Ships, salt and a social conscience

Seaborne Magazine, Issue 1 (May 2021), eds. Adriana Ciontea & Kevin Woodley


The inaugural issue of Seaborne Magazine is a treasure trove of writing and artwork inspired by the sea. Beautifully crafted, the magazine celebrates the maritime in all its glory: the editors’ and contributors’ love of the sea makes every page sparkle. This passion is punctuated only by pressing messages surrounding the threats facing Earth’s oceans and seas. The co-existence of awe and warning is apparent in the magazine’s spotlighting of the Cornish Seal Sanctuary, to which 15% of Issue 1 profits are being donated.

The sea is a timeless theme for literature. In Carolyn Stockdale’s powerful story, ‘High Tide’, the reader notes its power to unite disparate time periods. The spatial contradiction of the sea, which both connects and separates land masses, is reflected in the temporal bridges it builds and disrupts. The pregnant narrator provides the connection between three generations and represents the cyclicality of sea and stories. Likewise, Nicole Kelly’s poignant micro, ‘The Last Keeper’, emphasises this bond between humans and the sea, and portrays the devastating impact of its rupture.

Today only one word is written in the ledger: Decommissioned. He puts his pen down. His swim in the waves today will be his last.

‘The Last Keeper’

This changeability is approached through a cerebral lens by Roberta James. Her poem, ‘After the Memo’, embodies the shifting patterns of the waves: words are washed in and out again in a different order. Paired with Amy Corcoran’s stunning artwork, the poem reminds us of the sea’s unpredictability. Such a message can be frightening: ‘It seems all has turned fish, but she is gill-less’.

Faith Paulsen offers a wry yet worrying glimpse at the extent of plastic pollution in the sea. Her poem takes the reader to the depths of one of Earth’s most remote locations, which has nevertheless been unable to resist the scourge of human contamination.

They call it a record-setting dive,
a great exploration. Still, it turns out,
like Leif Erikson, a stray Dorito bag
got there first.

‘Letter to Mariana Trench’

This warning connects the wonderful poetry and prose to the issue’s social engagement. In an important interview, Jana Sirova (General Manager of the Cornish Seal Sanctuary) educates the reader on these incredible animals and the dangers they face. The threats are commonly wrapped up with their charm: ‘Netting entanglement is also sadly a very common injury with seals… Seals are naturally very curious animals and will investigate and play with anything they find floating around’. Opening the issue from a conservationist perspective guides the reader to link their love for the sea with the harm they might inadvertently be causing it.

The difficulties of representing the sea are brought to life in Natalie Hart’s ‘Writing the Ocean’. ‘I do not know how to write about the ocean’ she writes, before beautifully capturing the complexity and beauty of these vast expanses. Similarly, Linda Hibbin’s delightful descriptions in ‘The Living Canvas’ depict the beauty of the sea, whilst also expressing frustration at our failure to do it justice: ‘How long before these pebbles are grains of sand? How many grains of sand are in the world? More, or less, than the stars in the sky?’

These two pieces embody the battle of the intellectual and emotional. Born in the sea is a deep connection, something that bypasses words and sentences and paragraphs. Ultimately, for Hart, everything can be reduced to the touch of the water.

Close your eyes, push your hand
into the waves,
touch this water with me,
and tell me it is not worth protecting.

‘Writing the Ocean’

Seaborne Magazine intersects and blurs lines. Folklore sits side by side with tangible present-day threats; scientific perspectives infuse the literary, and literary flair explains the scientific; messages in bottles float for centuries unread, and we read impossible messages from the depths of the Earth. As Gill McEvoy writes, many pieces seek ‘that spot/ where the haze of sea and sky are one’ (‘Sea Captain’). Such unity seems achievable by the sea. Indeed, the editors’ greatest achievement might be combining disparate strands of maritime literature into one memorable and distinct reading experience.


Seaborne Magazine, Issue 1 (May 2021). Available here.