Little Silver

Today is the official publication day of my sixth collection of poetry, Little Silver, out from Bloodaxe Books – and there will be an online launch at 7pm on Wednesday 21 September, which you’re very warmly invited to. Here’s the link:

I’ve no idea how I got to six collections – but I’m delighted to be with Bloodaxe and delighted with the book. The cover image is by the artist Kate Montgomery, whose work I’ve admired for a long time; in fact I bought a small monochrome version of the cover painting under the Artists’ Support Pledge during lockdown, before the book was thought of – and when Neil Astley and I were discussing possible images, it seemed the perfect choice.

Much of the book was written in St Just, in sight of at least three lighthouses (and sometimes more), and the woman in the picture strikes me as someone who will wake to write or paint. Kate told me that the picture is based on memories of a relative’s home near Helston – on the south Cornish coast rather than the north, but only 20 miles or so from here. It’s a wonderfully romantic image, and I love the way the solitude of the light speaks to the solitude of the woman.

I’m also intensely moved by the way lighthouses are still absolutely necessary. My cottage looks out towards a busy shipping lane (northbound relatively close in, southbound further out), used mostly by cargo ships doggedly going about their business. At night, I see their lights and the lights of the lighthouses beyond them signalling ‘land, but beware’, and there’s a tremendous sense of community about it: the lighthouses looking out for complete strangers as they have done for the decades or even centuries since their construction. I discovered recently that each lighthouse plays a different pattern of light, so ships know not just that there’s a rock, but which rock it is.

The idea of finding direction speaks rather nicely to the title of the collection. It’s the name of a tiny lane and enclave of houses in Exeter, which fascinated me when I passed it on my way to school in the 1970s. But ‘silver’ also means copse, so (to me, anyhow) the title also recalls Dante’s ‘selva oscura’, and the missed directions in life that he alludes to through that image – and, by extension, Louis MacNeice’s wonderful poem that takes Dante’s phrase for its title; it begins: ‘A house may be haunted by those who were never there, / If there is where they were missed’, and includes the lines: ‘Lost in the maze / That means yourself, and never out of the wood’. It’s a poem that has been a touchstone for me since I first read it in the school library, and it was probably inevitable that it would come back in the title poem of this collection, which is about the demolition of my childhood home – and about missed directions.

I’ll try not to repeat any of this at the launch! I’ll be reading with Shazea Quraishi and Greta Stoddart, whose books The Glimmer and Fool are also published today, and we’ll be in conversation with each other and with Bloodaxe editor Neil Astley, as well as taking questions from the audience.

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