TWO RIVERS PRESS POET OF THE WEEK—11: SUE LEIGH
Sue Leigh lives in the Windrush valley in Oxfordshire. She teaches at Rewley House, Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education, and reviews regularly for PN Review. Her first collection of poems, Chosen Hill, was published by Two Rivers Press in 2018. It was described in the TLS as ‘an intelligent and considered collection that pays homage to the act of paying attention’. She has a letterpress pamphlet called Chalk forthcoming from Evergreen Press, which will include the uncollected poem ‘Flora’.
Sue Leigh writes:
I don’t know how poems happen. I love the mystery that surrounds their making. I learn continually about patience and listening, they seem to be at the heart of it.
There are fallow periods which are as important as writing itself. It has taken me a while to understand this.
And there is solitude, this is necessary. Interruption would break the line of thought, craft, feeling – it would be like waking the dreamer from the dream.
I am fortunate to live in a quiet place surrounded by fields. I feel silence all around me – broken at this time of year by the singing of birds.
I spend much time walking. This is often where poems begin. (It has something to do with rhythm, I think.) Outside, there is a sense of lightness, the mind quietens, you can listen. You look at the sky, you inhabit weather. You move through the living world – a world of plants, creatures. You feel part of it.
I write in a notebook every day. I started this practice some years ago and I can’t imagine ever not doing this. Sometimes the notes may be the beginnings of a poem.
I find myself trying, trying again to lay hold of experience, to catch something of that original brightness. But in the dance with language something new emerges and it often catches me unawares. A poem becomes an act of discovery, a small research project into one’s relationship with the world.
I was thinking the other day about why poetry matters, and it seems to me that in these times we are more in need of poetry than ever. Poetry connects us with our deepest selves, but it also connects us with each other. Rather like looking at a painting, reading a poem may enable us to see the world through someone else’s eyes. We understand a little more about our humanity. And that must be a good thing.
NAN SHEPHERD IN THE CAIRNGORMS
To be with the mountain
as if to know one place
might be enough
for a lifetime
to be with it
then to set it down
to name juniper, heather, deer
precise too about uncertainty
the mind cannot hold it all –
the water in the loch
feels cold, clear
[from Chosen Hill]
I cannot make anything
more lovely than these names
also called bird’s eye, rock rue
blue buttons, gipsy, grace of God
lady’s slipper or Virgin’s shoe
(might there be one left)
Venus’s looking glass
early purple orchid
known too as Gethsemane
and the purple rampion,
does it grow still on Silbury Hill
[first published in Oxford Magazine]