Natalie Crick: On writing ‘Chadlington Village, Hampshire’
On Monday (16th September) submissions for this year’s Mslexia and Poetry Book Society Poetry and Pamphlet Prizes 2019 closed. Last year one of my poems, ‘Chadlington Village, Hampshire’ was a runner-up in the competition. You can read the judge Carol Ann Duffy’s thoughts about my poem on the Poetry Book Society website, at https://www.poetrybooks.co.uk/blogs/news/womens-poetry-competition- runner-up-natalie-crick and more wonderful prize-winning poems are available to read here too.
Chadlington Village, Hampshire
The missing girl’s name was Elizabeth Gill.
She was 12 when she disappeared.
She was last seen wearing a pink jumper.
The villagers kept vigil. Prayers,
curled with the cold, drifted and strayed.
Doors were locked. Rumours spread.
Police divers slipped into the lake by the hill.
Come Autumn, the sheep are fearful. They
scatter, champing on panics of sun. Mr Tilley and
the old dog guide them into the other field.
After the storm, leaves collect in the warm
ditches. Somewhere in the dark, the gilt eyes
of foxes open. Here, where things live and perish.
Jordan and Dave soon marry. Jordan’s curls
are starred with buttercups and lilies. Jan gossips
that the couple are far too young for love.
They marry on the village green. Behind the poplars,
a flutter of wind ruffles a thin, pink sweater.
At night there are dreams about where the girl might be.
Dreams about her ghosting the moor.
Dreams about her rising from the lake,
blue of cheek and lung.
Tomatoes swell in June. Soon the fruit flushes red.
Jan and Tom collect wild herbs; thyme, bay, sage.
Ken eats straight from the pan, refuses to
wash his hands beforehand.
Tom touches the steak on his dinner plate
with a finger, watches the blood seep.
With July comes the Summer Fete.
Chinese lanterns dazzle at dusk to charm the crowd.
Someone has laid out drinks. A sandalwood scent
perfumes the air filled with champagne laughter.
In the background a brass band toots and booms.
Young Kerry flaunts two pink roses;
one at her hip, one on her breast.
She and Dina dance to the beat,
dance into the shadow of a black poplar,
where the girl was last seen.
Another Spring, another March, another month
Jan scolds her crocuses – don’t open!
Remember, Spring just isn’t Spring anymore!
On Wednesday, a thin man is seen
and he’s moving through the wheat.
But maybe he’s the Father. It’s hard to know
in this light. He keeps coming back
to the place he remembers most.
All of the Junes go by like gusts of milkweed
and still the girl is missed. There are sightings:
Mrs Tilley saw her at the visitor centre
buying a Magnum ice-cream.
In August, heat rises in mists of gold.
Some suspect the cow field to harbour
secrets and aren’t shy to voice their opinions.
From a window across the green, Tom watches
Kerry undress in a pool of yellow bedroom light.
Butterfly eggs are laid on a leaf’s veined spine.
The missing girl’s name was Elizabeth, or Liz or Lizzy.
She has not been forgotten.
She has been looked for in the lambing sheds, in the lofts,
in the lake by the hills.
Mrs Tilley’s dog finds her stained skirt.
Whilst the village is sleeping, moths breathe in the green,
flit from lit to shadow, from seen to unseen.
Previously published in Mslexia (Issue 80, 2018/19), the Poetry Book Society website and listed in PBS Spring Bulletin (2019).
I wrote ‘Chadlington Village, Hampshire’ following a workshop by Sean O’Brien delivered for my Summer School 2018 module as part of my MA in Writing Poetry at Newcastle University. I’ve provided an insight into the thoughts behind my writing process and inspirations for the poem.
Having enjoyed Sean O’Brien’s session on the long poem, I decided to write my first ever long poem inspired by a novel I have recently read; Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor.
Adorned with beautiful, poetic rhythms of the natural world, McGregor defines the sad truth that, while a young girl remains missing, everyday life must go on.1
David Morley asks the question: ‘What are the qualities that make for a successful long poem or sequence? Are they sound, scene-making and tone?’ 2 I came to the conclusion that long-poems need to do more than simply narrate; an underlying shape, coherence and musicality are needed.
I observed in ‘At the Fishhouses’ by Elizabeth Bishop that simplicity in structure creates a powerful poem. The repeated refrain: ‘cold dark deep and absolutely clear’ strengthens the form. 3 I repeat the missing girl’s name at the beginning and end to remind the reader that she is still to be found. However, through the passing of time her name is now remembered as ‘Elizabeth, or Liz or Lizzy’; perhaps the villagers are beginning to forget.
Oliver states: ‘texture is vital to all poetry. It is what makes the poem an experience’.4 I admired the great detail apparent in ‘At the Fishhouses’ and tried to flood my poem with anecdotes of village life, when ‘with July comes the summer fete’, in combination with McGregor-inspired images of natural beauty, such as ‘butterfly eggs are laid on a leaf’s
veined spine’. All of this occurs against the painful passage of time.
By repeating months of the years and varying the tone my poem developed an incantatory dimension and a certain pitch of intensity; facets I had admired in Alice Notley’s poem, ‘I the People’.5
At the close of ‘At the Fishhouses’ it becomes apparent that the power of apprehension is momentary. Time marches on, and the moment of finding out what happened to Elizabeth Giles may be gone forever; ‘our knowledge is historical, flowing, flown’.6
1 Jon McGregor, Reservoir 13 (London: 4th Estate, 2017)
2 David Morely, ‘So you want to write a long poem’, Poetry Review, 98.2 (2008), 81-84 (p. 83)
3 Elizabeth Bishop, The Complete Poems 1927-1979 (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1983), p. 65
4 Oliver, A Poetry Handbook, p. 94
5 Alice Notley, Grave of Light: New and Selected Poems (Wesleyan University Press: Connecticut, 2008) p. 171-172
6 Bishop, The Complete Poems 1927-1979, p. 66