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Website of poet Elizabeth Rimmer


David Morley


  • Grounded Poetry – On Being Local

    There’s a song called All the Way from Tuam, by an Irish band called The Saw Doctors, which has a line that goes (roughly) ‘No matter where you’re from, everyone’s local’. They were a lot bigger then – 2009, I’d guess, and they were being interviewed about their music. They explained that they had found, when they sang about their home town, their audiences would identify with it, all over the world. Audiences had shared similar experiences and felt the same, often ambivalent emotions,  about their own home towns. This seems to me to be an important point when considering what I am calling ‘grounded poetry’, because the big criticism of local or rural poetry is that it is narrow or parochial, uneducated and ill-informed, and of no real interest to the wider, more cosmopolitan reading public.

    There seemed to be a feeling at one time that, if you wrote about a particular place, landscape, event or custom, then it showed that you were only aware of that particular locality; that you expected your readers to attach an undue importance to that locality; or possibly even that you were restricting your attention to that locality for some cheap local popularity, because you knew that you didn’t have the talent or education to make it on the bigger stage. Class comes into this of course, as Clare soon discovered, but even Wordsworth suffered from it. To this day Liz Berry is often asked to justify writing in her local dialect, though I think myself her stunning collection, Black Country, should be justification in itself. Niall Campbell’s poems about his childhood home of South Uist do not create an romantic and exotic place to be sentimental about; they create the vivid sense of that locality because he is at home there, but they are as much about the experience of being at home anywhere as they are about that place. That is the root  of grounded poetry – no matter where you’re from, everyone’s local.

    Grounded poetry, because it is rooted in home territory, need not restrict its attention to the narrow lives and concerns of that home territory; on the contrary, a sense of rootedness and connection gives a different and a valuable perspective to the more universal vision. Sorley MacLean’s integration of  the clearances on Skye into a survey of, and commentary on the world-wide proletarian struggle, is perhaps the best known example, or perhaps Michael Hartnett’s poems in Irish and English, heavily influenced by Lorca, which gave Irish poetry links to European Modernist writing, thus bypassing the habitual deference to the mainstream of writing in English. Christine de Luca does the same for Shetlandic, as I wrote at length in Northwords Now, and David Morley for Romani which he includes without apology or sweetening in his poems. There’s a place for the broader perspective, but attention to what Welsh poets call ‘your own quarter mile’ may give poetry a more intense focus and greater depth.

     


  • What You Should Know to be a Poet

    This is a post I wrote back in 2011, but I’m re-posting, because both poets have been drawn to my attention today. David Morley has just won the Ted Hughes prize for his collected poems The Invisible Gift, and Matt Merritt has just published a prose book called A Sky Full of Birds.

    I pinched this title from Gary Snyders poem What You Should Know to be a Poet
    which is a poem I found very inspiring when I came back to poetry (for about the fifth time – I used to describe myself as a recidivist poet). The point Snyder was making was that poetry had to be grounded in a deep understanding of the world around us, firstly the material facts, but also the way other humans feel about it and relate to it. Snyder’s poems often read easy, but they are actually very scholarly in an extraverted way that is completely different from the narcissistic complaining or self-satisfaction that tempts those of us who spend a lot of time looking inside our own heads for stuff to work with.

    But then we have to think of the kind of “knowing” we are looking for. I’ve been spending some time with geek poets, mostly bird-watchers. I’m interested in birds but I hate twitchers with their ticks on their life-lists and their macho competing to see some poor creature which is only here because it’s lost. Frankly I’m only interested in people who love what they’re doing, so the geek poets really give me pleasure even before I read the poems.

    David Morley  is an ecologist by background, and it shows. His poems are full of exact species names (not always Latin) and technical terms, and he avoids romantic and anthropomorphic responses to the fish, dragonflies and birds he writes about. Observations are detailed
    “head-butting the surface to see
    at eyelash-level the whiphands of Common Backswimmers surge
    and sprint, each footing a tiny dazzle to prism.”(Dragonflies)

    but delighted (a perfect combination in my book). But it’s not all about the creatures. There’s a balanced debate about the conservation movement in Proserpina, and a reminder that climate change is not a new thing to the earth, however cataclysmic it feels to us, in The Lucy Poem.

    This section of the book “Fresh Water” is only the first; there re two other sections dealing with Romany tales including Hedgehurst which reminds me a lot of Tim Atkins‘ Folklore, and with poems about the circus. I think I may say more about them when I’ve got into Morley’s earlier books. They deal with alienation and estrangement and take me into territory I’d like to know more about.

    Matt Merritt, however, feels to be on very familiar ground. The poems are intensely visual, and his detailed knowledge and love of birds is obvious – Loons, Ringing Redstarts, and Knots, and it’s not only birds, there’s a lovely one called Hares in December – but most of the poems are about love death, memory and the mutability of human relationships. They are powerful and moving at that level, but there’s also something else going on that emerges as you see the book as a whole. There’s a lot of stuff written just now about the fallacy of humans seeing themselves as detached or separate from nature and how we need to recognise ourselves as one with it. This doesn’t seem to be a problem for Matt Merritt. There seems very little distinction between the act of living and writing  – love is “written” on the sky, lives are drawn in, revised or erased across a landscape, as if humans are poems written by the earth. I like this. His writing is not just understanding but connecting.

    Troy Town is an earlier book. Matt Merritt has since published a new collection called hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica,  and you can see some of his more recent work at his blog Polyolbion.



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