Sophie Nicholls lives in York in the north of England, where she works as a therapist and runs the Word Sauce online writing courses.
“For several years, Sophie Nicholls worked as a volunteer writing mentor for members of the Write to Life group at Freedom from Torture. She tried to help people to find meaning from the seemingly meaningless acts of brutality and persecution they had experienced and to remake the stories of their lives.
This experience opened the eyes and the heart and Nicholls here finds a way of paying homage to the courage of the people she met and the incredible stories people shared with her. The ‘Refugee’ poems attempt to draw attention to the stories that we simply cannot ignore, stories that are crucial to us as a society.
There are poems here too in which Nicholls explores her own connections with home — with Yorkshire, where she is from, with language and place. Her poems mark a way of finding home and making meaning.”
“The concentration in Sophie Nicholls’s poems is a form of cherishing. The poems themselves may be small, but they have the sort of breadth that matters, whether celebrating fortitude or attending to human frailty.”
– Christopher Reid
1. In the Garden
On the night when you heard that they might
take you, you went into the garden and buried
your poems. You told me how you dug
the hard, dry ground. You remember
the moon was no bigger than your thumbnail,
the smell of jasmine and orange blossom.
And although I know that, years later, you returned
to that garden and dug them up again, I like
to think of your poems now, their ink seeping
downwards into the dark, the lãm, the l, quietly
rooting there, the hamza, that stop made in the back
of the throat, shaken from the page like a seed,
the alif, the a, sprouting from it, spreading through
the thirsty soil, upwards, eight long years. I like
to imagine someone, and maybe the one
who betrayed you to the authorities
for allowing the girls in your class
to read D.H. Lawrence, someone
picking fruit in that garden, an orange,
naranj, with the sweet dirt song of your yã’
still in it, peeling it, eating your words.
2. The Smile
When he attached the electrodes
to the soles of your feet, your fingers,
your penis, you smiled at him. You wanted
him to know that he could not touch
the parts of you that were softer,
more yielding. And when your lips cracked
and curled back from your teeth and your teeth
rattled in your skull, the folds of these most soft
inner parts opened. They made
a second mouth with a secret tongue inside it
and flew up to the ceiling and smiled at him.
In the time of St John of Beverley, it was enough
to slip past the first stone marking the boundary
or to enter the church or the house of a bishop,
grasp the door-knocker or sacred ring, sit
on a certain chair. Like this chair, here by the high altar,
a frith-stool, reads the Minster guide. Worn smooth
over centuries, it granted grith or sanctuary, the right
to a fair trial. I would like to make a frith-chair for you,
shape it from Yorkshire sandstone hauled
from the safe-houses of the earth, those buried rooms
where you might bide a while, or from the branches
of the rowan that makes runes out of the wind,
or from belief in a still point, ringed round with light.
The ‘Refugee’ poems were inspired by the stories of writers of the Write to Life group at Freedom from Torture (formerly The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture) and are dedicated to them.
An Old Way of Calling
When you say nithering,
I hear the cold moving
the branches of the rowan tree,
I hear the cold summoned
from the far field and wrapping us
in its skimmer. In mithering I hear
that you do not want us
to be wrapped together
or this way of beginning; in wuthering,
in wuthering, my thoughts wandering
the far field like weather.
When I took your hand in the ginnel,
it was lish as a sliver of the pale elm.
Your hand like the lock on the half-latched
world. There are no more words
in my mouth. I’m slocken. If I could
press, if I could kiss, if I could hold you
to my kist, my heart like a fish
in a skep, then this might keep,
little spuggy, little spink,
like the mell-sheaf.
from Refugee (Salt Publishing, 2011).
Order Refugee here.
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