Message from the Dead (April 15th 2005) Marilyn Longstaff

A birthday card from Dad
was in the clearance pile, some rural scene
bought from the V & A.

I must have kept it for its rarity.
Mum did cards, except for Valentines
when I bought Dad’s for her.

At first, I hadn’t recognised
the name – thought it said Fred
(Dad’s writing was appalling) –

until I got it into daylight.
Felt sad that he had died so long ago
even his writing had become a blur,

from Dad with all good wishes
on your birthday, and the message
in another colour, Prov. 3. (5-8)

Now more than 30 years have passed
he’s sending me a text,
as I’m grieving in my small and quiet way
for Julia Darling, who I knew a little:

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart:
and lean not unto thine own understanding.
In all thy ways acknowledge him,
and he shall direct thy paths.
Be not wise in thine own eyes;
fear the Lord and depart from evil.
It shall be health to thy navel,
and marrow to thy bones.

I first saw Julia (and Ellen) at a poetry Virgins performance in Newcastle and I heard her on Woman’s Hour. Then I met her when she ran workshops (inspirational) at Bishop Auckland. Subsequently, we ran into each other a bit and I got a northern promise award when she got the big prize (so we read at the same events).
I wrote this poem for Julia and it’s in my book ‘Raiment’. Marilyn Longstaff

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At the Old City Library with Julia – Avril Joy

It is raining in the city when we go in
you call us over to sit at your silvery table.
We shrug off our coats, gather our wine.
You and I are reading. You are famous. I am not.

You show me your nerves, take them out to air
subduing mine, ‘Be brief, that’s the key,’ you say
‘people get fed up otherwise,’ then as if by way of
something ordinary, something you forgot to say earlier:

‘Had bad news today, my consultant told
me he was sorry, ‘Sorry Julia,’ he said, ‘it’s spread
to the liver.’ We draw in breath, spill regret,
we do not rant or rave or collapse in a public place.

All three, we drink our wine. You stand to read,
words like miracles, operations performed
without incision, scions of faith and hope. You keep
it brief. ‘She goes on too long,’ you say of the poet.

In the doorway ash accumulates at our feet
and even though I’ve given up smoking we share
another rollie and wonder at the turning sleet.
Saying goodbye you begin to fret on the journey home.

You wave us off. We leave the city streets past
pools of yellow light and sheltering walls, the motorway
is silent, the way ahead turning to glass and white,
under the weight of snow how life becomes so small.

 

I began to write my first novel after a weekend workshop led by Julia Darling and Wendy Robertson in Bishop Auckland Town Hall. I hadn’t been sure about going. I was seriously lacking in confidence, not sure I could write or even wanted to but the weekend changed that.
Julia had a way of enticing and exciting you, a way of responding to your work which made you feel it was worth going on with, that you had a voice. Later, she was the first person apart from my friend and mentor Wendy, to say publicly, in her words, that I was a talented writer.

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