Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
This Place I Know: A New Anthology of Cumbrian Poetry edited by Kerry Darbishire, Kim Moore and Liz Nuttall. Handstand Press. £10.00
In 1818, when he was walking through Cumbria, the enthusiastic John Keats, excited by the landscape – he’d just walked up beside Stockghyll Force – wrote “I shall learn poetry here and shall henceforth write more than ever.”
Two hundred years later, Cumbria continues to thrill and inspire poetry.
Neil Curry from Ulverston visits a Quaker Burial Ground, “behind a drystone wall, a bed of nettles, / a few thistles” and thinks of “those autumn evenings when the sunset / the far side of the bay looks like slices of peaches”.
Helen Farish enters the Old Chancel, Ireby, “now stranded mid-field”, and, with the door open, feels that “the wind brings / only a reminder that the weather is lord.”
Alan John Stubbs writes of Sheila Fell and Kerry Darbishire celebrates Winifred Nicholson and how “She knew the rush of light and dark / heartbeat of blue”.
Chris Kelly imagines the last wolf in England on Humphrey Head: “He turns and snarls; blue lips pulled wide, / ears like wind-crippled hawthorn.”
Kim Moore sees a door-frame in Walney Channel which “When the tide is in, leads to water / When the tide is out, it leads to mud.”
Matt Sowerby recalls that his grandfather, “drinks tea without sugar and watches / pointless and does jigsaws. the farm is to be sold. cobbles from a drystone wall.”
Brian Fereday pictures “Heady apple blossom perfume / Woody arms offering charms / To the honey bees” at a Fellside Cottage Orchard.
Sarah Littlerfeather Demmick portrays My Shepherd with “Hands that speak / with rough and broken leather” who is possessed of a “long, aching sorrow / for all the beasts you could not save.”
Jean Sly sees the hawthorn, which is “black as death” “Beneath a skeleton of snow”, shower “forth defiance / Across May’s glorious scene.”
Karen Lloyd watches the Goldfinches: “We are the thistle-eaters, gossipmongers / of teasels, weeds and sunflowers.” Antony Christie observes the lapwings by Kirkside Wood in flight as the “dance” “at the ravelled edge of morning”.
Ross Baxter imagines God creating The First Herdwick, looking at it and saying: “Aye, them’s the buggers!”
Geoffrey Holloway visits Long Meg and her Daughters and finds “my head a Bronze Age whirlpool; / still awed by what doesn’t matter.” Caroline Gilfillan thinks of the Sunkenkirk Stone Circle and “its long / endurance in this wind sighed valley”.
Angela Locke watches “As greylags run ragged over the fell edge / Mocking the shadow of Criffel’s watery sketch”.
Polly Atkin, quietly approaching two deer in the woods, sees that “The body of the deer is the exact / dim brown of beach bark at twilight.”
Jacob Polley sees The Snow Prince raised by a mother “blue with ice” and a father “demonstrative as snow”. He turns away: “I right it here. I touch the rimed wound closed.”
Tom Pickard observes the wide Solway landscape in a precise language that is as spare as it is beautiful: “a mass of moth-eaten cloud / threadbare and spun across / a bullish moon”. He sees: “purple, / hedged cloud / edged gold // hung / on silver slates / of sand”.
This long over-due anthology – it is thirty years since the last gathering of Cumbrian poetry – contains work by almost a hundred poets. A few are among the finest poets writing today, others are ones who enjoy finding the right words to express their feelings. Their work has grown out of the careful observation of the Cumbrian landscape and the experience of Cumbrian life. This Place I know is an exceptional anthology of poetry.
John Keats was right. Cumbria is a place to learn and write poetry.