Ruth O’Callaghan, Lumen and the strange turn of the year

Ruth O Callaghan is the new year’s Featured Writer. I met Ruth at Lumen, a regular poetry reading in London which she runs in aid of the cold weather shelters in two churches.  You can read more about this and Ruth here. I was lucky enough to be invited to read from A Handful of Water along with Claudia Jessop, another Cinnamon writer.  The Tuesday evening poetry readings are in an amazing church in Tavistock Place.  (It was a Cinnamon Press event but it was the night Jan Fortune was invited to Buckingham Palace  for the poetry reception in November so she couldn’t be there, leaving Claudia and I to bask in a little of her glory!) Before meeting Ruth I had ‘met’ her sharp and surprising poetry in the pages of THE SHOp and had just read A Calculation of Dark in which ‘a quiver of leaves betrays…’   

The new year is being blown to us from across the Atlantic. We are hemmed in by rods of rain turning the steep roads into cascades. The wind is beating our Dartmoor house, hammering to get in and create havoc. It halloos at us down the chimneys, repeatedly shouldering the corners of the walls and rattling the roof tiles. At times, the rain does trickle down the huge chimney as granite, although it looks solid enough, is porous and becomes saturated. The floors seem to vibrate like a plucked string: I am part of this soundless note.  Outside the window trees are thrashing about and some are bent over.

A friend has just told me she can’t move far from her house as the road is now a river, too deep even to wade through.  I am in need of consolation because the beginning of all years fills me with a strange precipitous feeling, half excitement and half fearful.  The turn of the screw year already feels edgy, nerve-wracking: rain blams on the window and wind seethes as I write.  My consolation comes in the form of Ted Hughes’ poem, Wind.


This house has been far out at sea all night,
The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills,
Winds stampeding the fields under the window
Floundering black astride and blinding wet

Till day rose; then under an orange sky
The hills had new places, and wind wielded
Blade-light, luminous black and emerald,
Flexing like the lens of a mad eye.

At noon I scaled along the house-side as far as
The coal-house door. Once I looked up –
Through the brunt wind that dented the balls of my eyes
The tent of the hills drummed and strained its guyrope,

The fields quivering, the skyline a grimace,
At any second to bang and vanish with a flap;
The wind flung a magpie away and a black-
Back gull bent like an iron bar slowly. The house

Rang like some fine green goblet in the note
That any second would shatter it. Now deep
In chairs, in front of the great fire, we grip
Our hearts and cannot entertain book, thought,

Or each other. We watch the fire blazing,
And feel the roots of the house move, but sit on,
Seeing the window tremble to come in,
Hearing the stones cry out under the horizons.

♦ ♦ ♦

Up there in the night sky….we couldn’t see Sirius from here last night because of the clouds but it is there all the same…the dog star shining brightest in the middle of the night at new year.


In her magical book length poem, Midwinter Day, Bernadette Mayer wrote, ‘Every morning I think I’ve become the new weather…..’ which makes me want to dance! Later in the same poem comes this, ‘The bed is like a typewriter, sometimes I think the bed’s a refrigerator with the holographic head of a man in dichroic colour to be seen in ambient light on the door, I mean the cover of the book the bed is, you do look all the time at some of the same things until the names of objects might as well fall off….’ I think I shall have to spend January reading this strange and marvellous book once more. I also have this two-edged feeling that ‘I don’t know how to put it’.


About Rebecca Gethin

Rebecca Gethin is a poet and a novelist. Cinnamon Press published her third collection, All the Time in the World in 2017. Another pamphlet is forthcoming with Three Drops Press. Her second novel, What the horses heard, was published by Cinnamon Press in May 2014. Her second poetry collection - A Handful of Water - was published by Cinnamon in 2013. Her first - River is the Plural of Rain - was published by Oversteps Books in 2009. Her novel Liar Dice won the Cinnamon Press Novel Writing Award in 2010 and was published in 2011. She lives on Dartmoor and writes occasional pieces about wildlife and nature. Her poems appear in a variety of poetry magazines and in several anthologies.
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6 Responses to Ruth O’Callaghan, Lumen and the strange turn of the year

  1. E.E. Nobbs says:

    Powerful writing, Becky to bring in this new year. You have done a darn good job of expressing two-edges things that are hard to express – you have helped me understand what I’m feeling too. I’m feeling a bit guilty that “we” have sent you such strong weather across the Atlantic. Hope things start to moderate soon for you. We have blue skies and no wind today but it’s minus 15 C!! I grew up on a hill our in rural Prince Edward Island so can relate to Ted Hughes poem too. Yes, consolation. I can also relate to your mention of Orion – who is there even when we can’t see him – Orion was one of the first constellations I learned to recognize … on that hill where I grew up. But luckily, I can still see some stars when in the back yard of our new home – by no means a thing to be taken for granted anymore, especially when living in a city…Happy New Year Becky and I look forward to a new year of your writings. Thanks xx

  2. E.E. Nobbs says:

    Fascinating interview with Ruth at the link you gave us – as she says the work that’s being done is “win-win” for all concerned. And I enjoyed the chance to read some of her poems on your blog – that “Autopsy” poem especially grabs me (and unnerves me!) you both.

  3. I love this post, Becky! I’ve always liked ‘Wind’ by Ted Hughes, but your paragraph describing the weather is equally powerful for me. Your description of strange feelings at the turn of the year resonates strongly too.

  4. Thank you Lindsay, I am so relieved I am not the only one feeling like this…. thought I was an odd-ball, with everyone going wild with excitement or going to bed early to avoid it!

  5. Dear Becky, what a wonderful weaving and slashing of the wind in your post. Congratulation on being selected by Ruth o’ Callaghan to read from A Handful of Water. Hoping the unsheltered in London won’t have too harsh a Winter. Happy New Year full of soothing poetry.

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