Tag Archives: The Knucklebone Floor

STONEPICKER

The Stone Pickers

Sir George Clausen

1887

Oil on canvas

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Stonepicker

After George Clausen

She’s light and wild enough yet to have more in common with meadow flowers.  

Stubborn flickers of white and bruised chicory scissor through the grassy slope 

while her grandmother, drab in sacking, nearer my age now, is stooped, almost

on her knees, apron weighed down with a harvest of scree and muddy limestone.

The girl’s face is tender though she already knows too much: a scarlet cloth 

flares in the tumbled basket and jug.  Thin trees jut against a northern sky –

all I can do is keep on, keep on walking towards them, and pick stones

from the furrowed page to make room for harebell, lady’s smock, three-leaf clover.

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On a recent visit to the Laing Art Gallery I was pleased to spend some time with The Stone Pickers again – touched by a small detail I hadn’t noticed when I wrote my poem: the small stone still caught in the girl’s apron.

The wall text tells us that:

Clausen (1852-1944) was the son of a decorative artist of Danish descent (It doesn’t tell us if this was his mother or his father). From 1867 to 1873, he attended design classes at South Kensington Schools (known today as the Royal College of Art), and subsequently studied in Paris…He was influenced by French plein-air painting – the practice of painting outdoors – and began to paint the rural field workers around his Hertfordshire home in the 1880s. The Stone Pickers was purchased in 1907 from Artists of the Northern Counties, a selling exhibition held annually at the Laing from 1905 until 1935. Clausen was an official artist during the First World War.

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Stonepicker from The Knucklebone Floor (Smokestack 2022).

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Laurel Prize Longlist

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Delighted that The Knucklebone Floor has made it onto this year’s Laurel Prize longlist. Many thanks to the judges and congratulations to my fellow poets. Some I’ve read and admired already but so many collections here I want to read…

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Here’s a review of The Knucklebone Floor on the London Grip site. If you’d like to write one of your own and have somewhere to send it, please contact me via my website.

Thank you.

LF

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Graphite and Rainbow

With my new book The Knucklebone Floor just out, I’ve been signing copies people have kindly bought. When they see me reaching for my pencil, many offer me a pen, as if I didn’t have one at hand, implying pencil is somehow inferior, regrettably contingent. It’s reminded me that a few years ago I was asked to write something about stationery. Here it is – in neither pen or pencil – I hope you might enjoy.

Happening upon this very short text again, I was glad also to be reminded of the excellent Lady Mary Montagu and The Toast of the Kit-Cat Club – poetic grandmother to The Knucklebone Floor: both biographies of bold women in verse, unauthorised, experimental. All, of course, written in the shadow of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando – probably my favourite book of all time.

Graphite and Rainbow

1.

Nature, who has played so many queer tricks upon us, making us so unequally of clay and diamonds, of rainbow and granite, and stuffed them into a case, often of the most incongruous, for the poet has a butcher’s face and the butcher a poet’s…

Virginia Woolf knew the importance of stationery and the complicated conditions that must be fine-tuned to enable a woman to write.  When not sitting at her desk, she engineered an arrangement with a plywood board across an armchair, where she could sit comfortably and write and smoke.

…the most ordinary movement in the world, such as sitting down at a table and pulling the inkstand towards one, may agitate a thousand odd, disconnected fragments, now bright, now dim, hanging and bobbing and dipping and flaunting, like the underlinen of a family of fourteen on a line in a gale of wind…

2.

Postmarked June 2003, an airmail letter lands from Canada with my name and address on the pale blue envelope written in pencil.  I imagine silver feathers, wings of graphite, propellers.  The letter (a spidery hand, also in pencil) is about Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.  The points are sharp, proxy for that brave soul who crossed the Alps in a basket, the first woman to travel beyond Christendom and write home of all the wonders she witnessed. 

3.

I become a convert to pencil, evangelical.  All my favourite ink pens dry up as I trawl the tiered stands of pencils in stationery shops, choosing my favourites (Staedtler HB, Papermate Non-Stop – good quality, nothing fancy, built-in erasers).  I start carrying a Swiss Army knife to sharpen them on the hoof.  Around this time, I give up smoking my beloved roll-ups and nimbly replace one ritual with another.  

4.

I’m reluctant to become dependent on certain conditions in order to be able to write but some things do help.  Familiarity.  Preparation.  Space.  Comfort.  Pleasure.

5.

Artists I collaborate with use pencil to sign their names on drawings and prints, adding a title here, an edition number there – grey less intrusive and distracting than black.  The silvery lead seems to hold some of their images’ lightness.  It lifts the words into an acknowledgement – a celebration even – of impermanence, always vulnerable to erasure, open to smudge or fade.  

6.

There is something wabi sabi about writing in pencil (a Japanese aesthetic that suggests immense care, work-always-in-progress, constantly flowing, as life does).  It recognises doubt, the tentative; freedom to change your mind; a belief in something before and after words on a page – the forever they so briefly interrupt.  Although just as human, intimate as a fingertip, it is the opposite of a tattoo, more forgiving than ink, less likely to be regretted.  Far from being noncommittal, pencil and writer become one, all their attention poured into the ongoing moment. 

7.

A pencil is child’s play, encouraging un-self-conscious abandon, a glorious antidote to unretractable digitalia.  A poet’s drafts are made for graphite, allowing a fluid evolution of scribble, crossings through, underlining and furious rubbing out.  We know not what comes next, or what follows after.  The whole swirling chaotic mess might slowly coalesce into some sort of order, almost geological – subtle shades of lead, gunmetal, ash settling into lines on the white page that, when you get it right, and know when to leave them alone, might, just might, shimmer with the colours of the rainbow.

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