From the roof of Humber Street Gallery there are glimpses of the broad expanse of the river – and it really is brown, like one version of the name’s origin.

Shadow-covered Water

Fortunate River

The name is recorded in Anglo-Saxon times as Humbre, and was formerly known as Abus, from the Latin abdo. to cover with shadows, conjuring an image of the dark river, from the tidal churn. Humbre, Umbri, umbro. Some prefer a native root, humbr-, one of the many words which mean river, or moving water – *ambri-, meaning channel, river, makes sense in proto-Celtic, like the common Avon, Britthonic *abona, the river, which could become *Su-umbro, good river, where *su-, good, has the same meaning as the Welsh *hy-, as in the mythic isles of the west, Hy-brasil – in my mythology the isle is an array of wind turbines on the sea horizon, the turning blades glinting in the sun.


m reachin oot mm– m inder ite mm–
m headin sooth mm– m widdar storm mm–
m an bit an bit mm– furr th marram mm–
m id awlready be mm– gawn mm– gawn mm– gawn...

Spurn Head is the spit of land that guards the mouth of the Humber. Here a medieval fishing village, Ravenser Odd, was lost to the depredation of the sea. Formed from shingle and sand, continually washed from seaward to landward, the entire spit reforms over time. The promontory is known as Spurn Head Spit, or Spurn Point, from spurn, ModE, spur, projecting piece of land. In my blues the dialect includes Inder, Yorkshire, in the. Flite, Northumbrian, fall lightly, showers. Marram is the well-known sharp-edged grass of the dunes, sometimes known as bents. This poem is from minnmouth.

Spurn Point, Guy Moreton 2017, c-print, 132 x 105 cm
The sea is, once again, a theme for our time. Our relationship to the coast is changing. Minnmouth bodes the inshot and ootshot tide: sea rise, coastal inundation, and the promise of marine renewables.

The poems are anchored by place-names; they are composed in and impelled by the regional languages of the East Coast of the British Isles, from the Out Stack of Unst to Great Yarmouth, including Orkney and Shetland Norn c.1800, recorded in the dictionaries of Jakobsen, Marwick, Stout Angus, and Graham, the poetry of Robert Alan Jamieson, and, traveling down the coast, Dictionar o the Scots Leid (Dictionary of the Scottish Language), and records of English regional languages, including Forby’s The Vocabulary of East Anglia, and Bill Griffiths’ anthology Fishing and Folk.

As well as a book of speculative language research, minnmouth is accompanied by tidesongs, a composition for multi-layered voice and vocal processing, composed and performed by Hanna Tuulikki and Lucy Duncombe, from elements of words and phrases derived from poems. The piece carries the listener from mouth to sea and back again. It can be listened to and purchased here. Listening through headphones or quality speakers is recommended.

The book and audio are an integrated piece; the book is available, priced £5, from Studio Alec Finlay, and the audio download can be purchased from bandcamp priced £4.

The artworks are being exhibited in 'Somewhere Becoming Sea', a Film and Video Umbrella curated exhibition in Hull, April-June 2017; and at 'FLOERS', a joint exhibition by Alec Finlay and Hannah Imlach at North Light Arts, Dunbar, June 2017.


‘People say a poem must be understandable. Like a sign on the street, which carries the clear and simple words “For Sale.” But a street sign is not exactly a poem. Though it is understandable. On the other hand, what about spells and incantations, what we call magic words, the sacred language of paganism, words like “shagadam, magadam, vigadam, pitz, patz, patzu"– they are rows of mere syllables that the intellect can make no sense of, and they form a kind of beyonsense language in folk speech. Nevertheless an enormous power over mankind is attributed to these incomprehensible words and magic spells, and direct in uence upon the fate of man.’

– Velimir Khlebnikov, tr. Paul Schmidt, ‘On Poetry’ (1919)

‘The poet’s justification is the richness of his vocabulary.’

Sadok sudei II, A Trap for Judges II, Russian Futurist manifesto , 1913, D. Buriuk,
E. Gure, N. Buriuk, V. Majakovskii, E. Nizon, V. Khlebnikov, B. Livchits, A. Kruchenykh

Russian Futurist or willbeist poets referred to themselves as wordmakers. I propose wavewright and windwright for designers of energy devices, and speechwright, for makars who follow the precepts of tidalpoetics. Minnmouth riffs on willbeist poetics, especially the inspired speechwright Velimir Khlebnikov, who grew up by the Caspian Sea among the Kalmyk people, ‘Mongol nomads of a Buddhist faith’, and of whom Shklovsky said: ‘his entire being pulsated with the future’. Vladmimir Markov explains that ‘the sounds of foreign tongues’ marked Khlebnikov’s zaum poetry, with its use of neologisms, dialect, and ancient languages, lending it ears for sound over sense.

The book includes three introductory poems that pay homage to the willbeists, including this riff on Khlebnikov’s famous zaum poem.


aye yu wavewrights, waveit furth
aye yu wavewrights, waveit rth
   wavo! wavo!
yuwho waveit inanoot
waveit oan wavily
waveit up rewavily
waveso th wavy wavily
ootwaves th wavethons
   wavo! wavo!
waviness o thwavin wavies
antiwave th waveairts
   wavo! wavo!
biwave, rewave, wavies, wavies,
   wavies, wavies

 These are followed by the minnmouth poems, which are composed in a phonetic synthesis of contemporary speech. Even though the vocabulary is sometimes archaic it agrees with Tom Leonard’s determination to ‘challenge that fixity of word by site-specifying it in the mouth of a particular speaker...’.

The poet and folklorist Peter Buchan denied there was any such thing as ‘the fisher tongue’: there are, or were, as many linguistic variations as fishing villages. Speech need not be a formula to make a gang of people, and some of the richest languages have no state. In an interesting sense this project rebalances my work supportive of Scottish independence, for, ultimately, my politics are those of innovative localism.

Minnmouth seeks a potential vocabulary that exceeds conventional orthography, and which could, speculatively, evolve into a locally-aligned resource aligned with offshore technology.

Design is metaphorically engaged with the sea in marine devices such as The Oyster – seen here in the process of installation for tests at Billia Croo, in a photograph by Alistair Peebles from  2009 – and Pelamis’ Sea Snake. This new book follows on from Ebban an Flowan, which includes photographic documentation of devices being tested on, or off, Orkney.

The folk-myth, common to the Northern and Western Isles, of how the tidestream originates in a quern that grinds all the salt in the sea, offers a foundation myth for marine turbines. Energy landscapes like Orkney and Scoraig are sites of power that exemplify localism in a way the Brent Oil Field arguably does not.

Their local wavewrights and windwrights are an island avant-garde in their approach to design – Scoraig may be attached to the mainland but the journey there by boat makes it an honorary isle. Annabel Pinker characterises the design philosophy of Hugh Piggott, which de nes life on Scoraig, as ‘deliberately working with materials that aren’t already adapted to one another, nding ways to build relations between them – to make them commensurable. The frictions between the parts is – partly – what makes the technology so vibrant and alive’. Pinker and Piggott could be speaking of the poetics this project aspires to. As isolated as these places may seem their influence is international, remote only to The Palace of Westminster.

The third volume in this ongoing engagement with language, coastal culture, and renewable energy will be titled Broken Flowers, and appear this Autumn. It explores the Western Isles, which are about to become an extractive site for devices developed on Orkney. The tensions between the renewable energy industry and the creative localist approach of a figure like Piggott will be wrestled with in that book.

As Vahni Capildeo says, there are still people who think they have no accent: their speech has a hold on power, but it lacks energy. The sequence of detached sentences that minnmouth contains is my way to propose a fluxus, from poetic devices to energy devices, sketching a history, part-lost, part-imagined, whose roots are bedded in the experimental analysis of wind by EW Golding, at Costa Head, Orkney, in the early 1950s, and which stretches forward to today’s wavewrights working at Billia Croo and Fall of Warness, Orkney, and Bluemull Sound, Shetland.

My fictional movement, Tidalpoetry, dreams of an alliance of wavewrights and speechwrights, energy devices and poetic devices, to create comradely inter-disciplinary spaces for energised speech production, to apply poetics to problems of design (and vice-versa), to counter petrolio, and forge a post-carbon culture – or, at least, devise a poetics for a drowned world. There follow some of the sentences that were left behind by the tide.

‘…his tidalpoetry was a blend of Roman Jakobson and Jákup Jakobsen
(Davy Polmadie)

non-standard speech is technically innovative

dialect is the order of words as much it is their orthography

dialect’s drift / song’s fetch

Schwitters was the Magellan of TidalPoetry

writing in dialect is a way to bathe – most poetry prefers to lounge by the pool

some may speak of dialects, dictionaries, and the renewability of the auld leid, but really we’re still struggling in the dinghy of the lyric trying to unclip our lifebelts

with typography the problem is always: how do you get the waves in?
with handwriting the problem is: how to keep the waves out?

a placename is a sequence of sound – wave-crest-trough

This is the opening sequence of poems in the book, exploring minn, Scots, minni, Shetlandic, the mouth, a child’s word. Mynnye, Old Scots, moy, Yorkshire, mother, a child’s instinctive utterance; also bay or inlet, sound or strait. This confluence of meanings was the root for the book.


Burra teddirt by ða sandy rib )
puckerin ða lip skoarnin ða bod

soondsa mooth nammas ða childers
murmurashen needfu r mynnye

Burra, tethered by a sandy tombolo, puckering the lip, (scornfully) imitating the waves – sound is a mouth, and amma is the children’s discontented murmuring, needful for their mum, minn


soondsa scar / markéd i / ða sea- / boddam

ða brimtuds øddin ða mooth   fuwi sounds
faain       laumin       swinklin       baetin
apo ða chord                                 oða aert

sounds is a scar marked in the sea bottom – the bay of tidal breakers is the mouth, as it lls with sounds, falling, owing, splashing, beating, on the chord of the earth


staundin alane bi ða desolat sund
did yi glint ða bloofyns tirlin?

has du tocht backlins
frae ða shoormil   tae ða moder-dye
recantin o dir saatie querns origin?

standing alone by the desolate sound, did you glimpse the blue ns turning? have you thought back from the shoreline to the mother-wave, returning in your mind to the origin of the salt quern?


Lida                                    shippn out suffn deep in th blue O

Hredmonath                     or havn maw offa bowl a suffn tidal

(July) shipping out something deep in the blue O [the sweep of the sea’s horizon]. (March) or having more of a bowl of something tidal [the safety of harbour]. 

Minnmouth was commissioned for Hull UK City of Culture 2017 and North Light Arts, Dunbar

The book was designed by StudioLR with Alec Finlay

I would like to thank to Harry Giles, Katrina Porteous, Ian Duhig, Peter Trudgill, Alistair Peebles, Leonie Dunlop, William Patterson, Laura Watts, and Ken Cockburn for their guidance in terms of Orkney Norn, Scots, Northumbrian, Yorkshire, East Anglian, and Danish words and names. Harry Giles’ Orcadian version of Rimbaud’s ‘ Vouels’ was commissioned for this project. Thanks to Golden Handcuffs review for publishing some of the poems. Thanks also to Hanna Tuulikki and Lucy Duncombe, Pete Smith, Amy Porteous, Jenna Corcoran, Annabel Pinker, Caroline Wickham-Jones, Kat Jones, Vahni Capildeo, Peacock Visual Arts, Lucy Gray, Dave King, and StudioLR; and to Steven Bode, Hull UK
City of Culture 2017, Susie Goodwin North Light Arts (Dunbar), and Creative Scotland for supporting the project.

Minnmouth is a companion to Ebban an’ Flowan, a book made in collaboration with Laura Watts and Alistair Peebles, published in 2015, available for £10 from Studio Alec Finlay.

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