(The Rialto First Collection Series 2001)
One of the reasons for initiating The Rialto First Collection Series was to help poets kick-start their careers. We certainly succeeded with Josephine Dickinson. Scarberry Hill was quickly followed by a second collection from Arc and now there’s a new volume published by Houghton Mifflin in America.
Scarberry Hill has as its core a modern Shepherd’s Calendar – accounts of daily life on the Cumbrian hill farm that Josephine seems at first to have wandered into and then fallen in love with – both with the way of life and with the farmer, who she married. The writing is often raw and gutsy – literally so in ‘The Lambs Were Still Running With The Ewes’. But there’s more to it than country life.
Profoundly deaf since childhood, Josephine is a musician by training (if ever there was a song waiting to be set it’s ‘There Was A Darkness In the Air’), and she worked in London for years – so a rich mix of experience informs the work. Anyway, I applaud her success. We do have a few copies of Scarberry Hill, the starting point of it all, available (it’s still my favourite, but I would say that wouldn’t I).
Inside the house is silence. We sit and look
across the room. You shift your elbows, smoke
and tap your pipe by turns. I write my words
in my little book. We look across the room,
or read, or meet to talk from time to time.
On Scarberry Hill the shadow under the white cloud spreads
and rolls our way. It’s far away. Perhaps
it won’t come down this far before it stops -
above the white washed house, the tumbling river
washing the valley below. Perhaps we have
to wait until it passes over. Just
a bit of rain, that’s all. And when it’s past,
the sun will shine again. The wind sock pulls
to east. It might yet rain. The moment stays.
As tiny cars are shuttling, changing place
across its darkening pastures, Scarberry Hill
appears to frown. You’re shuffling papers round,
I’m writing in my notebook still. It passes.
On Scarberry Hill the blinding streaks of green
flood out, the sky’s all sun, we wipe our glasses.
Josephine Dickinson was born in South London in 1957. Profoundly deaf from childhood, she studied classics at Oxford and taught music for many years. She has lived in Alston, a small Cumbrian town high in the Pennines, for more than a decade. She has gone on to publish a second collection and a volume of her selected poems, Silence Fell, in the USA.
‘Josephine Dickinson’s poems are exceptionally original. Hers is a vision edged with mystery and rendered with arresting, occasionally breathtaking craft. She bears, with no small authority, an air of independence reminiscent of Emily Dickinson.’
Jospehine Dickinson ‘Scarberry Hill’
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