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Roddy Lumsden and Fran Lock: two poems

Fran Lock has written several poems in response to the poems in the book above. Here is her introduction:

About the poems

It is not easy to explain. I owe more to Roddy Lumsden than to any other figure in UK poetry. Not because he believed in and championed my work when no one else would – although he did – but because he recognised when I was drowning and leant down to help me up. To be heard in that way is a powerful thing. It changes you. It changed my life.

I'm not making any claims. It's not my place to tell anyone who Roddy was. Others knew him better, longer. He meant more to me than I did to him, and that's okay. What I think I can say is that we both, in our different ways, lived in and through poetry; that it was our way of being in and belonging to the world. My sense of that belonging, however partial, however peripheral, I have because of Roddy. He made space for me and persisted with me. He didn't have to, and I didn't always make it easy, but he did. That's a gift. That's rare.

Which makes it sound as if these poems are some kind of "tribute", a way of "honouring" Roddy. And they're not, not really. They're not, because poetry isn't fundamentally memorial – I don't think so anyway – but relational. By which I mean, I'm not erecting some kind of lyric monument here, it's more my way of carrying on a conversation that got cut short. As an editor and mentor Roddy pushed me; he made me hone, refine and sharpen my work. He forced me beyond my comfort-zone as a writer. He tested and challenged. Not only through his invaluable editorial criticism, but in his own writing, which was this idiosyncratic mix of meticulousness and daring. My work was – and to a large extent still can be – all explosion and no control. Roddy wrote with that combination of precision and flair (or flare) that is language's true alchemy. He was – he remains – an inspiration and instruction to me.

Which is not to say I'm trying to write "like" Roddy, although I am seeking a more profound relationship with form. It's a kind of riffing, on theme and on structure. A "session" if you like. Or, maybe, a sort of call and response. Terrific Melancholy came out in 2011, at what is properly the start of my own erratic poetry trajectory. I can't overstate the impact of the book on how I understood the scope, the possibilities, and the potentials of poetry. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It made me want to try harder. I met Roddy for the first time in 2011. He was supervising my MA. I was fucking terrified.

I miss Roddy a great deal. But these poems aren't about "mourning" per se. I'm not lamenting what's lost, but trying to celebrate what remains: this amazing body of work. My poems are gloomy, but that's just who I am. Those are my preoccupations, that's my personality. I hope the pleasure is legible too. Teaching Roddy's poetry to my students, what always comes across is how invigoratingly alive they feel; how much relish and delight they take in language, even at their bleakest. Language for Roddy seemed to be a kind of pushing back, a means to refuse even as they expressed the sometimes awfulness of life. I feel that way too.

There's a care or a cherishing that goes on in a Roddy Lumsden poem. Roddy's word would be "fond", I expect. There's a fondness, then, for the poems' subjects and for language itself, a big-spiritedness that catches you off guard if you're not looking and you don't know. I'm writing the poems, I suppose, because it is my joy and my privilege to spend time in and with them. I hope they might be a route to Roddy's work for someone else who needs it too.

Editor's note: The original Word document is currently not available. We have scanned a page from Terrific Melancholy in order to reproduce the poem in its original shape.

Regarding Dust

After "A Localised History of Dry Precipitation" by Roddy Lumsden

Finer and fine. No, not these chaste tappings

of hair from the head of a razor, nor anything

swept. Sober motes of schoolrooms, washy, in

a mithered light like afternoon detention. Fine,

but finer and fine. Crime scenes splendoured

into sugar rush; a confectioner's den, flecked,

then glazed. My glossaries are wanting: hoar

nor haze, nor furze nor down. An iron smirch

to pull my latent prints: guilt is whiskered on

to skin like soot, or lycopodium's pallid spores.

Or finer and fine. Dust, haunting my adhesions,

forensic and delicate. A coke-fiend's finger is

licked, then dipped: the dizzy sherbet grist

of it. No, and not my xeroxed thesis, errantly

shelved, thick with erysiphe. Itch of mildew

in my pores. Pesticides, nor pollens. Rinsed

a reddened blink all summer long. Dust, in

the frowst of unlit fires, fust of stuffy flats,

the very breath of books. Dandruff. Ready

Brek consistencies of kitchen chaff. And lint,

my greasy pauper's pockets turned. But fine.

Finer and fine, the shape I'd raise by alchemy,

an animal out of its own ash, upright as a man.

Ark of dust. Or this, tonight: stark things

softened from their logic; my dreaming room,

its residues and rimes. The obfuscated face.

My mirror holds this nearly you. Genesis:

that edgelord serpent eating up his cold

humiliation: dust, and learns to like it. I do

too. And flindrikin of oose and stoor. Could

stir this room with a stick, you'd say. Rare

roguish mood. And I hey now, hey now, now,

singing this corrosion to you, pull a caul

of cobweb from the bulb above my bed,

shaking the sleeves of cardigans, hooked

to the back of the half-open door.

Fran Lock

A Localised History of Dry Precipitation is reproduced by kind permission of Bloodaxe Books, who published Terrific Melancholy in 2011.

Roddy Lumsden was a Scottish poet. He published seven collections of poetry, as well as editing a generational anthology of British and Irish poets of the 1990s and 2000s, Identity Parade, among other anthologies.

Dr Fran Lock is a some-time itinerant dog whisperer, the author of seven poetry collections and of numerous chapbooks, most recently Contains Mild Peril (Out-Spoken Press, 2019). Fran has recently completed her Ph.D. at Birkbeck College, University of London, titled, "Impossible Telling and the Epistolary Form: Contemporary Poetry, Mourning and Trauma". She is an Associate Editor at Culture Matters.

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