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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.

And Back Again

One bad thread and all comes loose. But never has.

And look, you're wearing red on such a day, an XXL day,

your anklet tattoo a mistake, right there at the foot

of Christmas Steps, a place I'd never been but knew

in an instant, from a better life; they say these steps

have topped and tailed with Russian sailors, that

knifesmiths cutled and cranked in the backways, that

the lost choruses of carousers from the Bacchus

and nine more pubs rumped in the Bristol Blitz

still peal here and that, each dawn, a ghost kitten pegs –

and back again – four feet above the slabs. And this

the becoming season when need needs its acres, each

memory arriving more sinuous than the last (one bad

thread) and you already lost in one, impermanent,

inaccurate, in red, walked west toward the water.

What I say of my enemy: he couldn't spot a pretty girl

on Park Street; what I say of my ally: he thrives

like wild violets thrive on There and Back Lane.

Roddy Lumsden



After "And Back Again" by Roddy Lumsden

I shall not meet you now: in the have-not monologues

of boarder towns, their brooding teuchter elocutions.

I shall not meet you here: streets with a wending fetish,

their pends and vennels, alleyways and wynds. I shall

not meet you, stretching out a hand: the whetted lead

of manses; terraces pent beneath a sediment of sky.

No feldspar; not pyrite's pale satiric shine. I shall

not meet you, in the salt secessions of stinted rooms,

the vinegar allegiances of lairds, of chieftains; cabinet

of arrowheads, winter's brassic anarchy of ramparts,

the treachery of thresholds, anywhere a tattooed

ankle snaps. Never near the limepit, in the loampit,

on tides of cockle-picking trespass, pass the picket

at the limit of the commons. I shall not meet you:

scrape the gilt from your omissions with a nail.

Less by the creels, least by the cairns, once in

a conch, yes, one time inside the testy soughing

of the sea. I will not hear you, troubadour, you

coroner of sighs. I will not hear you: goll and gall,

your coronach, your caoin. I will not meet you

now, where scented candles waft their gimmicky

florescence. Needlecord exemplum: aida cloth

and evenweave, cordwood, cordwain, pinny rags

and skeins, the scent of spurious orchids. You will

not come: the church and its pensive reliquaries,

peacock curriculum of saints, Christ with pontil

marks for eyes. You will not come across: between

hymn and reel is a long way down. No hand raised

to quell the cooing collar doves, to strip the girl

in cotton socks of all her blousy billets-doux.

You will not come across: the pillars of your pillow

talk are God and God and God. Even the dogs, spayed

and staunchly moralising. I shall not meet you in

the oven-ready glow of my Grandmother's kitchen,

licking the mineral grist from a spoon. How your

porridge tends toward entropy. Perseverances

and tantrums, with a mouth like puckered wool.

Compline. Pine. Complain. Vulgate Nunc dimittis,

and Jim Reeves singing a Nashville Danny Boy.

We shall not meet to pass the static charge from

paisley patterned carpets to the backs of bare

knees, waiting. Night is paschal, shellac, partial;

amber tumblers full of Bells. The night is culprit

and fumbling. Night near the quarry, on sodden

allotments, warrens, recs, the edge of the world,

where we will never wear ourselves to water

with all our doubling-back. And shall not climb

the scarp, the brae, we shall not spit from

scaffolds, sell neither the wanting heart, nor

the wandering hand for scrap. I shall not meet

you: in the witching hour for touts and shades,

for the grass going forth like an amateur fetch

on his belly in the dark. I shall not meet you,

dawdling through the lawless park, and catch

your eye. But I have traced the tail-bone of my

wonderland beneath the itching skin of yours.

Times before, I caught you with a ruddied look.

It's in you too. All our years of sly unschooling,

I am still the full moon's biddy. You, our secret

King of Screed.

And Back Again 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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