I’ve had a quiet year. This was a conscious choice, as my cancer treatment and management have nudged far more than I would like into my diary space, and I took a retreat to really enjoy the process of writing poetry for my MA in Creative Writing with the Open University. It provided the most wonderful escape from the world of hospitals. Now it’s beginning to bear fruit. I’ve submitted my final portfolio for the MA (awaiting results in December!) and am hoping that this will become a published collection of poems in early 2019.
In the meantime I have also had poems selected for Speakeasy Magazine and a new anthology of Cumbrian Poetry, This Place I Know published by Liz Nuttall at Handstand Press in Dent, and edited by Liz, Kerry Darbishire and Kim Moore. There have been several launch events, and I was able to attend the one at the Kendal Mountain Literature Festival on Saturday 17th November. And what a wonderful event it was, with varied readings from poets new and well known and some interesting questions and discussion points including ‘What makes a Cumbrian poet?’. There are certainly a lot of us – 92 in the anthology, and many more round and about. It’s a good county to be writing poetry in with lots of events such as the recent Kendal Poetry Festival (September 2018) and many different writing groups on the go.
I feel a bit lucky to be included, as I’m not quite sure if I deserve the label ‘Cumbrian poet’. I have lived and worked here for 37 years and have walked almost every fell top and every valley, and I love every aspect of it. I feel privileged to live here. And yet my roots are in Scotland, and that is where I return, and where many of my poems are set. Looking through my notebook of poetry drafts, I found several that captured Cumbria in some way, and I decided to develop a poem scribbled in the cafe at Sizergh Castle. This is a special place to me; over my three years of living with ovarian cancer, Iain and I have come here to ‘centre ourselves’. The coffee is good, the scones are the best in the area, you can look out on some beautiful trees through the changes of the seasons, and there is a huge variety of walks of varying length which have helped me maintain my fitness during some of the tougher phases. Sometimes my walks are long, sometimes they are short. But I can gain some height, look out at the Lakeland Fells from Helsington, for example, and feel good about myself.
If you ever go to the National Trust’s Sizergh Castle Cafe on Fridays, you’ll see an enthusiastic ‘knit and natter’ group. They became the focus of my poem. I wondered what the women (because it is exclusively women!) talked about. As I wrote, I became aware that poetry is really very like knitting – we cast on, cast off, stitch together, make patterns and shapes. There is rhythm to both poetry and knitting, and a sense of something handed down through generations. A few years ago my mother-in-law, who is now approaching her 103rd birthday, gave me a Vogue Knitting magazine ‘in case I might like to try some of the patterns’. I think it was bought when she moved to Kendal in the late 1940s.
I didn’t try any of the patterns, but I entered a different and exclusively female world where women with the trimmest of waists posed in front of large country houses modelling dolman cardigans, two-tone flecks, giant cables and diamond designs. There are even patterns for a ‘blouse with box pleats’ , ‘evening wraps’, ‘golliwog twinsets’ and of course ‘sturdy knitwear for men’. I am old enough to have been a knitter – my mother was, and I knitted too in my teens and early twenties. And there was that rite of passage when we knitted a pullover for the first man in our lives – I remember that mine came out too big, and I was dedicated enough to rip it all down and start again. He wore it for years!
My poem in ‘This Place I Know’, entitled ‘In Over Through Off’ explores the whole notion of ‘knit and natter’ in this lovely place, and knits in some ‘found poetry’ from the musical language of the Vogue Knitting advertisements.
The editors have knitted together a fantastic anthology. This Place I Know is available from bookshops or can be ordered online A great Christmas present for those who love the Lakes.
And with that I’ll cast off for today. But there might be more poems coming about knitting. No actual knitting though ….