My copy of Apology for Absence
by Julia Darling, was brought back by Lucy.
She had borrowed the poems
to be companions in Seville.
And, although Julia was only present in her poems,
I still think she went to Seville
with her colourful carpet bag.
Julia, that is.
The night of the return
Julia was produced by Lucy (curly hair)
just as I was speaking to Jayne (straighter hair)
Lucy explained that Julia had been very good company
Lucy and Jayne had never previously met
and on my suggestion Lucy let Julia go away with Jayne.
Julia and I once had some fun
with some youngsters from Speke in the Liverpool area.
we got them making words out of clay,
so that they might see them more as things.
There follows, a game in Speke spirit,
in which words from each of the first 24 poems
in Apology for Absence
suggests what Julia might have had in her bag:
washing and your sheets need washing
shoes I’m that pair of uncomfortable shoes.
glitter Some moments glitter
corners or a day of corners, steps and slopes.
Brown Brown walls, the clip and gleam of hospitals
vast its shape, its vast thirsty tongue
buttons I clung to my imagination, my buttons
pads and dribbling in a stair lift, wearing pads.
sharp She’s dreaming of wardrobes, of sharp gold shoes
pullovers to take off pullovers and swirl, to get
moths bobbing, trying to catch the moths
magazines Pop Idol, magazines.
banana The main street was one long banana stall
glasses I am the woman who wears reading glasses
mirror adjusting the mirror.
forgotten You have forgotten it, that itching ache
red I am overpowered by its fragrant red roses
soap a moon-shaped slither of soap
juice new and surprised, the trees full of juice
mud tents, and whose mud is crusted on their shoes.
short These short days, when I try too hard
coat and evaporated breath, buttoned in sleep’s downy coat
trousers hold my trousers up with string, pull.
science Donate your family to science.
Who does she think she is?
No wonder there’s some flack
How can she make us whole
make us think,
make us change
when no-one asked her?
What right has she
to turn this stuff upside down,
us to remain level headed?
No; to expect us to know
we’re upside down and start from there.
I used her idea of “First Aid Kits for the mind” as part of a self-esteem project with young d/Deaf students. In this case we had empty boxes for the youngsters to post their thoughts, comments, advice, support, wishes, prayers, dreams and nightmares. That’s all I knew of her then and I wish I had known more.
Title and beyond triggered by reading Jackie Kay’s Guardian obituary 16/04/05
When I last saw her
She was surrounded by girls
Young and old girls
Would-be writers –
Caught up in her enthusiasm.
She had lost her hair
But no-one worried about that.
Her joyous life had returned
She was back in the world she loved.
That night she brought
Loving encouragement and
Inspiration into our lives. –
We still love and miss you Julia.
You left early with a joyous farewell.
I thought you might like to see this poem about Julia, by 87 year old Jean Rochester, who brought it to Sunderland’s Foyle Street Writers group this morning.
Jean’s failing eyesight prevents her from using her computer so I’m sending this to you on her behalf.
This body is a story for those who would listen.
Its scars are words.
Its curves punctuation.
This skin sings lyrical,
its breath is rhyme.
It holds its history in the way it stands,
in the way it leans.
Calling, drawing you in,
so that you too become the narrative.
I found Julia’s poetry particularly comforting when my Grandmother was dying. Her words helped me greatly to put things into perspective, and have been a source of strength ever since. I hope you enjoy reading them. Jessica Wortley
The chair says nothing but speaks volumes,
Sitting there in its borrowed blue
History of a day, crying for a future.
No underwear adorns it,
No crumpled clothing dare cascade.
It stands upright, bright as a new recruit
Inviting new life, a new role, new companions.
Van Gogh painted such a chair in Arles,
Gwen John in Paris, unaccompanied,
Undecorated, alive with expectation.
This presence changes talk and dreams,
Focussing energies into a single purpose.
No distractions and no excuses,
Function shapes the perfect form.
A vibrant blue shimmer of impressions
Explode from the canvas
Like a visual manifesto, angry and alive.
Subtle blends of light, shadow and tone
Capture the quality of a moment
Reflected, in a room without mirrors.
Words fashion futures from a slender history,
Conjure tomorrow from the alchemist’s dream,
Transform into glitter, base metal and waste.
Silence hides a lonely cry to fill this vacant page
With an outpouring of rhythm and imagination,
Worlds populated by everyday philosophers
Gifted with insight and wisdom.
The chair remains mute but pleads for action.
Interpreting the world is one thing,
The point however, is to change it.
I bumped into Julia outside of the Tyneside Cinema one afternoon and amongst various chat, about this and that, she said she was going to devote her time to writing. Not that I was ever sure what Julia did for a day job. I knew her as an active member of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and through my international work on Newcastle Trades Union Council. Julia was the first person I knew who decided to devote herself to writing full time. I was filled with an overwhelming sense of admiration and a deep jealousy! This poem is about having the courage to seize that moment, or not!
He used to call me cushie doo,
his homing bird that never flew,
now perched in our love nest he says we’re through.
I suspect foul play with some fast cuckoo,
a cockatoo, hoopoe or pond-stinking smew
that flew in his path with some billet-doux.
He’ll come back I know in a week or two, wings clipped,
saying turtle dove, I love you. How can you resist
my cock-a-doodle-do? But I do.
I first met Julia at a writing workshop she was leading in the early 1990s. There was a venue mix-up, so we ended up in the children’s section of the library, perched on tiny plastic seats, our knees like mountains – but she soon had us all writing.
This poem always reminds me of Julia and only made it past the first draft because of her encouragement. Whenever I read it, I remember her throwing back her head and laughing.
This section of the website has poems commissioned in memory of Julia Darling, who died ten years ago (on 13 April 2005).
Out of the sun,
back to the earth.
Sleek as an eel,
slippery as love.
Jewels in your green coat,
those hands, those lobes.
Whatever it was
that made you,
that gave you
stabs through the early morning air.
someone makes a ‘Maggie’ joke.
Feet shuffle scraping against the tarmac
finding a better, warmer spot
around an old oil can that serves as a brazier.
spittle flies hissing into the fire.
‘Fuck this!’ says the tall one,
‘Anybody got a tab?’
Then heads lift.
A dim thrum. Traffic?
Over there, over the crest of the hill
over where they can’t be seen,
And they come.
Grunting rumble of reluctant engines,
shriek of brakes.
The blue black line stamps froward
shoving into the howling mass.
SCAB! SCAB! SCAB! SCAB!
Batons hammer their own beat
seeking and finding arms, shoulders, heads.
Bricks and stones reply, on and over the turret
of helmets, smashing through windows
thumping into the body of the bus.
Sirens sing a different song.
I first met Julia on the writing course – ‘A Woman’s Art is Never Done’ run by Gateshead Library. She ran the course seamlessly, as though we were all girls together just having fun with words and yet we achieved so much.
‘After Billy Elliot’ isn’t about Julia but it would never have existed had I not attended the course all those years ago.
I am in pain,
but not the same as before.
Another day of breathlessness and struggle,
as if a test from a God I never believed in.
I am waiting, I suppose,
for the curtain to open and to be called back.
To see a smiling
Wizard of Oz looking at me with glee.
My work has become my life,
it lets me bleed all over the page.
I wish I was Julia Darling,
and the way she thought.
She made me understand
I’ve got all the time in the world.
Until I die.
Just to be me.
I only spoke to Julia once, but saw her perform many times, on my visits to Newcastle from Germany. Her poetry moved me, as did her positive attitude displayed in her work and life. When we did speak I was in awe, and she inspired me to seek classes to “out” my then personal poetry to the public. I hadn’t learnt of her death, until I returned to live in Newcastle in 2010. I was saddened, but glad I met her and saw her perform. The poem I wrote was one of my first I did at a spoken word night, it explains how my illness was swallowing up my life. After hearing and reading Julia’s work, I saw I could either let my illness swallow me up or just get on with living.
Thank you Julia