Pippa Little is Scots, but now lives in Northumberland. She has received an Eric Gregory Award, an Andrew Waterhouse Award, The Biscuit International Poetry Prize, The Norman MacCaig Centenary Poetry Prize, The Scotsman Haiku Prize and was joint winner of the James McCash Award 2013. She has read her work in Mexico City and at festivals including StAnza. Poems have appeared in many text journals, on radio, film and online. She also won the 2012 Anam Cara Poetry Competition. The Spar Box, (Vane Women 2006) was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice, Foray (Biscuit Press) came out in 2009, The Snow Globe (Red Squirrel) in 2011 and Overwintering in 2012 from Oxford Poets, Carcanet Press.
“Overwintering (Carcanet/OxfordPoets, 2012) is coming through, emerging into the light of a new season. Pippa Little’s book explores what survives and grows from the dark energies of winter, night and loss, from the buried past and the imagination’s depths. Landscapes speak of ancient violences and hold the hope of resolution. Love survives; the richness of the world replenishes.
Little’s poems have a sensual delight in qualities of light and texture, in imagined realities and the fantastical real. “Hope is winter light”, she writes, “is day arriving, numb and slow”.”
“Richly imagined, wide-ranging and subtly musical, Overwintering is a most welcome collection.”
– Sean O’Brien
“There’s a quiet courage here. Meaning dwells in the clear images of sense-perception but transcends them too. The real is fleet, elusive: but when it earths itself in this world, it is decidedly womanly. There’s an unexpected laughter, rueful, sly. This poetry will hold.”
– Gillian Allnutt
“I have come through”. This line from the first poem in my book, ‘Solstice’, means a great deal to me. My father died at the winter solstice (which is also the birthday of my youngest son). Six months later at summer solstice my father-in-law died. Looking back now I can see the narrative arc of those and other losses in these poems, how I struggled with making sense of my life and how, like the plants and seeds that ‘overwinter’ deep in the soil through the coldest part of the year, I found courage to sit out the dark and keep faith that light would return at some point.
Perhaps like a deep winter day some poems are marked with definite shadow and others by sunlight. I arrived ‘home’ from Africa as a young child straight into the worst winter Scotland had suffered for years – I had never seen snow before. So I think that ever since then, images of winter have affected me deeply,
burning gently to the bone
so ash of us, filigree,
lilts up as we dance beneath,
those of us who have nowhere to go
but the rest of our lives.”
‘The Seaweed Chandelier’
Not all the poems are wintry, though. A summer couple pretends the bandstand is a liner sailing into New York, a bag lady pushes her Tesco trolley along the quayside in ‘Stella Maris’, a tattooed shamaness and her six horses are discovered in the Altai Mountains. Friends, real and imaginary, crop up, and so do journeys, near as the churchyard opposite to far as the Mozambique border. Memories rekindled from my son’s spell in East Africa, where I was born, creep into poems such as ‘Newala’. There are animals too, the elk who eats roses from a Swedish garden, magical bees, wild birds, horses, dogs. And trains. The world is a very rich, beautiful and surprising source. Landscapes too are important – I’m deeply attached to the bare spaces of Northumberland where I’ve been settled now for more than twenty years.
The central poem sequence ‘The Karlovy Vary Trains’ describes a circular walk around Prague beginning and ending at the railway station. I’d been reading about the 1942 assassination of the Nazi Rheinhard Heydrich, so visiting the church where Jan Kubis, Jozef Gabcik and the others hid after the shooting, the place where they were discovered and dragged out, was very powerful. I always felt a connection with this perfect, beautiful yet somehow menacing city and had also been listening to a friend talk about how his family, Czech Jews, disappeared during and after the war and about his recent visits to Prague trying to find where they were buried, if they were buried at all. The railway station itself is very striking: above ground it’s modern and ordinary but its subterranean level is decaying art nouveau grandeur, a kind of living ghost-museum. I associate Prague with winter, having always made my visits then; the city’s draped in lights and Christmas decorations which give it an even eerier atmosphere.
I think if I had to sum up this collection I would say it records my questioning of ‘home'; what belonging is, and exile, in terms of personal loss. Looking back gives a wider angle of view: “you walk right through me, and keep going”; “I let the dark/ smudge you across the glass/ into my own face”. But it’s also an effort of separation, a growing up and apart: “ … the old house turned its face away/ forbidding me to enter even in dreams” and an active coming to terms with what results – “ … that way the years of speechlessness I shed”.
Re-reading that first poem, ‘Solstice’, with its image of the house in the woods, I realise the house is me – that whatever I meant by home was really in myself, in the world I make through memories, imagination and poems, that “coming through” is a process at which I must keep working. And that delight in small things, in the world around, in friendship and fellowship and love, in keeping hope – “a pocket-stone forgotten long ago/ found by your hand and known/ as a corm is married to the loam” – having faith in the making of things (a life, a poem, a bowl, a cairn) is part of that process: “winter, but with roses in it, somewhere”.
Order Overwintering (Carcanet/OxfordPoets, 2012).
Visit Pippa’s website.