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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.

True Crime

We leave our blood in each hotel –

a blot of it enough to tally with

an honest deed, an inquest or a trial.

Reborn from an ear print on a bolster,

a heel scuff on a skirting board,

we cash ourselves in undercover,

turn ourselves in after we have left,

our leaving cited by a drying print

or stray thread picked off in the lift.

We leak and melt and peel, losses

compensated for, blood money

paid in notes to self, good guesses

made by golems, fetches, clones

who'll stride on where we were,

their pockets hard with foreign coins.

Many go missing – but none are lost.

Misfortune knows that. Each bridge

should name the river it has crossed.

Roddy Lumsden


In Order of Disappearance

After "True Crime" by Roddy Lumsden

Fleapits, tedious with perpetrator trauma,

dissipated heat. Unmake the desperate bed,

its whiff of sickly piss. And we, the dead, too

pale for stains, are stale abrasions souring

fitted polyester sheets.

We've been here before, picking our initials

into plywood, bored, and thank you for not

smoking, "o"s with their formal umlauts

of mould; showers have this orphan's gruel

of greyish grout.

Faucets leak their lukewarm monologues,

on and on like heirlings in therapy. Radios

make sounds, are baby-monitors drowned

in grain alcohol. Behind the kettle's spout

the marbled paper's weeping.

Now you're here too: sweeping your stray

hairs into a pink tissue, hoping the room

will forget. Avoiding the crack in the glass,

you drink without wetting your lips, as if

this is enough.

It isn't enough. The safety match you struck

against the spine of a Gideon Bible, smudge

around a socket; a tiny silver coin, bent with

treasuring, these things give you away. You

are not missing.

You are lost, cross-legged on a sagging bed.

We, the dead, will braid your sobbing traces.

He is gone, so linger, rest, try not to picture

the jackdaws cleaning their beaks in his chest.

True Crime 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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