Biography of Gillian Clarke
Gillian Clarke (born 8 June 1937) is a Welsh poet, playwright, editor, broadcaster, lecturer and translator from Wales.
Gillian Clarke was born on 8 June 1937 in Cardiff, and was brought up in Cardiff and Penarth, though for part of the Second World War she was in Pembrokeshire. She lived in Barry for a few years at a house called "Flatholme" on The Parade. Although her parents were Welsh speakers, she was brought up speaking only English and learnt to speak Welsh as an adult - partly as a form of rebellion. She graduated in English from Cardiff University.
Afterwards she spent a year working for the BBC in London.
She then returned to Cardiff, where she married and had a daughter, Catrin, about whom she has written a poem of the same name, and two sons. She worked as an English teacher, first at the Reardon-Smith Nautical College and later at Newport College of Art.
In the mid-1980s she moved to rural Ceredigion, west Wales with her second husband, after which time she spent some years as a creative writing tutor at the University of Glamorgan.
In 1990 she was a co-founder of Ty Newydd, a writers' centre in North Wales.
Her poetry is studied by GCSE and A Level students throughout Britain. She has given poetry readings and lectures in Europe and the United States, and her work has been translated into ten languages. A considerable number of her poems are used in the GCSE AQA Anthology.
Clarke has published numerous collections of poetry for adults and children (see below), as well as dramatic commissions and numerous articles in a wide range of publications. She is a former editor of The Anglo-Welsh Review (1975–84) and the current president of Tŷ Newydd. Several of her books have received the Poetry Book Society Recommendation. In 1999 Gillian Clarke received the Glyndŵr Award for an "Outstanding Contribution to the Arts in Wales" during the Machynlleth Festival, and she was on the judging panel for the 2008 Manchester Poetry Prize. Clarke reads her poetry for teenagers who are taking their English GCSE school exams. She is part of the GCSE Poetry Live team that also includes John Agard, Simon Armitage, Carol Ann Duffy, Imtiaz Dharker, Moniza Alvi, Grace Nichols, Daljit Nagra and Choman Hardi.
In December 2013 Clarke was the guest for BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs.
Gillian Clarke Poems
Long silver girl who slipped easy and early from the womb's waters, whose child-breath was a bird in a cage,
28 June 1960 Perhaps a woman hanging out the wash paused, hearing something, a sudden hush,
Snowlight and sunlight, the lake glacial. Too bright to open my eyes in the dazzle and doze of a distant January afternoon.
Three years ago to the hour, the day she was born, that unmistakable brim and tug of the tide I'd thought was over. I drove the twenty miles of summer lanes, my daughter cursing Sunday cars, and the lazy swish of a dairy herd rocking so slowly home. Something in the event, late summer heat overspilling into harvest, apples reddening on heavy trees, the lanes sweet with brambles and our fingers purple, then the child coming easy, too soon, in the wrong place, things seasonal and out of season towed home a harvest moon. My daughter's daughter a day old under an umbrella on the beach, Latecomer at summer's festival, and I'm hooked again, life sentenced. Even the sea could not draw me from her. This year I bake her a cake like our house, and old trees blossom with balloons and streamers. We celebrate her with a cup of cold blue ocean, candles at twilight, and three drops of, probably, last blood.
Letters From Bosnia
Wales spelt Vales on the brown envelope from Vites to Llanidloes. Inside a bundle of pages, little illuminated manuscripts of gilded Easter eggs, scenes from a European spring we'd all know anywhere, an afternoon's work from the class in Vites. Dear Ben', says one, You are my friend. Write me. Misha.' Quietly, heads bent over the pages, the children write the first draft of a poem. Outside April is all indecision, daffodils over, lawns blurred with speedwell, the cherries torn by a sharp rain. In the photograph, yesterday's Misha is smiling. A class group grinning, pulling faces. They wave, thumbs up to the future. Behind them, in the rendered wall of the school, are the bullet holes.
For the green turtle with her pulsing burden, in search of the breeding ground. For her eggs laid in their nest of sickness. For the cormorant in his funeral silk, the veil of iridescence on the sand, the shadow on the sea. For the ocean's lap with its mortal stain. For Ahmed at the closed border. For the soldier with his uniform of fire. For the gunsmith and the armourer, the boy fusilier who joined for the company, the farmer's sons, in it for the music. For the hook-beaked turtles, the dugong and the dolphin, the whale struck dumb by the missile's thunder. For the tern, the gull and the restless wader, the long migrations and the slow dying, the veiled sun and the stink of anger. For the burnt earth and the sun put out, the scalded ocean and the blazing well. For vengeance, and the ashes of language.
A Difficult Birth
An old ewe that somehow till this year had given the ram the slip. We thought her barren. Good Friday, and the Irish peace deal close, and tonight she's serious, restless and hoofing the straw. We put off the quiet supper and bottle of wine we'd planned, to celebrate if the news is good. Her waters broke an hour ago and she's sipped her own lost salty ocean from the ground. While they slog it out in Belfast, eight decades since Easter 1916, exhausted, tamed by pain, she licks my fingers with a burning tongue, lies down again. Two hooves and a muzzle. But the lamb won't come. You phone for help and step into the lane to watch for car lights. This is when the whitecoats come to the women, well meaning, knowing best, with their needles and forceps. So I ease my fingers in, take the slippery head in my right hand, two hooves in my left. We strain together, harder than we dared. I feel a creak in the limbs and pull till he comes in a syrupy flood. She drinks him, famished, and you find us peaceful, at a cradling that might have been a death. Then the second lamb slips through her opened door, the stone rolled away.
My box is made of golden oak, my lover's gift to me. He fitted hinges and a lock of brass and a bright key. He made it out of winter nights, sanded and oiled and planed, engraved inside the heavy lid in brass, a golden tree. In my box are twelve black books where I have written down how we have sanded, oiled and planed, planted a garden, built a wall, seen jays and goldcrests, rare red kites, found the wild heartsease, drilled a well, harvested apples and words and days and planted a golden tree. On an open shelf I keep my box. Its key is in the lock. I leave it there for you to read, or them when we are dead, how everything is slowly made, how slowly things made me, a tree, a lover, words, a box, books and a golden tree.
On The Train
Cradled through England between flooded fields rocking, rocking the rails, my headphones on, the black box of my Walkman on the table. Hot tea trembles in its plastic cup. I'm thinking of you waking in our bed thinking of me on the train. The radio speaks in the suburbs, in commuter towns, in cars unloading children at school gates, is silenced in dark parkways down the line before locks click and footprints track the frost and trains slide out of stations in the dawn dreaming their way towards the blazing bone-ship. The Vodaphone you are calling may have been switched off. Please call later. And calling later, calling later their phones ring in the rubble and in the rubble of suburban kitchens the wolves howl into silent telephones. I phone. No answer. Where are you now? The train moves homewards through the morning. Tonight I'll be home safe, but talk to me, please. Pick up the phone. Today I'm tolerant of mobiles. Let them say it. I'll say it too. Darling, I'm on the train.
New blood in the killing-ground, her scullery, her boneyard. I touch the raw wire of vertigo feet from the edge. Her house is air. She comes downstairs on a turn of wind. This is her table. She is arrow. At two miles a minute the pigeon bursts like a city. While we turned our backs she wasted nothing but a rose-ringed foot still warm.
I think of her sometimes when I lie in bed, falling asleep in the room I have made in the roof-space over the old dark parlwr where she died alone in winter, ill and penniless. Lighting the lamps, November afternoons, a reading book, whisky gold in my glass. At my typewriter tapping under stars at my new roof window, radio tunes and dog for company. Or parking the car where through the mud she called her single cow up from the field, under the sycamore. Or looking at the hills she looked at too. I find her broken crocks, digging her garden. What else do we share, but being women?
Blue Hydrangeas, September
You bring them in, a trug of thundercloud, neglected in long grass and the sulk of a wet summer. Now a weight of wet silk
Cold Knap Lake
We once watched a crowd pull a drowned child from the lake. Blue lipped and dressed in water's long green silk she lay for dead. Then kneeling on the earth, a heroine, her red head bowed, her wartime cotton frock soaked, my mother gave a stranger's child her breath. The crowd stood silent, drawn by the dread of it. The child breathed, bleating and rosy in my mother's hands. My father took her home to a poor house and watched her thrashed for almost drowning. Was I there? Or is that troubled surface something else shadowy under the dipped fingers of willows where satiny mud blooms in cloudiness after the treading, heavy webs of swans as their wings beat and whistle on the air? All lost things lie under closing water in that lake with the poor man's daughter.
I can remember you, child, As I stood in a hot, white Room at the window watching The people and cars taking Turn at the traffic lights. I can remember you, our first Fierce confrontation, the tight Red rope of love which we both Fought over. It was a square Environmental blank, disinfected Of paintings or toys. I wrote All over the walls with my Words, coloured the clean squares With the wild, tender circles Of our struggle to become Separate. We want, we shouted, To be two, to be ourselves. Neither won nor lost the struggle In the glass tank clouded with feelings Which changed us both. Still I am fighting You off, as you stand there With your straight, strong, long Brown hair and your rosy, Defiant glare, bringing up From the heart's pool that old rope, Tightening about my life, Trailing love and conflict, As you ask may you skate In the dark, for one more hour.
In the reading room
You scan the stream, silver-eyed as a heron
searching the surface for what might betray
a halt in the flow, pentameter's delay,
a master's faded words, his lexicon.
Before you, found in an old book
marking a page, a longhand manuscript.
Look, where the knib unloaded ink and dipped
and rose again, leaving a blot on the downstroke,