Website of poet Elizabeth Rimmer


  • I Have Brought You to the Ring

    The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo. You that way: we this way.

    Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost

    I have been musing on the Sea Swallows episode of Karine Polwart’s Seek the Light programme on Radio 4, and the relationship and the differences between song lyrics and poetry. I started my writing life as a folk singer and a fantasy writer (don’t even ask!) and my first efforts were songs both for myself and my characters. I was very influenced by ballads – the ‘muckle sangs’ of the Scottish tradition, such as Tam Lin and The Twa Corbies, and I still am. I learned simplicity and directness, and not to waste words on hints and explanations and ‘scene setting’. I realise too that I still think of poetic rhythm in terms of dynamics and time signatures rather than stress and metre, which gives scope for variation and complexity, and I write by reading aloud, because poetry is something you hear as much as read.

    I wasn’t very good as a song writer, not only because my melodies were simplistic and full of cliches, but because back then I didn’t understand the demands music makes on lyrics. If we have to choose, I’m for the words of Mercury. I work really hard at words. A good poem can create links and resonances that overload a melody. You can go forward and back, pick up echoes, go slowly through a stanza, stop at a phrase or skip a line. You have time and attention for layers of meaning or step outside a poem altogether to enter a whole new landscape. And you can afford to make every word, every line, new and different. A reader has the headspace to pay attention.

    Listening to a song is very different. Familiarity is important. Simplicity and space is important. Rhymes matter, because a good rhyme might be predictable, but it is as welcoming as a well-prepared cadence. It doesn’t matter if you have filler syllables the way it would in a poem:

    The weary earth we walk upon
    She will endure when we are gone

    Karine Polwart Rivers Run

    because the voice makes good use of them. Words are there to guide you through the music, and the music is there to interpret the words. You may visit the realms of thought and imagination, but more likely you will find your emotions stirred and become deeper acquainted with your heart. Writing a good lyric is a synthesis, and requires knowing what not to do, how to create space, when to leave well alone. A poem that falls flat on the page (like most of Burns, as far as I am concerned) can fly as a song.

    All this makes Karine Polwart’s work extremely interesting. She is braiding spoken word and song, stories that are more potent than anecdotes, music that brings together thoughts and ideas in a richer and more wide-ranging than songs. Words and music that Shakepeare sends off the stage in separate directions are brought back together.

  • Finding the Form

    a tangle of sweet peas, st John's wort catnip and borage. A bumble bee on the st john's wort

    I have been so glad of the garden lately. The mix of sunshine and showers has brought everything on, and every day there is something new to look at. It isn’t just the herbs, either. I have had our own lettuce, strawberries (never more than four at a time, but so tasty!) and potatoes for a few weeks now, and on Friday I got the first tomato.It was a new variety to me – Ruthje – which is an elegant peardrop shape, and not too big. I think I was a bit impatient, as it wasn’t really ripe, but there are plenty more to come, so we’ll see. The sweet peas have done well, and the poppies have been amazing – bright shots of colour in what would otherwise have been very gentle misty pastels. My grandson has been fascinated by the developing seed pods, so I hope he will help me harvest them when it comes to seed saving time.

    Now that my husband is home again, the bird feeders are better maintained and we have flocks of sparrows and starlings clustered around them like fat bunches of grapes. We’ve even seen an ambitious magpie trying to twist itself into the right angle to get hold of a fatball, and there was a greater spotted woodpecker one quiet morning. I think there might be a hedgehog visting at night, because there was something moving in the shade of the fence in the dark. I have been woken several times by an owl flying in, calling, and its claws grating on the fence as it landed, and one spectacular night I looked out to find three foxes, almost full-grown, but clearly still adolescent, playing and chasing each other across the rough grass behind our house.

    This had me thinking. When I first heard the sounds, it wasn’t animals I was thinking about. Now that the schools are on holiday, there are young people wandering about at all times of the day and night. Mostly they are just going home after parties, or setting off to catch early flights on holiday (that particular lot were far too lively for four o’clock in the morning!), or hanging about chatting and skylarking, away from their parents. Pretty much like the foxes, to be honest. I wonder if I would have felt more ambivalent about human prowlers? Yes, a hostile human can do more damage that a fox, but our neighbours are not our enemies, even when they are teenagers, are they? Sometimes they do seem as alien as the foxes – I’ve heard older people describe younger ones as ‘roaming in packs’ – but it’s natural and necessary, at some periods in your life, to distance yourself from the authorities in your life and from what’s expected of you, and renegotiate the boundaries between yourself and the world. And it isn’t easy to live with for a neighbour as much as a parent.

    Somewhere in my head the wandering boys and the foxes are getting mixed up. There’s an Irish ballad called Sly Bold Reynardine, about a were-fox who seduces unwary maidens, lures them to his den on the mountains of Pomeroy and drowns them. And I remember that some people used to refer to the Faeries as ‘the good neighbours’ so as not to provoke them. There are poems here, and notes for the non-fiction book.

    I feel as if I have been spinning my wheels on the whole writing thing for a long time, not only while my husband was in hospital, but since we moved, since I finished The Well of the Moon in fact. I’ve done a lot of reading, and a lot of editing, and a lot of planning and drafting and to-do lists. I went on a course last summer to learn how to write proper essays, only to be told I should ‘be more poet’.

    It turns out to be right! There is a fox poem, possibly one of a sequence, and I’ve found my way in to the non-fiction. I’m following the ballads and the charms into the liminal spaces, renegotiating boundaries and allowing the poetry to shape the prose. It seems that if you find the form, the words flow much more freely, and I’m looking forward to finally making some progress with my own work.

    a stone archway in a wall,  overgrown with ferns and heather. A rocky path through it

  • The Hopeful Post

    garden with buddleia, foxglove, marshmallow, costmary, alchemilla and violets

    This photo was taken in early June, and things have moved on a little since then. There are blue-grey phacelia flowers there now too, and blood-red poppies, but the foxglove has gone over. The high water mark of wild roses and elder flowers is just past its peak, but there are marigolds, borage, St Johns wort and sweet peas, and I’ve harvested two or three strawberries most days, and the first new potatoes. The nestlings have all fledged, and the rooflines are cluttered with baby starlings all startled at how much world there is, and the ferocity of seagulls. Best of all, there are swifts this year and housemartins, who are venturing closer now that there is less building going on in the estate.

    buff beauty and tuscany superb roses

    School holidays begin this week and there are lots of children here so it will be much noisier. Many people are in houses with gardens for the first time, so there are lots of barbecues. We have a few gardens that are all astroturf and trampolines, and the Facebook group has several posts from people freaked out by caterpillars and magpies rooting through the planters, but also some neighbours who are into food forests, and wild flower meadows. There’s a sea of ox eye daisies and red campion at the end of the road, which I’m sure was deliberately planted. I hope that we show a large tolerance of the children wandering about, making dens among the bushes, exploring the burn and getting to know the wild fringes of what could be a very narrow and conventional suburb. There are many sociable and imaginative people here – it could be wonderful.

    We could do with a bit of wonderful in this house, and we might get it. My husband has been in hospital since the last post (hence the silence) and it’s all been a bit fraught. But finally there is progress and we are hoping to have him home in time for his birthday this weekend. Writing and editing has been on hold all this time, but maybe soon……….

    herb patch with sage chives and lemon balm

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