Anne Ryland

Anne Ryland

I’ve been fascinated by words and writing ever since I can remember, but only experimented with poetry about eleven years ago. At the age of six I was secretly pleased when the teacher who complained I had ‘a tongue like a snake’ also predicted that one day she’d be reading my book in her wheelchair.

I grew up in Essex, and was educated at Bristol and Leeds universities before marriage and settling in London. After teaching German in schools, I transferred to adult education. Seven years ago we moved up to Berwick-upon-Tweed, where I now work as a part-time tutor of Literacy and related subjects, as well as the occasional creative writing course. The slight friction between teaching and writing has proved surprisingly fruitful; I enjoy the liveliness of the classroom and the solitude of my desk in equal measure.

My poems have been widely published in magazines and anthologies, and a Northern Promise Award from New Writing North in 2005 was a welcome validation of my work.

Over recent years I’ve attended a multitude of workshops, seminars and courses, the highlight of which was the Newcastle University MA in Writing Poetry (2000-2002). As a teacher myself, I value the experience of being the student and the privilege of learning from poets whom I admire.

Many of my poems are inspired by an image or by a story which almost demands to be recreated as a poem. Certain themes keep recurring: letters, silence, water, the Northumbrian coastline, blue and grey, stitches, bones, stones ... I particularly like inventing words, ‘autumnologist’ being one example, and research forms a key element of my writing process. It’s difficult to pinpoint my favourite poets, because they are many, but currently I’m reading Sharon Olds, Peter Redgrove and Penelope Shuttle.

Letting Her Go

My mother will abandon land,
her three wheelchairs and three hoists.
I’ll wrap her in the cream shawl
then lift her into a cave, its roof alive
with lichen and spleenwort fern.
I’ll place her on a ledge, and leave.
The tide will come in, bringing
two cow seals with mottled coats, drawn
by the ghost howls of their stillborn,
but instead they’ll find a bone-woman
and they’ll stretch their crinkled necks
to sing to her in shades of light and dark,
sing her limbs back to life,
while the waves peak and break
until she is silver and streamlined.
The ocean will become her home.
She’ll steer through its blue-green rooms
and learn the underwater calls of seals:
the harmonics of their long moans,
the guttural rup with its sharp upsweep,
and the trrot clicking sounds.
When my mother basks on the rocks
after her first sea dance,
her laugh will be one I’ve never heard in air.

from Autumnologist

Not far away

my mother lives in a house where staircases
grow boldly as sunflowers.

Sometimes she runs up and down stairs
for the hell of it – her legs are strong now.
Or she stops to read just one with a bare foot,
presses down her toes, then heel to release

a secret held in the creak. It might allow her
to let go and swear in all her glory.
Her quest for the apology to end all apologies
over, she is queen of the staircase peak.

She adores the sloping not-quite-half landing
where rooms have unproven names –
Always, Never, Because, Otherwise –
still rummaging for the skeleton key.

My mother’s home has no gate, no address.
I leave her there, not far away.

published in The Frogmore Papers No 68 (2006)

Silk Escape Map

She holds the land of Burma in her hands
as if it were a live creature
sent to preserve her until the end,
and him, prisoner of heat and dust.

After the plainness of wartime material
this silk map spills an amber glow.
She searches for him in its arteries,

samples names on her parched tongue,
Yenangyaung, Taungdwingyi ...
drawing closer to him,
to their three days as husband and wife.

That night she prowls enemy lines,
silent map smuggled in a bamboo cane.
The jungle rustles.
Even in her dream she does not know

if she will know the man behind the wire
in order to rescue him – if she can stitch
him back together.
The few words he was allowed to write
were rotting when they reached her;

his spoken words she has concealed
inside her breast, unsoiled by temperature.
She only lets herself listen to them at dawn.

Below the bloodshot eye of the sun
he is a tiny flightless creature.
But the single filament of him, unreeled,
is thousands of miles long.

She imagines a blouse, both warm and cool,
created from a survival kit.
Oceans stream down her arms,
a mountain chain climbs her shoulder.
She will wear him on her skin.

from Autumnologist

Woman Seated in the Underground, 1941

after Henry Moore

I’m waiting on that platform where endless
empty trains rattle through without stopping

when I glimpse her. Alone in a corner,
hands clasped in lap, shoulders sturdy as bridges.

She’s a spiral of scratches against a tiled wall,
her face scribbled out almost to a skull.

Why is she still here? Perhaps the layers
swathing her preserved her from girders falling

within, and afterwards she never unravelled;
remained in the shelter all these years

silent, listening to rumbles from the tunnel
and from the inked-out night above. She did not

climb up to the old watercolour morning;
kept reading letters already learned by heart.

I edge closer – she’s a haze of dust and chalk –
dare not touch for fear of smudging her.

Yet she has a shy radiance, my stranger.
When it was all over, she belonged underground

and no longer knew how not to wait.

published by Magma, 2006

Poems on this page Copyright © 2006, 2007 Anne Ryland

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Last modified: February 5th 2007