Helena Nelson has recently transformed herself into a star performance poet. Her appearance at the 2007 Poetry Prom at Snape, with Adrian Mitchell and Michael Rosen, was celebrated with a tumult of applause. Starlight On Water is her first book. It was a Jerwood Aldeburgh First Collection prize winner. Some of the performance favourites are here, ‘Deserve Has Nothing To Do With It’, ‘Genderalizations’, ‘Mens Sana in Corpore Banano,’ etc., but there’s also much else, including the remarkable Mr and Mrs Philpott poems, a sequence of nineteen meditations on love in later life – domesticity, desire, and the time that passes.
Helena is one of those poets whose writing can stab with joy or sorrow – and you never know which it is going to be. In ‘Distance’, an astonishingly accomplished poem, the joy, for me, is in the poet’s skill; the sorrow in the poignancy of the subject matter. I’m hoping her new career as a publisher – she runs Happenstance Press – is leaving her time for her own writing.
Bike with no hands
One look at you and I knew
you’d be able to ride a bike with no hands.
I’d tried it, of course, but could never do it.
It was written all over your face that you
would have practised, bare legs, bloody knees,
in the summer evenings, hours at a time
when no-one was watching the mishaps, until
casually, coolly, at infinite ease
you’d ride, no-handed, surveying the street
as if you’d been born on a circus bike.
I wish – but then, we are what we are.
I drive with two hands, walk with both feet
firmly planted on sensible ground. And
I’ve got you. Who can ride with no hands.
Helena Nelson was born in Knutsford in 1953 and educated at the University of York. She lives in Fife and teaches English & Creative Writing at Glenrothes College. Helena runs a small press, Happenstance and edits the magazine Sphinx.
‘Starlight on Water is a scintillating collection by one of Scotland’s sharpest, most enjoyable talents. I recommend it without reservation.’
‘Warm, witty, musical and moving, Helena Nelson’s poems honour everyday life. She is that rare thing: a good popular poet. Read her.’
(The Rialto First Collection Series 2003)