Poems start as deep feelings and elusive ideas – a poem is a will-o’-the-wisp till it’s on the page. I like to approach subjects energetically and look them in the eye unblinking, sometimes using the confessional to explore themes. There’s the occasional twist of the knife, but also dark humour and lightness of being. I’m inspired by greenery and weather, but also find myself drawn back to writing about wondrous places I’ve travelled to, such as Zanzibar, Fes and Naples.

My poems have been short listed and commended by leading poets including Jackie Kay, Moniza Alvi and Myra Schneider. My pamphlet A Wire To Grief was short listed in the 2014 Poetry School/Pighog Press national competition. I’ve had poems featured in the Independent’s ‘Daily Poem’ column and most recently in two Arts Council-funded anthologies, Her Wings of Glass and Fanfare. I’m an active member of the Second Light network of women poets.

NEW! In 2016 I was commissioned by TippingPoint, Durham University and Free Word to write a new climate change poem, Doggerland Rising.

Read my poem in this FREE Realistic Utopias: Writing for Change anthology (PDF)

There’s a lot of energy in your work and rich, exciting metaphors.Myra Schneider

Nightingale

I’ve never heard the nightingale sing
though he starts on the same day each year,
though he comes to the pool each evening.
‘What did he sound like?’ I asked the poet who heard.
‘You can’t put it into words,’ she said,
adding, ‘piercing like light’. Then I thought
of a star running down my throat.

Published in Her Wings of Glass (Second Light Publications, 2014)

It would be audacious in the extreme to write a poem about a nightingale: one of the most famous poems in the English language was written about a nightingale, Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale’: “… thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees” that “Singest of summer in full-throated ease.” My poem is about the absence of a nightingale, which is okay. A nightingale makes it cheekily into the title.

The “poet who heard” is Pascale Petit and the poem emerged from an exercise she set on a course she was running in Languedoc. Pascale took our tutorials in the arbour by the swimming pool, aware that a nightingale frequented the grounds there, and longed to hear it. One late afternoon her dream came true.

In an exercise, Pascale gave us each a phrase taken from a cosmological myth to incorporate into a new poem. Mine was “like a star running down your throat’. Pascale had had first her nightingale experience the previous day. I asked her what it sounded like et voilà I used her reply in the poem! But I like the fact that the poem feels like it could be tongue-in-cheek and that there wasn’t a real poet involved.

I also like the idea of a poet coming out with “you can’t put it into words”, and that some experiences – perhaps the highest and best ones – might be ineffable, inexpressible. Although of course this poet does put it into words when she adds “piercing like light”. In Pascale’s blog she also describes the bird’s song very precisely as “gurgles blown in glass … piercing and ecstatic”.

I didn’t hear the nightingale sing at any time during that week and still haven’t heard its song. I don’t wish to cheat and listen to a recording on the web, so perhaps it will remain a mystery, which I imagine only through the words of poets.

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A Wire to Grief

When you flash upon me,
yanking the voice from my throat,
I’m usually peeling potatoes
or combing my just-woken hair

or, worse, in bed with my not-quite-lover
who’s helped pull me clear.
And you freeze me: peeler,
hairbrush, almost-lover in hand,

See ‘SHOW FULL POEM’ to see full work

A Wire to Grief

When you flash upon me,
yanking the voice from my throat,
I’m usually peeling potatoes
or combing my just-woken hair

or, worse, in bed with my not-quite-lover
who’s helped pull me clear.
And you freeze me: peeler,
hairbrush, almost-lover in hand,

like that giant iguana I once saw
suddenly play dead, one foot high
in the air as if it was having a laugh,
not petrified, like me.

You rip all sound from the room
so it slips, cliffs rise, drop away.
There’s that pause when nothing happens
before everything does; and I’m falling

like David Niven in A Matter of Life and Death
when his bombed Spitfire plunges, and he pleads
to be spared – he loves the radio control chick
on the line he’s never even met.

Through the smoke and flames
I see, for a second, a reprieve for me, too –
if I had another life, I’d never walk out again,
leaving me and you just hanging.

As published in Fanfare (Second Light Publications, 2015)

This poem is from a pamphlet-length sequence (also provisionally called A Wire to Grief) about the grief following the end of a long relationship, and mapping out a new life. The poems make the point that the end of a relationship can feel like a bereavement – a very peculiar one because the ‘dead’ person is still wandering around, only you are usually forbidden (or forbid yourself) from seeing them.

The poem is addressed to a ‘you’ which is a mix of the former lover, and the grief personified. Since the only person I could really talk to about what I was going through was the one person I’d cut myself off from, writing these poems was a way of having a dialogue about what I was experiencing.

I wrote the poem three years on from the relationship when I had a deadline to write a poem for a regular poetry workshop that I go to. I was flicking through my notebooks when I came across some lines that I thought were too striking to be ignored. These went on to form the start of the poem.

Even though three years had passed, there were still times when I could feel the full force of the grief. It would “flash upon me” when I was least expecting it, and I’d be whirled into its no-man’s land, far from the present. Reading the notes in my notebook whooshed me back into a much earlier incarnation of the grief. I felt while I was writing the poem just as I’d have felt when I first jotted those lines.

The first three verses came out fluidly and I hardly changed a word of those. I like the bouncy rhythm and the comedy. My former partner and I came across a giant iguana in Canaima, Venezuela – at the time I had no idea what it was, and was amused that this Jurassic-looking creature seemed to be scared of us; I borrowed him or her for this poem. I was surprised when an early reader found ‘almost-lover in hand’ rude – I had only a subconscious idea of the double entendre, but writing quickly can bring these surprises.

The poem makes a comparison with a scene from Powell and Pressburger’s 1945 film, A Matter of Life and Death. I’ve loved their films for more than 20 years and have a fondness for a 1940s’ ethos and values, and for a wartime generation which is now almost gone. Powell and Pressburger’s films encapsulate an English wistfulness and pastoral, a high form of nostalgia, which sometimes informs my writing. Their surrealism, vibrant colours and filmic games I like too.

In the scene that the poem recounts (in the last two verses), David Niven’s Spitfire is on fire. He’s plummeting to the ground and certain death. He calls to a radio control operator on his radio – the “radio control chick” – and as they talk, they fall in love. Before he crashes, he then pleads with heaven to spare his life because he’s just fallen in love and he should be allowed to explore this. Heaven gives him a reprieve. The “wire” of the poem’s title is his radio wire, or telegraph wire. It’s meant to be old-fashioned: I was thinking how nice it must have been to talk to someone dear via a telegraph wire or a telegram.

The speaker of the poem fantasises about getting a reprieve, which she knows is impossible. She envisions an alternative future in which she hasn’t left the relationship, an act which has plunged her and her former partner into this grief-stricken limbo.

When I was revising the poem, I wanted the courage to remove the final full stop and leave the poem hanging, as the speaker is hanging on listening to her one-sided dialogue, and think the poem merits it. But I thought it might look like a mistake.

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Moon Garden

There are pinks in the garden, and phlox. Flowers that flower at night – moonflowers with their open throats – and those that are strongly scented by night, honeysuckle, nicotiana. It’s what he asked for, the only thing he asked for, to be buried in such a garden. He wanted people to commune with him after dark.

“I’ll get lonely at night,” he said. That’s what he hadn’t been able to deal with, night. The long arms of it. The way it crawled up his spine seeding electricity like glow worms. The way it hid from him what was round the corner. The night he missed his footing on the platform edge, the full April moonlight poured into the steam as the train pulled in, colouring it a faint pink.

See ‘SHOW FULL POEM’ to see full work

 Moon Garden

There are pinks in the garden, and phlox. Flowers that flower at night – moonflowers with their open throats – and those that are strongly scented by night, honeysuckle, nicotiana. It’s what he asked for, the only thing he asked for, to be buried in such a garden. He wanted people to commune with him after dark.

“I’ll get lonely at night,” he said. That’s what he hadn’t been able to deal with, night. The long arms of it. The way it crawled up his spine seeding electricity like glow worms. The way it hid from him what was round the corner. The night he missed his footing on the platform edge, the full April moonlight poured into the steam as the train pulled in, colouring it a faint pink.

His garden lies outside the old station at Wetheral, below the viaduct that crosses the Eden, marking England’s first railway accident. These days the booking office is shuttered up. The station runs unmanned.

Tonight the full moon is free of clouds. His granite tomb shines and the light itself seems alive.

Created as part of 26’s Under a Northern Sky project.

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