A Friable Earth



It's more than 20 years since my first collection, Powder Tower (Arc, 1995). The poet John Fuller wrote, in the Poetry Book Society bulletin, that the poems in that collection gave priority to the communication of experience "and the reader is enlightened by sharing it."

A Friable Earth is my sixth collection of poems but I feel I'm going back to the beginning, to those days when I was driven only to share my experience and find the details or metaphors to carry it.

There are poems from words used to describe older women and our ailments, crossed with poems about homelessness and mental illness from a city allotment bordered by a cemetery and a road. One of the earliest soil scientists makes an appearance - how could he not? I hope the title will invite you to pick up a handful of soil - we need it to be healthy.

Sylvester Stallone comes into a poem about beauty, there are elegies to dead friends, my brother, aunt, father and to a young man who thought he could swim to England from Calais. All these poems are bound to everyday life in the 21st century and they ask what we mean by life expectancy, by loneliness, by an age-defying cream?

I was shocked when I was told I'd never have another smear test. It marked such a transition that I had to begin with that poem. But it also asks about love and I hope the last poem delivers on that score.

As in most of my collections, there's a group of poems from South Africa, the country where my (adult) children's father is from, a country I've visited four times while they were growing up. One of these poems is a tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks and there are two more tributes, one to Robert Lowell improvising on his poem 'Skunk Hour', another to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, nodding to her famous Sonnets from the Portugese No. 43

The cover painting is from a series on allotments by Jane Sybilla Fordham, an artist who, with sculptor David Parfitt, is responsible for the memorial to people who died in the Shoreham Air Show crash.

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