I’ve wangled my way into the Winter volume of this set of lovely anthologies – edited by the fabulous Melissa Harrison and out on Eliott and Thompson books. It’s off the back of some stuff I’ve been doing over at Some Small Corner and I couldn’t be happier. It’s only short, and it’s weird being alongside Coleridge, Gilbert White and Kathleen Jamie, but damn I’ll take it! Buy ten copies. Or one.
We all dream of escaping. If not in our waking lives, then subsumed, interred – to reappear in our dreamlives, in the whorls and ditches of landscapes where we run in the howling wind and hide. Hide. But imagine escaping as Anne Briggs did?
She was, by all accounts, a difficult creature, seemingly always already in the act of escaping: into unconsciousness, into the wreck of nature, into the sea. By 1973, leaving behind a small raft of recordings, she escaped fully – into the Hebridean blue, taking all that frail talent and running with it, into that same wind, into the far reaches of the north, deciding best to keep it buried: invisible, totemic – a Hadean lodestone for the curious, those seeking exaltation, beatitude.
Otheworldly is a horribly overused word, but in her recordings, and in this brief documentary it is how she comes across – a stranger, an eidolon, stripped bare by the gaze of the world. But the voice, the voice: that siteless, mapless expanse – there, there she is present, laughing into the void.
A thing I wrote in the New Forest for Some Small Corner.
The forest; a spot just off the road.
Aside from the odd distant car, it’s quiet, still.
The green is deep and various: moss, wild tussocky grass,
the trees in their last flush, the skirts of ferns.
On the heaths and moors, there is a breeze,
but here, sheltered, nothing moves, save for the odd blush
sighing in the oak crowns.
A nuthatch calls. Robins tick and scold.
In the middle distance, I think I hear a willow warbler –
my first of the year – homing for the warm south.
The last of the land’s held heat is dissipating;
the air bears the first rumours of the coming winter edges.
In my muggy oak-held hollow, I think of fires,
I think of night heavy against the windows,
and how days such as these are about gathering –
gathering light and the spaces in-between:
a store, a bulwark against the…
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You can’t beat English lawns. Our final hope
Is flat despair. Each morning therefore ere
I greet the office, through the weekday air,
Holding the holy roller at the slope
(The English fetish, not the Texas Pope)
Hither and thither on my toes with care
I roll ours flatter and flatter. Long, in prayer,
I grub for daisies at whose roots I grope.
Roll not the abdominal wall; the walls of Troy
Lead, since a plumb-line ordered, could destroy.
Roll rather, where no mole dare sap, the lawn,
And ne’er his tumuli shall tomb your brawn.
World, roll yourself, and bear your roller, soul,
As martyrs gridirons, when God calls the roll.
William Empson, 1928
How you became a poet’s a mystery!
Wherever did you get your talent from?
I say: I had two uncles, Joe and Harry-
one was a stammerer, the other dumb.