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
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.
Miracle On St David's Day
All you need to know about this poem is that it is a true story. It happened in the '70s, and it took me years to find a way to write the poem. ‘They flash upon that inward eye which is the bliss of solitude' (from ‘The Daffodils' by William Wordsworth) An afternoon yellow and open-mouthed with daffodils. The sun treads the path among cedars and enormous oaks. It might be a country house, guests strolling, the rumps of gardeners between nursery shrubs. I am reading poetry to the insane. An old woman, interrupting, offers as many buckets of coal as I need. A beautiful chestnut-haired boy listens entirely absorbed. A schizophrenic on a good day, they tell me later. In a cage of first March sun a woman sits not listening, not feeling. In her neat clothes the woman is absent. A big, mild man is tenderly led to his chair. He has never spoken. His labourer's hands on his knees, he rocks gently to the rhythms of the poems. I read to their presences, absences, to the big, dumb labouring man as he rocks. He is suddenly standing, silently, huge and mild, but I feel afraid. Like slow movement of spring water or the first bird of the year in the breaking darkness, the labourer's voice recites ‘The Daffodils'. The nurses are frozen, alert; the patients seem to listen. He is hoarse but word-perfect. Outside the daffodils are still as wax, a thousand, ten thousand, their syllables unspoken, their creams and yellows still. Forty years ago, in a Valleys school, the class recited poetry by rote. Since the dumbness of misery fell he has remembered there was a music of speech and that once he had something to say. When he's done, before the applause, we observe the flowers' silence. A thrush sings and the daffodils are flame.
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.
Swimming with Seals
Two horizons: a far blue line where a ship diminishes and the evening sun lets slip; and submarine where we glimpse stars and shoals and shadowy water-gardens of what's beyond us. When the seal rises she rests her chin on the sea as we do, and tames us with her gaze. On shore the elderly bask beside their cars at the edge of what they've lost, and shade their eyes and lift binoculars. She's gone, apt to the sea's grace to watch us underwater from her place, you with your mask and fins, strolling the shallow gardens of the sea, me, finding depth with a child's flounder of limbs, hauling downwards on our chains of breath. For a moment the old looking out to sea, all earth's weight beneath their folding chairs, see only flawless blue to the horizon, while we in seconds of caught air, swim down against buoyancy, rolling in amnion like her September calf.
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?
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.
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.
I am sitting in the wrong room listening For the wrong baby. I don't love This baby. She is sleeping a snuffly Roseate, bubbling sleep; she is fair; She is a perfectly acceptable child. I am afraid of her. If she wakes She will hate me. She will shout Her hot midnight rage, her nose Will stream disgustingly and the perfume Of her breath will fail to enchant me. To her I will represent absolute Abandonment. For her it will be worse Than for the lover cold in lonely Sheets; worse than for the woman who waits A moment to collect her dignity Beside the bleached bone in the terminal ward. As she rises sobbing from the monstrous land Stretching for milk-familiar comforting, She will find me and between us two It will not come. It will not come.
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.
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.
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.
Under the ocean where water falls
over the decks and tilted walls
where the sea come knocking at the great ship's door,
the band still plays
to the drum of the waves,
to the drum of the waves.
Down in the indigo depths of the sea
the white shark waltzes gracefully