I wrote poetry while I was at Newcastle University, and despite some publication which ought to have encouraged me, I gave it up as a hopeless occupation for a while. Instead, I wrote a series of unpublished novels, which taught me most of what I know about writing, apart from that gained by large amounts of reading - anything from Proust to the proverbial bus ticket.
Poetry comes to my desk every day in book and typescript. I have not lost my love of Greek and Latin poetry, nor of English Poetry from Chaucer through the Golden Treasury to Eliot and Auden. In my years in Scotland I have become something of a specialist in Scottish poetry and the language and dialects of Scots. I have been studying Scottish Gaelic for some years.I hope you will look at Poetry Scotland's website in which my hand may be readily discerned, but which is managed and run by webmaster and poet Colin Will.
I dedicated Bewick Walks to Scotland to 'Watty, who travelled to Carlisle in search of a place' from a Newcastle chapbook which Ian W. King, my husband, once republished with some poems of his own. I should really have dedicated the book to Ian, but we both thought it would be naff, so Watty stood in.
The poetry in Bewick... is nearly all nature poetry or poetry driven strongly by place. Roger has suggested I give examples of my other kinds of work, so I've looked out some people poems below.
[Ivy Compton Burnett and Margaret Jourdain]
Margaret loves furniture: she goes
up and down the auction rows,
feather bonnet, smart affair,
working at the V & A,
a woman among men at play.
The lonely Ivy, novelist
shattered by war. These two would share
a flat for more than thirty years,
a bureau with a book on top,
paper and highly polished wood.
Catty comments of London life:
"So late for dinner, but my dears,
it couldn't spoil, it was corned beef!"
and Edith Sitwell's poems are "bosh"
and "homos" so intriguing. Cheers!
Dear old Gollancz, he tries so hard.
Virginia and Stevie call.
Dear Cecil here will photograph
my hollow cheekbones. Let us sit
together by the silver teapot.
Her books are published one by one.
Margaret retrieves the paper from
discarded heaps, reuses them
as notepads at the V & A,
where, decades later, they'll be found.
"In no accepted sense were they
a lesbian couple," says my source.
"Each sought her own life and fame."
Ivy lost sisters and a brother.
Weren't there any other men?
Pre-war years and post-war years
merge into one lasting household.
Margaret travels; Ivy doesn't.
More manuscripts, more scriptoires,
and more tea in the silver teapot.
Like many stories, this one ends
with death, of one then both these friends.
Their wars are over, and their shelves
of books are singing to themselves.
They mourn each other in the hall.
A cheeky one; obviously, it really happened.
We're at a poetry reading. Big Dave's phone
shrills in his pocket, and he goes outside.
He comes back in and says, "The Queen Mum's died.
I asked my wife to leave the phone alone
unless it was important: I must sing
at Glamis tomorrow in the Songs of Praise
so I suppose it was important." Rays
of sunshine: afternoon, and sweltering.
The tea ladies among their sausage rolls,
go "Oh" and "Ah", but John and Gerry first
sing one more song before we quench our thirst
on tea or wine and quiche and eggs in bowls:
it makes us stamp and smile and clears the air:
"Granny's gone and left me her old armchair."
And here is an even cheekier quickie that earned me a note of appreciation from the editor of Poetry Review; they had all enjoyed it in the office, he wrote, when he sent it back. It definitely isn't about any Arrowhead poets!
He's a really good poet
but I can't for the life of me
remember his name. You know!
Cape? Faber? Bloodaxe?
Always on the radio.
British Council. Poetry Review,
New Yorker, the new Stand.
Breakdowns, three divorces,
one from another poet.
Flashy website. Five books,
three suicide attempts.
A really good poet!
You know! No friends.
As it happens I wrote several poems about Hamish Henderson, the scholarly and colourful personality of the next poem, though I didn't know Hamish unduly well. And I didn't know Bob Spiess, but I had become very interested in the World Haiku community, as I still am. This was published in the WHC journal.
Hamish Henderson, Scottish songwriter d. 8 March 2002
Bob Spiess, kyosei of the world haiku community d. 13 March 2002
Bob is now in heaven
writing heavenly haiku
and Hamish Henderson
is looking for a pub
and some of his old friends
who have already gone
where funerals don't matter
for an eternal natter
and back on earth, the fight
begins to hold the truth
about his life, disputed
between those who plan
to own another poet
and those who glimpsed the man
enigmas and personality
and adventurous history.
Hamish, soldier, carouser,
wanderer and Scot,
in heaven a week before
the great haikuist Bob.
What is nonsense spoken
in a funeral oration
or a beautiful tribute
on the internet
to the surprises they will get
from each other,
lines of people
leaving lines of words.
This is a recent one I used as a Christmas greeting - the day I wrote it. There was a little discussion whether 'squirrels to their nuts' sounded too cartoonish, and an alternative arose of 'squirrels to acorns', but I prefer the first writing; they are local red squirrels. Ben Ledi is 'our' mountain at Callander. So back to nature.
If inspiration has evaded me
it has not abandoned Ben Ledi,
snowy under the ice-pale skies
in the glittering cold of the solstice.
If my powers are atrophied
those of the forest trees are not.
Budded or berried, black or green,
their strength barely notices winter.
If my moons are under clouds of frost
or waning, they will come back
quicker than squirrels to their nuts
planted in wholesome black topsoil.
There my friends will be gathered,
at the other end of my words.
Snows on Ben Ledi will melt away.
Strength will flow back to me.
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Last modified: March 28th 2005