Roddy Lumsden and Fran Lock: two poems



Here, once again, is Fran's 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.


Sakes


All that I said after midnight, disregard.

Except this: it is not that I exist, more

that I am implied.


All the talk is of cockroach and sage

as if there aren't ten million creatures

(multiplied by gender)


as which we could return: sea lion bull,

Argentine blue-bill drake, melon thrip,

maybe tax collector.


This time of waiting barely hurts –

like the first months of love, it zooms by:

chemical and queasy.


For ease, we call ourselves sakes.

And, talking soft, we call this place limbo,

there being no easy


word for the truth of it as, once a minute,

we shuffle up the endless bench, ready

to open our mouths wide.


Roddy Lumsden


*****


In the Limbo of Infants


After "Sakes" by Roddy Lumsden


First, the indifferent thrill of decease, then

this syrup stretch of fate, neither eager nor

resigned. Implicit


twinkle in the teasing conjuries of popes,

pirate pimpers-out of bliss. If they but knew!

We also have designs:


being, brought to boil a billion different ways.

Our thrawn shapes drawn across lustreless thresholds.

Coy ingress, better luck.


This time we'll be filsket, living's silken hinge.

We'll binge and birl through eke-penny tenements,

their mien of squint-and-mope;


do better than you, hedgers of bets, soft-shoed

apologists for nothing, bandy mumblers

of faint hope. This crossroads.


This lapidary angst. This acid tasking.

Being born, we won't come back as poets, fool's

gold glut under the tongue.



Sakes 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.