Meryl Pugh was born in 1968 and grew up in Wales, New Zealand, East Anglia and the Forest of Dean, where her family settled. Short-listed for the New Writing Ventures Poetry Prize in 2005, she is a Hawthornden Fellow. Arrowhead Press published her first pamphlet, Relinquish, in 2007. Her second, entitled The Bridle, came out with Salt Publishing at the end of 2011. She is a PhD candidate at UEA and lives in Norwich and London, where she teaches poetry.
“The Bridle (Salt Publishing, 2011) is concerned with the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of the human condition. Childhood, family, memory, myth — even the arguments and silences between lovers — all are enlisted in the bid to come to terms with our fleshy, mortal state. Poetry, here, is the bridle; restraining and shaping emotion, holding and guiding thought, as Pugh grapples with what it means to be human and female and how best to speak of that experience. Whatever the poems’ forms (sonnet or free verse, rhymed or unrhymed, long sequences or short, six line fragments), they sing out to the reader directly, urgently, in despair and celebration.”
“Assured yet tender, Meryl Pugh keeps an impressively tight rein on her craft to such an extent we can still hear each poem long after it has galloped off the page.”
– Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch
The Charcoal Bridle
Thoughts as strange as unbroken horses
have led me up to the crack
between hill and sky, air and silhouette.
I set a fire before I left
and when the ashes floated like my reason
I took this lump
from the charred bole of a tree
and followed the ones with tangled manes.
But they are not horses here.
There is no hill or sky
only the cold side of something.
It does not bend, it does not move.
You are dashed on it
and then it ends. Motes rush
into the gap to be lost
and though the ground is churned as if by hooves
there is nothing here.
I will put on the charcoal bridle
learn to yield, learn to resist
to trust the headstall, bit and rein
for this uncertain footing.
I will come down off the ridge
and I will speak the bridled language.
The Singing Door
Come to the singing door and ask your question.
Don’t pace about or try to look behind it.
Don’t look for keyholes, handles, cracks (there are none).
Just stand in front of it, where it has landed
and listen for the voice of someone lost.
At first, you’ll think the sounds you hear are random —
birds foraging for insects in the moss,
rain, the wind through branches — but this is the language
you must learn. So, patience! Listen: a fox
is scratching in its den, a magpie cackles,
a beetle mounts another on a rock.
Give each sound its place and let them gather
until they break like thunder, fade, then stop.
Into this silence (it only sounds like your father)
the door will drop its low, meandering song:
a composite of creatures, plants and weather,
alien and human, strange but known.
Stand your ground as leaves begin to wither,
the sun to set (although it’s not yet noon)
and ice takes hold of tree, small beast and river
for these are the ripened fruit your search has borne.
The door is singing, just as it was bidden,
and if you’d only listen, you would learn
how it can relieve you of your burden
(sorrow, guilt, whatever you have done).
Don’t worry that you seem to have forgotten
which hand you use to write with, your full name,
whether you have pets at home or children
or indeed, the reason why you came.
Look between your feet. A crack has opened
and you must choose which side to stand. Your pain,
which you express so fully, has been noted
but go now, leap the widening chasm, pray —
though you will fail — to make a solid landing,
scrabble for the edge, repeat your prayer,
look down at your feet, half-lost in violet shadow,
look up at your breath, freezing in the air
(watch how it hangs above you, drops and scatters
just as the door shudders and jerks ajar).
Who are you again? It doesn’t matter.
You asked for an end to grief. Here we are.
Yes, ours: the hands you feel around your ankles
pulling, hastening your fall. You hear
the singing door? It has your voice now. Thank you:
you’ve given it so much and now you’re free.
from The Bridle (Salt Publishing, 2011).
Order The Bridle.
Visit Meryl’s blog.