Poet of Honour, an accolade by Ars Notoria and Word Masala Foundation, celebrates our best contemporary poets we should have read by now. They are iconic and a major inspiration.
I remember-not a long ago-Ruth lost her mother. Her heartbreak was felt by many of us as friends. So, her collection Emerald was timely. In the eighties, I managed high-end opticians in Wigmore Street at the corner of Wimpole Street, not far from where Ruth was born in the attic of her great-aunt’s house. Hence to me, in a way, her aura was always around the corner! I have also come to know her through Nehru Centre and friends. Therefore, to present her as our Poet of Honour for this Christmas is an exceptional opportunity for me. To be in the company of Imtiaz Dharker last Christmas made our festive outing exquisite. This year, I hope you will equally enjoy Ruth’s presence with us.
Ruth is one of seventy-two great-great-grandchildren of Charles Darwin. So, it is no surprise that she is drawn to science. Her experimental collection, The Mara Crossing, offers us the taste of it. If it occasionally feels parched due to hard science in the book, it also discharges gentle spirit and lyrical skips through many such lines as these:
You go because you heard a cuckoo call. You go because
you’ve met someone, you made a vow, there are no more
grasshoppers. You go because the cold is coming, spring
is coming, soldiers are coming: plague, flood, an ice age,
a new religion, a new idea. You go because the world rotates,
because the world is changing and you’ve lost the key.
See how it resonates with our current troubled time!
All great poets have a deep sense of music and how words assemble in line with that sate of mind. But Ruth’s understanding of it goes deeper. She grew up playing chamber music and singing, and took raga lessons. Singing and playing music of all kinds, especially classical and world music, informs her work deeply.
Ruth has interest in paintings as well and says, “I cannot paint myself but my poetry draws on looking and imagining, painting and drawing. The narrator of Daughters of the Labyrinth is a painter. There is also nature, science and the environment. (A little about my background, including Charles Darwin, here). I am a Trustee for New Networks for Nature, an alliance of scientists, environmentalists and artists who believe the natural world is central to cultural life; and am currently working on a book about elephants to follow my tiger book.”
Ruth Padel has won the first prize in one of our most coveted awards, the National Poetry Competition. The quality of her work has remained timeless with much enviable consistency. Unfortunately, we lost her as Oxford’s first female Professor of Poetry with only nine days in an appointment. The unanswered question around it remains: would Derek Walcott have survived the post with all the allegations chasing him? Sir Isaiah Berlin would have been quick to point out the higgledy-piggledy nature of purist morality and its proponents!
All Ruth’s engaging journeys, stories and work collectively propose her as no ordinary Poet of Honour. Enjoy her presence at your Christmas table!
-Yogesh Patel MBE
Poems by Ruth Padel
HIS MOTHER WARMS HIS FEET ON A BOAT
‘What is marriage but a little joy and then a chain of sorrows?’
Maria van Beethoven to Cäcelie Fischer
He goes to school dirty. They say his mother must be dead
call him Spaniard because he is dark
tease him about his name. He leaves school
to play the viola
in the briary tangle of an orchestra.
He wears a sea-green coat, a wig, a little sword.
At home he writes concertos
pitching the wonders of modulation
against his father’s blows.
Gliding north with her down the Rhine
on a winter concert tour, their one journey together,
she keeps him warm, holding his feet in her lap.
The Place without a Door
Listen. There are dragons under cities
and monsters in white spaces on sea maps.
Sangatte is Gap-in-Sand. When we were there
we knew it was The Place Without a Door –
that commune on the coast of France
facing water which the English
call English Channel. A border
for which many men, and women, too,
have died. Mark the spot in my brother’s heart
where he built a cardboard shrine
for our wasteland jungle. Check the wall
where someone graffed, Nous voulons de l’air
pour nos enfants. The cement octagons
where we hid at night to rush the axle
of Spanish lorries. The bridge where my brother
jumped that train into the tunnel.
TIGER DRINKING AT FOREST POOL
Water, moonlight, danger, dream.
Bronze urn, angled on a tree-root: one
Slash of light, then gone. A red moon
Seen through clouds, or almost seen.
Treasure found but lost, flirting between
The worlds of lost and found. An unjust law
Repealed, a wish come true, a lifelong
Sadness healed. Haven, in the mind,
To anyone hurt by littleness. A prayer,
For the moment, saved; treachery forgiven.
Flame of the crackle-glaze tangle, amber
Reflected in grey milk-jade. An old song
Remembered, long debt paid.
A painting on silk, which may fade.
To read poets honoured previously here is a roll call; please click on the name.