The new Featured Writer is Mavis Gulliver with her poems in Slate Voices: Cwmorthin & Islands of Netherlorn published by Cinnamon Press and co-authored by Jan Fortune. The book is divided in two with Jan Fortune’s poems on Cwmorthin in N. Wales in one part and Mavis Gulliver’s poems on the slate islands around Islay in the other part. It is a wonderful evocation of those places and the presence of those islanders – slate workers and their families – who left long ago, taking with them a way of living and even of speaking that has gone forever. Some might well say their lives were too harsh and so are glad their harsh existence is over but they lived and loved on the islands and it should not be forgotten.
While this book was in the brewing my own What the horses heard was being written too and so I heard stories from Jan Fortune about her exciting adventures with Mavis researching the islands. It made me really envious. What a rich store of poems abounds on those out-of-the-way and mysterious places off the coast of Scotland.
This is a really beautiful book and Mavis Gulliver has evoked stories of the islanders in simple language (always the most powerful) that tells their stories while seeking to re-imagine the times in which they lived. For me one of the most vivid pieces is Catherine McPhail, Remembering 1840 which is about Catherine’s grief for the death of Janet, her daughter:
I wrapped her in my shawl – my Sunday best,
no matter that I’ll miss it when the wind
blows from the North with ice upon its breath
… to think on that – her lying there alone.
I fell down on the slate, the cold, hard slate
and prayed and waited for my man’s return.
Searching for Janet follows the poet’s search for Janet, in Kilchattan Kirkyard on Luing:
I tread between lean and list
of weathered slate,
gravestones scabbed and scarred
with lichen growth, circles and rings
In Remnants, Mavis writes,
chink as thin slates snap,
clatter of unstable scree,
thunder rumble on the shore
when slate is turned and tumbled
and the backwash
drags and rolls.
You can read more about Mavis Gulliver and her other writing for children here. Her next collection, Waymarks, is due out from Cinnamon Press later this year.