Deborah Harvey lives in Bristol with whichever of her four offspring are in residence and a border collie called Ted.
Her poems have been widely published and have won several competitions, including the 2010 Wells International Poetry Competition and the 2011 Dor Kemmyn Poetry Competition. 'Communion' is her first collection of poetry.
Her novel 'Dart' is due to be published by Indigo Dreams in 2012.
Deborah Harvey’s … poems are raw and true. She is the real thing. Hugo Williams
A vision of the past in the present. ‘Communion’ is a gift of blood for the ghosts
‘Communion’ is an accomplished and thought-provoking exploration of the bonds that link us to each other and our ancestors and landscape. Inspired by folklore and mythology, and by the hills, shores and stories of her native West Country, and with a cast of characters ranging from Persephone and Samuel Coleridge to a distressed stranger on a Bristol bus, this first collection from prize-winning poet Deborah Harvey explores the epiphanies and emotional shifts that shape all our lives. Set against the changing seasons and the passage of years, this is poetry which illuminates the past in the present, the sublime in the domestic and the extraordinary in the everyday.
She lifts her veil of lace,
her eyes are narrowed and her face
upturned for kisses,
and as she draws her lover in,
he binds her close
with promises. Yes,
they will prey,
but on each other
on this holy feasting day.
They don’t appear
to feel the Devil’s spear
thrust into their sides,
that they're a warning
painted on this ancient wall
to a score of generations
of the flesh. Instead,
they’ll partake of each other
in red mouths of sandstone spires,
in sumptuous, honey-coloured quires,
in sanctuary, chapter house and chantry,
once used as store for vestments,
warm with candlelight and incense,
in drowned and sinking chapels
filling up with sand and lapped
by worn stone steps.
In sacred glades and nymets
beneath the fan-vaulting of trees,
she’ll smile and slither to her knees
on mossy hassocks, last year’s leaves,
like her dress of lovat silk
snagged on a hook.
Coleridge Changes His Library Books
All this altering year you’ve called me
from the hills above Nether Stowey,
in the shifting of fossils and siltstones
that clutter Kilve’s wilderness shore. In Porlock
I glimpsed you through watered windows
at the hearth of the mariners’ inn
with jugfuls of cider, potted laver,
a communion of friends.
I saw your whole world imaged at Wyndcliff,
a moss-softened step for each day
that I gazed upon a Xanadu made real,
from the mazy ramblings of the Wye
down to a sunless Severn Sea.
Even the swift, sleek-whiskered river,
baptising the churchtown of your birth,
floated a dream of you
in a nutshell with paper sails,
walking your poems down droves and causeways,
lugging your library books forty miles,
till Bristol lights its tide of stars
and I see you
brimming with words and stories
all along the Hotwells Road,
as high as the swifts that scream over our city.
for A P-K
It comes too late:
the realisation that her gilded suitor is not
what he seems.
the silken words he sings,
there is no song.
his placid mask he wears
When she looks,
there’s no one lying beside her
in the mirror
but a fiery light
that sears her thighs
and the mad
of ten thousand pennies
The Red Of His Coat
Everyone she’s loved has left,
their names and memories worn thin
and sloughed like skin,
even her husband of sixty-six years, whom
for these last few weeks she’s known
by the red of his coat.
Now she’s lying, stripped, transfixed,
a spilt reminiscence
glistening on her chin.
Only her hands are still alive:
they will not be held or tucked in tidily
by her sides,
but shape the space about her bed,
track the writhing of a pent
and coiling mind,
her tapered fingers pinched to heads
that sway and taste the freighted air
in search of threads,
a trace that might just shed
some light on this darkening room,
this waiting place that isn’t home
with photographs of unknown faces,
all these cards and flowers brought
by weeping strangers.
The Hanging Gardens
Not sleek and sun-stroked, not today:
the sea a jar of dirty turpentine,
leached browns that rust to grey.
Beyond the shore, steep cliffs stare into mist,
raw-faced, the colour of old blood,
whose hearts and carved initials
melt in salt and spray,
or are erased in a sudden roar and falling.
Above the edge
the Sidmouth gardens hang
and cling to treasured things:
a fence a bracelet; crumpled walls silk scarves;
and summerhouses, sheds
while on the sand a lost tree,
wrenched from loam,
blossoms unexpectedly with foam.
A Moon Like This
You’ve called it a day.
Decided to settle
for a walk in the park
with the dog at twilight.
And this, you tell your dog,
will be enough.
And for a while it is
until, above the lollipop trees,
a lunatic moon hurls herself
in the sky’s blue well.
A tuppenny bit to wish on,
and a small wind rises,
riffles your blood.
You clear your throat,
it makes no sound,
but another night,
on a moon like this,
you might hear yourself
The Wedding Tree
she huddles old bones
against equinoctal storms,
discards a parsimonious harvest
of tarnished pears with crackled skin,
fit only for starlings.
A crabbed munificence
in this ragged April dawn
as she spreads her blossom-clotted arms,
as mad as Miss Havisham’s ghost,
and strips herself of wedding petals
at the insistence of the wind.
Watered silk and crimson seed,
throughout this Easter perfumes
bleed into my days,
and in a blessing of confetti
I am purified of love, and rise,
a bride to the remainder
of my life
The Mary Block
Pleasure, for my great-great-grandmother,
was always deferred.
You’ll get your reward in Heaven
the creed of her fellow Brethren
as they trod their narrow path towards
a stern, starch-collared God.
Abstinence deemed a virtue,
while hardship fell like blessings
on their heads.
Not that Mary never softened.
At times she pitied the wanting faces
of her offspring.
Scarlet ribbons … marbles … a waxen doll …
You’ll get it when my ship comes in!
Almost a promise when you live by the harbour
of a city a-bristle with ships,
and surely not idle
(for Mary Block was never idle).
Unlike her daughters, sent out for pig’s fry
but sidling along the quays in search of adventure
amongst the stacked timber, the bales of tobacco,
the casks of amber Bristol Milk,
and finding a ship gilded to legend
by a shadow-shuttered dawn,
the name Mary Block engraved on her bows
and escaping like orisons from their mouths
as they hallelujah up Christmas Steps
Don’t imagine for a moment
that I didn’t think of you
just because the sun spilt honey
and the tumbling lanes drowsed,
mesmerised by flowers.
True, my memory tripped
like wind through wheat fields,
chasing Chinese whispers, wild rumours,
only to eddy on itself
as we stumbled down the blinded combe
towards your crucible of fleet, elusive dreams,
where, beyond a crest of hawthorn,
a cormorant kept the look-out
from its lonely pedestal.
Basalt angel? Reliquary urn?
My eyelid flickered in the glare.
Fifteen days ago we launched
your narrow, wooden boat.
Flags flapped low, taut wires and lines
against high masts tolled your passing.
And one black cardigan, forgotten,
lifted from a railing on the breeze,
as hapless – hopeless – as the sail
of the Athenians’ homebound ship.