GEOFF STEVENS MEMORIAL POETRY PRIZE 2018 IS NOW OPEN
Ann Pilling was born in Lancashire in 1944 and lived there for her first 20 years. She read English at London University and took an M Phil with a thesis on the fiction of C S Lewis which was her introduction to great children’s books. She started her writing career in 1981 with the publication of ‘Black Harvest’ which became a Collins Classic. ‘Henry’s Leg’ won the Guardian prize in 1986; it was subsequently televised and also became a ‘classic’, this time with Puffin. She has written and edited over 30 books for children. She has been a popular public speaker on television and on radio and particularly enjoys talking to children. In 2009 the Swaledale Festival commissioned her to write the libretto for ‘Semerwater’, a musical play which won the Local Hero Award in the AMI International Awards the same year. Her poem ‘Life’ ( The Dancing Sailors) was set to music by Michael Brough and sung at the Festival in 2010 by Patricia Hammond.
She has always written poetry but only turned to it full time in 2005. She subsequently won the Smith/Doorstop Competition 2007 for ‘Growing Pains’. Her first collection, ‘Home Field’ was published in 2008 by Arrowhead. Indigo Dreams published ‘The Dancing Sailors’ in 2011 and now publishes her third collection’ Ground Cover’. She is currently preparing poems for her next collection, working title ‘At This Point’ and also finishing ‘My Life in Plastic Bags, a memoir. She lives in the Yorkshire Dales which she describes as ‘the country of my heart’.
Cover design by Ronnie Goodyer from the painting 'A View from Welton, Yorkshire' by John Sell Cotman, reproduced by permission of the Bridgeman Art Library.
Author photo by Arthur Francis
Indigo Dreams Publishing
138 x 216mm
£7.99 + P&P UK
PUB: 23 NOVEMBER 2015
Tap goes the spoon’s beak
on sugared onyx making white webs,
splinters crack open, sink into a honey sea
and we suck sweetness.
Behind drapes, frost skins the water meadows
where she used to skate,
town child testing her heel on a grubby pond.
Ageing hostess now, serving a chic dessert, she watches
mouths shut and open , sees
juices dribble down chins,
itches, as her mother did once, to wet
the clean corner of a hanky with her tongue
and make all clean.
For George in Scotland
Today I think mainly of trees because on waking
after your night journey you whispered
‘Trees’ in a voice soft as leaves.
Then we were out on the grass and I saw
your stubby toes dig deep in its ancient softness
milking the earth. The crag
was Chinese White that morning, a slip of sky
caught on it like a blue hanky while the trees
stood sentinel for you at the jaws of life
Later through a long window we saw
rabbits. Taking my hand you uttered
‘Peter’ in your light leaf voice.
This collection ‘covers the ground’ Ann Pilling has travelled since her last collection, not only on physical journeys but on journeys of the mind and the heart. So in addition to poems about remote places , there are poems about ageing and being young, about death and birth; there is much too about the natural world and how one is redeemed by its birds and its animals and by the sheer beauty of its landscapes.
An Evening Walk
for Elizabeth Bishop
I could make wine from these late brambles,
the berries are intensely sweet
and tiny and curiously pointed, as if intent
on making a statement.
As the sun drops this water’s panelled gold,
on its bed all the egg-shaped pebbles show clear
the big ones like melons, we watch
the current snag itself on a thin upright stone,
wrinkling the surface
as if someone’s drawn a nail across it.
In a corner of the churchyard a lone grave, green-furred,
presses itself for warmth against a wall, we pass through
to the homeward meadow where the light’s flower-soft
all the sheep tinged rosy. That rock in the middle
that jagged finger-post with the iron lump stuck in it
what is that rock? The remains of a gate? Excalibur?
I have noticed before
that the ewes always give it a wide berth.
Lower down , where the river makes big snakes,
four rabbits chase each other over their grazing grounds
in the lee of a grassy rampart, quite high
and pointed like those berries in the hedge.
The guide book says it’s an ancient flood barrier.
Suddenly the smallest rabbit is left alone.
Can rabbits swim? What’s happening
on the other side of that rampart? The setting sun
seals a composite image of meadow, stone and water.
But where to begin, which thread
To follow from here?
I’ll go for the rabbits.
after John Burnside
What did God mean when he put
two people in a garden and in the middle
that supreme tree
and the snake of a river
to water it and a back lane
where he could spy on them
in the cool of the day
letting frogs fill the silence?
Why didn’t he provide
a shed for these people
and a little fence
give them neighbours?
His revenge was terrible
angels at all four corners
with flaming swords to protect the Tree of Life.
Their error was minor
everyone gets hungry at times
but they were thrown
into the wilderness for sharing an apple.
Eden became a dream,
from then on there was only mud and labour,
Eve spawned children like tadpoles
while from his harsh fields
Adam watched her grow fat
and found another woman.
I’m old and I want to go naked.
If I lay out for weeks in blistering sun this skin
that puckers like cling-film when I draw a nail across it
might thicken and darken, I could be a seal,
in a cold climate I might grow fur,
I could be a bear. Hefty and waistless,
the bear and the seal are poetry in water.
Pulling two stockings as far as my knees
takes an hour and I have to rest after, some days
I can’t make my bed, my fingers
have twisted like thorn twigs, this torpedo body
is not the willow limbs men worshipped once.
So it’s Off, off, you lendings! Come; unbutton here.
Fetch me a big sea. Grand pups and grand cubs
swim with me now.
The Armourer Comes for My Stepmother
He is taking away her armour piece by piece
grieves, gauntlets, helmet, cuisses. She has
no use for them now. He will
re-cut, melt down.
This recycling would please her;
there was always a hardness,
our early gifts for example, after the marriage,
would go into stock for her cleaners.
I envied her long hands, her gloves
fine as a skin, her long feet
in those luminous green shoes we marvelled at,
children, too frightened to open our mouths.
Now she stares long and hard at the cheese grater
wondering what it is for. Last night
she came into my room
sifting through my features for our long-dead father.