from the perspective of less wealthy passengers of whom very little factual information exists. In placing such figures side by side, I aimed to highlight their equal importance with hindsight, given that they lived during Edwardian times, when there was a huge gulf between the haves and have-nots.
Berth – Voices of the Titanic was published and performed to coincide with the centenary of the Titanic disaster on April 14th 2012. The collection encourages an audience to see and hear Titanic in a distinctive way, through the poetic voices of actual shipyard workers, passengers, crew, animals, objects, even those of the iceberg and ship herself. Though extensively researched, it is not intended to be a solely factual account of Titanic’s life and death but a voiced exploration of the what-ifs, ironies, humour and hearsay, as well as painful truths, presented from the imagined perspective of those directly and indirectly linked to the disaster.
In many of the poems, I allowed form to be guided by subject matter. To voice the newly married couple ‘Mr and Mrs Marvin’, the form and structure of a sonnet written as a duologue seemed most appropriate. It is in this way that the two voices are intertwined to show their love for each other, whilst each being able to articulate their thoughts and feelings at a time before disaster struck.
Mr and Mrs Marvin
(First Class passengers: Mrs Mary – SAVED, Mr Daniel – LOST)
Mr: We’d been married just under three months;
Mrs: the very first wedding to be cinematographed;
Mr: we staged a second ceremony to capture it,
Mrs: then honeymooned for five gorgeous weeks.
Mr: When we stepped aboard the mighty Titanic,
Mrs: the luxurious film star fantasy was preserved;
Mr: everything was new and we had to try it all,
Mrs: until we had unintentionally sullied the room:
Mr: chipped a doorframe, broken a bone china cup,
Mrs: splashed little water droplets on the mirror,
Mr: lathered the soap till it frothed in its dish,
Mrs: wetted all the sweet white cotton towels,
Mr: stained the sheets practising rapture,
Mrs: our limbs stretched out like butterfly wings.
Copyright © Natalie Scott 2012
(permission granted by the author for reproduction on this site)
In another poem ‘Rigel’, I voiced one of the dogs on board Titanic (some claim that Rigel is in fact a myth but there are accounts which vouch for his actuality!). The dog’s speech is written in clearly recognisable English; however it is presented using non-standard grammar, to show how the dog might ‘see’ the world around him. Through Rigel, I describe the scene using metaphors to depict objects, such as ‘big float’ instead of ship. I aimed to encourage a re-evaluation of what Titanic was by such a description, which strips the grandiosity of a luxury liner down to it being merely something that floats on the water. The dog’s perspective encourages an alternative way of seeing Titanic as an engineered object entirely removed from her associations with wealth, class and prestige, inviting the simple conclusion that anything which floats could be made to sink.
For me as a poet, it is the personal accounts from those involved in Titanic’s story which are so fascinating. It is also understandable to see why as a topic it appeals to such a variety of people, regardless of their gender, nationality, race or religion. Over one hundred years since the ship’s sinking, it remains fascinating and will undoubtedly continue to fascinate in future centuries. As a story which will continue to be retold, the secret to retelling it therefore lies not in what is told but the way in which it is told.
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Natalie Scott is a UK based published poet and qualified teacher with a PhD by Existing Published Creative Works. Her first full-length collection Berth – Voices of the Titanic (Bradshaw Books, 2012) received runner-up for the Cork Literary Review Manuscript Competition 2011 and was staged at ARC in Stockton with Arts Council funding. Brushed (Mudfog, 2010), her first pamphlet, features ‘Victorine’, a finalist for the Aesthetica Creative Works Competition 2009. Natalie’s next pamphlet Frayed is due for publication by Indigo Dreams in early 2016. Her poems have appeared in journals including Ambit, Agenda Broadsheet, English in Education, South Magazine, Other Poetry and Poetry Scotland. She is currently training with the International Federation for Biblio/ Poetry Therapy to become a Certified Applied Poetry Facilitator.
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