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Website of poet Elizabeth Rimmer


Wren in the Ash Tree


  • Valiant Women: Extract from The Wren in the Ash Tree

    Today I heard that Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced during a debate ; that the White House has said it will denounce anything it chooses as ‘fake news’ until media outlets realise that it is wrong to criticise the President; that the Dakota Pipeline is to go through after all; that the President has publicly threatened to break the career of a lawyer who opposed him.

    There isn’t much I can do about any of this, and anyway there are plenty of Americans dealing with it (otherwise I wouldn’t even have heard about it). And Trump, although he is the comic-book coloured archetype of all the things that threaten decent human life on earth, is not the only villain, nor even the most dangerous. Our own government will bear close watching – a more polished demeanour and the trappings of an ancient parliament is a good camouflage for behaviour that is remarkably similar to the US colour-me-melodramatic destruction of the environment, social services, working conditions and respect for equality and diversity.

    But what I can do is share a bit of my long poem which deals with women’s resistance to injustice. I started it when I found stories of feminist activism that somehow got edited out of public history – especially here in Scotland. In the last week or two my list of valiant women has got longer, and I’m going to have to exert some control before it overwhelms the whole poem. It’s interesting how often women have found that issues which start as one thing rapidly become connected. The personal is political – and so is the environmental, and the economic and the historical.

    I’ve put links to information about these women on this page, which is a nice thing this blog lets me do (might have to put a notes page in the book!)

    The air is cold towards dusk, and
    the quiet lanes and curtained homes
    are haunted by grief, rage, isolation
    poverty, loss and fear.
    But in the gloom there are lights
    shining as women kindle fires,
    put lamps in windows, look out
    for the lost, the returning family,
    the friends in need of shelter.
    Every writing, cooking, walking,
    protesting woman is a signal tower,
    creates a net to catch us when we fall.

    The voices of the dark will say
    A whistling woman and a crowing hen
    Will drive the devil out of his den,
    But still the signals go on. There are voices.
    There are lights. ——

    But who will now praise famous women?
    Who will remember Joanna Macy,
    Elizabeth Warren, Mhairi Black,
    Kathy Ozer, Rachel Carson,
    Josephine Bacon, Malala Yousafzai,
    Dorothy Stang, Berta de Caceres
    Wangari Maathai, Mary Barbour,
    Big Mary Macpherson of the Songs,
    or Mary Brooksbank of Dundee?
    Women whose signals were sent
    through poetry and politics, songs
    and planted forests, women whose voices
    cry out for the poor, for democracy,
    for the life of women, for the earth.

    And who will praise the women in their millions
    Who walked in pink hats, under rainbow flags
    on January twenty-first, on seven continents,
    And not one arrest anywhere on earth?
    Women from the CND, from Jeely Peace,
    the greens,the ones who fought
    for fair trade,for women’s refuges,
    Equality,or welcome for the stranger,
    All walked and sang, spoke out for truth.

    This will probably have to be revised quite a bit, because you get to a point where people then start asking why this woman and not that, and I want a range of the different ways significant women have inspired me. But here’s a start. All the valiant women of the world, I salute you!


  • January Garden

    Gloomy as it may look, this is the garden today – cold and damp in the rising wind, but livened by a pheasant I’ve just chased away from the bird feeder. In spite of the cold – and forecast of snow – there’s an air of expectation about it. Birds are significantly noisier than they were, and there seems to be some serious jockeying for territory. The leafy plant is angelica, poised and ready, and snowdrops are emerging from the leaf litter I cleared away yesterday. The woodland bed is looking as if it has come through the winter well so far, with primroses, violets, and cyclamen looking well, and this beauty

    seems to be surviving, in spite of the everyone walking over it all last summer, to prune or cut hedges.

    I wanted to post this picture, because betony is one of the candidates for the fifth herb  – attorlaðe the ‘plague-defier’, next one up in the posts about the Nine herbs charm. I am not happy with this identification, as I’ll discuss when we get there, and even less happy about the default option, cockspur grass. I had an alternative suggestion, but it will have to wait. Deadlines are catching up with me, and there won’t be another Charm post until after StAnza, which this year is very early in March. This may be a blessing in disguise, as someone has pointed me in the direction of an actual medical use for cockspur grass, so when I get a moment, I’m going to have to follow it up, along with a reference I heard on the radio to a healer of the benedicaria tradition from Sicily coming to England in the sixteenth century to study, only to find herself tried as a witch. (Who invited her? Where did she think she was going to study? There was mention of a university connection —) The herbal tradition is much more fascinating than the stereotypes would lead you to believe!

    In the meantime I have just heard that the first two cantos of my long poem, The Wren in the Ash Tree, will be included in the next book from The Dark Mountain Project, The Ends of the World. It is due out in May, and if it is even half as good as their most recent volume, Poetics, it will be a wonderful thing to be involved with. This is a really exciting and encouraging way to start 2017.


  • The Year on the Turn

    gooseflight2

    Not a great picture, but the best I could do at the time. We have hit that time of year. The children are back at school, the rowans are red – though the birds don’t seem too bothered just yet – and there are geese overhead in the twilit sky. These are not the migratory pink-footed geese which come in from the north in astonishing numbers in September. These are greylags which have been here all year round, but which are gathering together and finding more suitable roosts for the coming harder weather.

    It is not quite autumn, although the first bronzing is showing on trees most exposed to temperature change. We have had plums, but no apples yet. The brambles are ripe, but hips and haws are barely tinged with colour, and the elderberries hard green pips. Tomatoes are ripening fast in the greenhouse, and though the winter  barley has been harvested (and one field ploughed already) the spring wheat will stand a week or two yet – much to the joy of the sparrows and finches. There are plenty of swallows and housemartins, but every telegraph wire has its long line of birds sitting, thinking about it, getting ready to move on.

    I’ve been in Edinburgh a lot at the festivals, including the magnificent Grit at the Playhouse, and helping to launch Signal, the book of responses to Ciara Phillips Every Woman a Signal Tower project. signal

    And I’m winding up the festival season at Callander, at the Poetry Weekend. It’s going to be the usual mix of poetry, book launches (including four from red Squirrel Press), book sales, performance, discussion and socialising, and this year includes a walk along the Poetry Path at Corbenic and The Write Angle’s

    Word Exchange, 

    on the Saturday evening, which sounds intriguing.

    But I’ve been using the summer pause to revisit some old projects and re-evaluate where I’m going next. I’ve done a lot of new things so far this year – poems for five anthologies, judging a competition, editing and translating, and more readings and reviews than ever, and I’ve loved it. I’ve been at my desk more and in the garden and walking the territory less, which I’m less happy about, and some things seem to have been lost in the shuffle – regular themed posts here, for one. The grounded poetics strand is one I’ll be revisiting over the next month, as well as herb poems and some thoughts about weathering changes in both personal social and environmental life. There’s a thing called ( full of mythology and politics and ecology) The Wren in the Ash Tree which is going to make its debut at Callander, and which is going to take me some time ——

    Stick around, it’s going to get interesting!



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