Website of poet Elizabeth Rimmer

Liz Berry

  • 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.


  • Reading at Writers in the Bath

    me and coraHere we are, Cora Greenhill and me, just after the reading at the Writers in the Bath event Cora organises every month in the Bath Hotel in Sheffield. The room is small ( but some of the best events are in small rooms – the bookshop in Callander, and Platform Poetry in Ladybank spring to mind), and the audience was warm and friendly – and full of talented poets.

    claireThis is Claire Carter, who may not be so well known as a poet, but who will certainly soon be very well-known as a film-maker, as her debut film, Operation Moffat received a Special Jury Mention at the Banff Mountain Film Competition. Her poetry is highly finished, complex, allusive and visual, and based in landscape, because she is a cyclist as well as a mountain climber. It seems unbelievable that she is as yet unpublished.

    sheffield group Here are poets from Derbyshire Stanza, (from left to right) Linda Gould, Cora Greenhill and Alison Riley, about to read from their anthology, A Place of Wonder,  (published by Templar Poetry). The group has spent two years writing poems based in the twelve distinct areas of Derbyshire and has produced a book that will be cherished by anyone who knows and loves the county.

    This is SallyThis is Sally Goldsmith, a singer-songwriter and broadcaster, who writes songs and poems and radio pieces about the history and people of the Peak District.

    It was a delight to be in such company and to find that the English poetry scene has room for the diversity and the groundedness in local areas and communities I take for granted here in Scotland. By this I don’t mean simply ‘accessibility’ (for which many people read, disparagingly, ‘amateur’) or ‘folk’ poetry (for which people may also read ‘nostalgia’), but a high-quality, living and versatile response to the life of a region, beyond the merely local history and dialect, that resolutely demands more from poetry than can be reached by the more academic works of the mainstream publishers.

    I should not have been so surprised, however, since I heard Liz Berry read from her outstanding Black Country at the end of October (published by Chatto and Windus, and, quite rightly, garnering a whole raft of awards). Poetry does seem to be alive and well, and finding new ways and places to grow.

    Thank you to everyone who was at the Bath last week, the poets and listeners, the lovely people who bought books, and especially to Cora, who fills the room with her warmth and enthusiasm.

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