‘The Letter Always Arrives at its Destination’ and ‘The Night Watch’ by Niall Campbell

Tonight I am sharing two of my favourite poems by Niall Campbell from his collections Moontide (2014) and Noctuary (2019) published by Bloodaxe Books.

Niall Campbell, originally from South Uist, an island of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, received an Eric Gregory Award in 2011 and an Arvon-Jerwood Mentorship in 2013, and won the Poetry London Competition in 2013. His work has been widely published in a number of magazines and anthologies and his debut pamphlet, After the Creel Fleet, was published by Happenstance Press in 2012. His first book-length collection, Moontide (Bloodaxe Books, 2014), won Britain’s biggest poetry prize, the £20,000 Edwin Morgan Poetry Award, as well as the Saltire First Book of the Year Award; it was also shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize and the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize, and is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. First Nights: poems, a selection from Moontide with additional new poems, was published by Princeton University Press in the US in 2016. His second book-length collection, Noctuary (Bloodaxe Books, 2019), was shortlisted for the 2019 Forward Prize for Best Collection (Bloodaxe Books 2022). 

We studied some of Niall’s poems on my creative writing degree and these two poems, amongst others, have stayed with me. He is a master of punctuation in his poetry (something I often struggle with), and his use of the en-dash (or whatever the heck you call it) is a personal favourite of mine which works perfectly with the rhythm of his work.

Both collections are beautiful and if you’ve not read any of Niall’s work before you can buy Moontide and his second collection Noctuary via Bloodaxe Books here.

‘The Letter Always Arrives at its Destination’

– then I wrote often to the sea,
to its sunk rope and its salt bed,
to the large weed mass lipping the bay.

The small glass bottles would be lined
along the bedroom floor – ship green
or church-glass clear – such envelopes

of sea-mail. Only on the day
of sending would a note be fed
into each swollen, brittle hull –

I had my phases: for so long
it was maps: maps of wader nests,
burrows and foxes dens, maps where

nothing was in its true position –
my landscape blooming from the surf.
Later, I’d write my crushes’ names

onto the paper, as a small gift.
The caps then tested and wax sealed.
None ever reached my dreamed America,

its milk-white shore, as most would sink
between the pier and the breakwater,
and I would find that I had written

about the grass in the drowned sand,
again; and to the sunken dark,
I had sent all the light I knew.


The Night Watch

It’s 1 a.m. and someone’s knocking
at sleep’s old, battered door – and who
could it be but this boy I love,
calling for me to come out, into
the buckthorn field of being awake –

and so I go, finding him there
no longer talking – but now crying
and crying, wanting to be held;
but shhh,what did you want to show
that couldn’t wait until the morning?

Was it the moon – because I see it:
the first good bead on a one-bead string;
was it the quiet – because I owned it,
once – but found I wanted more.


References

Bloodaxe Books (n.d.) Niall Campbell: Author [online]. Available from https://www.bloodaxebooks.com/ecs/category/niall-campbell [11 April 2022]

Campbell, N. (2014) ‘The Letter Always Arrives at its Destination’ from Moontide. Hexham: Bloodaxe Books Ltd, 21

––– (2019) ‘The Night Watch’ from Noctuary. Hexham: Bloodaxe Books Ltd, 31

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