Poetry publication in The Woven Tale Press

I had a wonderful childhood. Sometimes, I wonder if it was too good – I remember struggling with the idea that it was finite and that I would (if lucky) live three or four times longer as an adult than as a child. When I was forced into reaching the inevitable accommodation, aside from all that other life, I discovered other consolations. One of those was memory. Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I walk around my childhood house in my head or I revisit a particular time, a certain event, a special place. There’s one such place that a cousin and I have agreed feels may be the strongest and most coherent memory we’ll ever be able to hang onto. (We’re not talking entirely out of our hats here; I think we both wonder if we’ll succumb to the dementia that took our grandmother.)

The place is Wales: North Wales and, specifically, the Lleyn Peninsula, where the Irish Sea boils up against a small spur of land that hangs off the side of Snowdonia. I grew up close enough to the place to feel some kinship or belonging anyway, but it was the annual holidays our families spent on a hill farm that really cemented my feelings. I’ve written plenty about Wales, and those holidays, in that writerly, appropriating fashion that I tend to fear must be at least mildly irksome to anyone else who regards the same places and incidents as as much theirs as any old writer’s. And, for that, I suppose I apologise – although I’ve done it again and, this time, The Woven Tale Press, a cornucopia of literary and artistic loveliness, has published the result.

My poem, At Dinas Dinlle, is available through here, together with the other contributions that make up the issue. You can subscribe (for free!) to the online version here. It is also possible to purchase a glossy printed version. My thanks to Sandra Tyler and her team for all their support and encouragement, and for producing such a beautiful and stimulating publication.

Silent Voices – Found poetry of lost women

I’m delighted to have had three poems accepted for publication as part of the Silent Voices – Found poetry of lost women project. The first poem is here, the second is here and the third is here.

The project aims to give a voice to the ordinary women of history who, for so long, have been assumed, as if by default, to have nothing interesting to say. It does so by using their own documents, whether that be public records or private writings, such as letters and diaries, and using them to make poetry. It’s a wonderful idea and the more you look at these apparently unassuming primary sources, the more apparent it is that some of the best poetry hides in the everyday and the ordinary.

The woman behind my poems is my great grandmother, Dorothy. Separated from her husband for almost four years when he was sent to fight in the Mesopotamian campaign in WWI, the pair of them wrote hundreds of letters to each other. Most of his survive; very much fewer of hers do, perhaps because of the difficulty he faced in keeping and transporting large volumes of papers.

Dorothy died relatively young, when still in her fifties, and in notes written by her son, David, the Sonny of the poems, was described as a mild-mannered woman who had a great deal to put up with.

I first “met” Dorothy through the prism of her brother-in-law, William Faulkner Taylor (see here, here, here and here). She corresponded with him for more than a year until he was killed at Passchendaele and, judging by his letters to her (to my knowledge, none of hers to him survive), was variously helpful (she had his watch fixed for him and sent him tobacco and cakes), supportive (obvious by the way he thanks her for her advice and counsel) and, purely platonically, indulgent of his need to use her as proxy girlfriend when he despaired of ever finding a real one (“Say, I hope you’re right and there is someone waiting for me and that she’s just like you.”) Nowhere, though, had I seen her voice tell her own story until I chanced on these letters.

Dorothy: it’s over to you.

The sun-drenched elsewhere: Learning to fly in Mozambique

Recently I wrote a poem following one of Jo Bell’s 52 poem prompts. The prompt was “first time” and, easily discounting the obvious, I wrote about a time, almost ten years’ ago, in Mozambique’s Quirimbas Archipelago, when I found myself at the controls of a small plane. My friend Amanda, over at Amanda’s Circus, who is also following the prompts, read the poem and wanted more details. So, adapted from my diary at the time, Amanda, this is for you:

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I don’t much like flying – especially not in small planes where there is so little separating one from all that empty space. This pilot, with his clipped South African accent, young man’s confident grin and long fingers picking at a plate of peri peri cashew nuts says he has the answer. What I need, apparently, is the joystick in my hand.

His plane is a Piper Cherokee, a tiny thing that might have been plucked from a toy box and dropped here, on this sandy strip of runway between the Indian Ocean and the palm trees that seal off Pemba’s old town. Somewhere out there, across the glassy water is the Quirimbas Archipelago. I wonder if I mightn’t prefer to stay in Pemba, even if it means no migratory humpbacks, turtles or dugong. But the pilot is quick to dispatch us to our places: my husband to the seat behind his; a big man with a smile that’s too small for his face, to the back; and me to the co-pilot’s seat. In front of me is a joystick which, it transpires, isn’t a joystick at all but a thing called a yoke.

The switch-flicking that comprises the pre-flight checks is followed by the roar of the engines, so loud and physical it seems to set every cell of my body vibrating. We bounce along the runway, blurring the sea to turquoise opacity. Just as it appears that we must run out of sand, the nose of the plane lifts and, halfway to vertical, the rest follows.

Levelled out again, between blue sky and green sea, the pilot lowers his visor against the glare of the sun striking the water. He twists round in his seat and assures the passengers the hardest part is behind us. The smile on the man at the back of the plane becomes rictus-like. He’s guessed what is to come and is rightly terrified. From somewhere I hear the words: put your hand on the yoke.

It thrums with the movement of the plane and resists more than I expect. Turn it to the left, I’m told. I do so and the aircraft rolls beneath us, the space that its fuselage shaded giving up two dhows, their white sails catching the same air that holds us aloft.

Below, lines of green so dark they’re almost black are the deep water channels along which the humpbacks migrate. Pushing the yoke forwards, as instructed, the darkness lurches towards us, shoving the sky out of the way. I shake my head and the pilot, still grinning, pulls back on his own yoke to lift the plane. Released, I look down at the patchwork of tiny islands Mozambique’s civil war so long kept for the cartographers. Soon one of them will resolve into the mangrove-fringed, baobab-studded bit of earth where we are to land but for now, for once, I’m happy here, suspended between sea and sky – and resolutely not at the controls.

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