Ann Drysdale is a British poet, born near Manchester, raised in London, married in Birmingham, ran a smallholding and brought up three children on the North York Moors and now lives in South Wales. She was a journalist for many years, writing, among other things, the longest-running by-line column in the Yorkshire Evening Post, which she later made into a series of books. Her recent publications have included two memoirs, Three-three, Two-two, Five-six and Discussing Wittgenstein, both from Cinnamon Press, and a quirky guidebook in the Real Wales series – Real Newport, from Seren. Of her four volumes of poetry from Peterloo, the most recent, Between Dryden and Duffy, appeared in 2005. A fifth collection, Quaintness and Other Offences, was recently published by Cinnamon Press. She is also the current holder of the Dylan Thomas prize for Poetry in Performance.
Ann Drysdale’s fifth collection of poetry displays all the familiar skills of this witty, assured and deeply humane writer. Her handling of poignant subjects is informed by her astute intelligence and sharp eye; her feeling for form is matched by the precision and dexterity with which she uses language. Varied, immediate and accomplished, her work speaks to a wide audience.
“Ann Drysdale has a way of adding wit to form that turns the poem on the page from a squib to an arc-welder.”
– Peter Finch
“The thing about Ann’s poetry is the thing with all poets worth a damn. It’s the way she says something you couldn’t say in any other way. The poem skewers the meaning, just like that.”
– John Whitworth
“Ann Drysdale is one of the poets whose work has become part of my life.”
– U A Fanthorpe
“This is poetry that speaks to you personally, touches, makes human contact, a rare and crucial virtue that transforms good poetry into essential poetry. The direct, authentic voice shines through. It’s like talking to a sensible, straight-talking (but eloquent) person after spending an evening with a room full of delirious ranting bullshitters.”
– Paul Stevens
Let’s do Lunch …
Oh, where is it heading and where will it end?
Liaison of lovers or food with a friend?
I answered yes, please but my heart said no, thanks
As I suddenly saw myself swelling the ranks
Of the ladies who lunch with their Afternoon Men
Again and again and again and again
With rillettes of rabbit, or moules marinière
As the only connection between any pair.
Lunch isn’t dinner, which ends up in bed;
We part on a pavement with everything said
And you ring me up later but don’t talk for long
And I feel in my water it’s all going wrong.
There used to be music but not any more
So I know where I am and I’ve been here before,
A little bit tipsy, a little bit high
On the scent of the cheek that I’m kissing goodbye…
Old Spice… Aramis… Eau Sauvage… Vetiver –
First wind of the end of another affair.
I am becoming my grandmother…
Sooner or later, in the great scheme of things,
Women are ambushed by their transformation
Into their own mothers. Mirrors tell them,
Or echoes of some little tetchiness
That still itches under skin that has thinned
To let it out again.
I have skipped a generation and will soon
Become my grandmother. It has begun.
No longer can I pass a crying child
Without wiping its nose on my pinny
Or any dog without extending my hand.
I find all kinds of treasures in the street
And take them home with me in a string bag.
I touch flowers, move snails out of the way
Of passing traffic. All these things I do
Regardless of the present company.
The transformation has not gone unnoticed;
Somebody left a hurt newt in a bowl
Outside my door, convinced that I could help it.
And now at last I am the world’s Aunt Jessie;
Old, fat and ugly, but – hurrah! God loves me!
Daily I hit the road in shapeless lace-ups
Dap-slapping my way across East Anglia,
Now and then turning my face up to heaven
Like a tanned leather bottle full of questions
To diagnose the illness of the wind
And look for little ways to make it better.
Yobs untie the cabin cruiser
Left to rot beside the river,
Drag her down and turn her over,
Push her out onto the water
Just to see if she will float.
Big boots crushing frosty sedges
All along the water’s edges,
Hurling missiles from the bridges
At the dented, dying boat.
First she proudly breasts the current,
Rides the river, heir apparent
To the beauty of the torrent,
Off to face her final moment
Elemental and alone.
But the yobs continue throwing,
Conscious of their power, knowing
They can still control her going –
One more curse and one more stone.
Laughing with the joy of wrecking;
Shattered screen and splintered decking.
Listing, lurching, bobbing, jinking,
Now she founders, now she’s sinking –
Yeah! Titanic! Gissa shot!
Little bits of broken mirror
Catch the sunset on the river
Where the song goes on forever
All the way to Camelot.
The Red Mud of Lydney
On a field trip to Gloucestershire, not long before he died,
The tired leaves of autumn were committing suicide
To the threnody of drizzle that was clearly in cahoots
With the red mud of Lydney that was sucking at my boots.
We were following our colleagues to the villa on the hill
With Philip in the wheelchair, doing splendidly until
We heard a noise behind us such as speedy people make
And turned and saw a four-by-four that wished to overtake.
The cure for our predicament was well within his gift;
His flat bed trailer might have offered us a lift,
But he gave the horn an irritated toot as if to say
That he was heading up the hill and we were in the way.
The man in the Land Rover didn’t try to pass,
He made me lug the wheelchair through the lateral morass.
He watched me as I struggled but he wouldn’t meet my eye,
Just raised his own to heaven with a hissy little sigh.
It took me every ounce of strength to haul it off the track
And I knew as I was doing it I’d never haul it back.
He found a gear and roared away and left us helpless there.
Oh, I would’ve pulled my forelock if I’d had a hand to spare.
Each time I see the wheelchair standing empty in the shed
Still muddily encrusted in that special shade of red
It galls me and appalls and transports me back again
To the loneliness and hopelessness of Lydney in the rain.
Willow bark, willow bite
First drug I’ve done tonight
Wish I may, wish I might
Muddle through another night
Ye tiny clots, cumulative contusions
That block the pathways and create confusions
Become as dust dispersing in a river
My willow wand shall banish thee forever.
Strip the willow, set it going
Hold the rhythm, keep it flowing
Ease the valves that stop and start
The secret chambers of my heart
Sing a song of sunshine
Boozy bottoms up
Five and seventy milligrams
Swirling in a cup
When the stuff is swallowed
The traffic starts to flow
And all the little corpuscles
Go marching in a row!
Acid trip, acid trip
Take another little nip
Wish I may, wish I might
Wish again tomorrow night.
Note: the acid involved here is not Lysergic acid diethylamide
but Acetylsalicylic acid. Sorry.
The Bingo Bus
The ladies of Winchestown are going south for the ’Ousey.
Flashing their passes, they accrue on the sideways seats
At the front of the trundling bus as it growls down the valley.
The twitter is constant; a narrow, high range, like bats,
Unmoderated in its content, for who can overhear them
Other than dogs and peculiarly sharp-eared children?
They all chew gum. In their youth it was thought unseemly
So they chew very fast to make up for so much lost time,
Redeploying the involuntary motions of old mouths.
They take on their gum like ballast before boarding.
They work it as they talk, quick-flicking it like the shuttles
Of the flannel weavers in days even they don’t remember.
Tongues toss the soft pellets like small boys in blankets;
Teeth, false and furious, catch them and roll them ready
For another somersault as the tongues move in again.
And so it goes – allez-oop! – à bas! – encore!
A non-stop pantomime of death and resurrection
All the way down to the ’Stute in Abertillery.
Note: ’Stute – the Miners’ Institute. Once every South Wales mining town had one.
from Quaintness and Other Offences (Cinnamon Press, 2009)
Order Quaintness and Other Offences here or here.
Visit Ann’s poetry pf page.