Robyn Bolam: The Poetry of Survival

This week’s post features two poems by Robyn Bolam who formerly published under her married name of Marion Lomax. The High Window gratefully acknowledges permission from the poet and Bloodaxe Books to publish one  poem each from New Wings, Poems 1977 – 2oo7, which first brought her to our attention, and Hyem, her long-awaited new collection which we will be reviewing in our Autumn issue.

Here are some thoughts from Robyn by way of a brief introduction to her work:

‘My poems often celebrate struggles for survival – in both human society and the natural world. Nature, love, loss, family roots, and place all provide inspiration. I sometimes adopt a persona in my poems – usually someone trying to survive in a difficult situation. I write about divisions of various kinds and our attempts to overcome them. ‘

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A Note on Hyem:

‘Hyem is about where and how we feel at home – about putting down roots and seeing how far they reach. There are first homes here, creative homes, final homes; those we choose and those we don’t. It’s also about growing up on Tyneside, loving a place through changes and celebrating those who preserve its history and spirit. Home may be a house, a city, country or a planet so Hyem includes eco-poems about some of our elusive neighbours with settings ranging from the New Forest to New Zealand.’

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And some background information from Robyn’s website:

‘My poetry was first published when I was 15 years old –  in an anthology, Next Wave Poets 1, edited by Desmond Hertzberg. More poems appeared the following year in Next Wave Poets 2.  In my early twenties, I wrote ‘Special Delivery’, a poem about the death of my father, which Norman Hidden accepted for his magazine, New Poetry. Norman continued to encourage me for almost thirty years, until his death in 2006. I will always be grateful for his support and for that of the late Peter Porter, who I first met as a student at the University of Kent, and who advised me to apply for an E.C.Gregory Award. I did this in 1980 and was awarded one the following year, along with Mark Abley, Philip Gross, Kathleen Jamie, Alan Jenkins, Simon Rae and others. In 1981, I was also fortunate to be a first-prize winner in the Cheltenham Festival Poetry Competition. I continued to publish in magazines and anthologies and, in 1988, was thrilled when Neil Astley accepted a manuscript of The Peepshow Girl for Bloodaxe Books. Raiding the Borders followed in 1996, New Wings, in 2007, and my fourth collection, Hyem, was published on 26 October 2017.’

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You can also listen to Robyn talking about her work here.

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Robyn Bolam: A Poem from from New Wings

THROUGH-LINES

Every poet has a subject and mine’s survival –
an old woman clutching a naked loaf of bread,
fighting off the dogs jumping around her while
she crosses a road as if under hypnosis.

An old woman clutching a naked loaf of bread –
our small acts of survival shrink to insignificance.
She crosses a road as if under hypnosis:
trucks and buses swerve to avoid her.

Our small acts of survival shrink to insignificance.
The two-hour widow risks shelling to go to her children:
trucks and buses swerve to avoid her.
Not knowing whether she’ll find them alive,

the two-hour widow risks shelling to go to her children.
She wouldn’t say she has courage, just an instinct.
Not knowing whether she’ll find them alive,
a child searches in rubble for her parents.

She wouldn’t say she has courage, just an instinct –
fighting off the dogs jumping around her. While
a child searches in rubble for her parents,
every poet has a subject and mine’s survival.

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Robyn Bolam: A Poem from  Hyem

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LOST COMMUNITIES OF LLANFAES

Bluebells stake rootholds in waves of wild garlic
then make a run for it across the wood, below
a canopy of new leaves, dizzily shifting squirrels
into hiding. Tufted ears twitch, rotate to our footfall.

It’s too early for fruit, seeds and nuts – no
green acorns, a culled grey cousins’ favourite –
but somewhere they nurture kittens in moss and grass,
dreys vibrating as multiple toes and fingers flex.

They are the winners, preferred, protected, who
might, if they wished, swim the straits at low tide,
ride a train to the mainland, swing over a bridge or,
with their double-jointed ankles, climb down head-first.

But we know they are here, holding up in hundreds,
despite road-kill. As we leave the wood, their rosehip,
carrot, crab-apple fur will wink in the sun behind us,
feather-boa tails wiggling a champions’ wave.

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