Valerie Lynch was born in Hertfordshire, but spent many childhood holidays visiting Dorset relatives, She now lives in a Guildford. After completing a degree at Oxford she worked variously as an archaeologist, a teacher of economics and a psychotherapist, in a long snd varied working life. Now ninety years old, she has been writing poetry all her life and has had poems published by The Rialto and Iota, among other literary journals. "So the Sky" is her first collection: we're publishing another collection by Valeriein June 2019. She is also in the process of completing a novel set in Roman Britain.
62 pages, W15cm x H21cm
127 pages, W15cm x H21cm
“‘So the Sky’ speaks from the slippery, strange and fantastical world of the very young and very old, and the nature of what can be understood and communicated across the divides of human experience. Drawing from a life rooted under a Dorset sky, and lived elsewhere, these warm, earthy poems are themselves like the finds of an archaeologist, revealing small intimacies of friendships, of neighbourly acts, of belonging and alienation.
Lynch’s style and form is spare, bringing a vivid energy, humour and poignancy to her richly observed writing. These are poems to read in one sitting, and then return to with a wry smile.”
A Review of So the Sky by Emma Lee in The High Window April 2019
So the Sky is Valerie Lynch’s first collection. Although she’s written poems throughout her life, it’s only recently, after a lengthy career part of which was spent as an archaeologist and historian, she’s sought publication. The poems themselves are economical, offering images and aspects to build to a whole. This makes it difficult to quote from them because context is key. The title poem is conveniently short and can be quoted in whole:
My next house will have a room
without a roof, so the sky
can come inside, bats fly around
and sparrows fidget about
companionably in the eaves.
And when winter comes, my friend will bring me
an oilskin hat and say, ‘If you won’t have a roof,
at least wear this.’
Its style is fairly exemplary. It uses assonance and alliterative sound patterns. The potentially twee descriptions, e.g. ‘sparrows fidget about/ companionably’, are apt in the context of the impracticality of having a roof-less room. But it’s also possible to build an image of the poem’s narrator. The friend doesn’t try to persuade the speaker to build a roof but seeks to make the vision possible by providing a waterproof hat. One senses that the narrator enjoys being in nature but may be less mobile or anticipating a reduction in mobility – the only season named is winter so the narrator could be in the winter of her life – and seeks to bring nature to her.
‘Ancestors, West Dorset’ ends on a question: ‘You come and go as you will, / but where do you call home?’ which is partially answered in ‘It’s’:
A kingfisher’s delicate vigil
above the water’s edge by Litton Cheney,
as night-time voices flutter down
from the old White Horse.
It’s the lonely Roman road
still sieving the night
for the cohorts
limping home over Askerswell,
and the dusky blue
before the dawn falls over the hills
from Lewesdon to Eggardon,
and up to Pilsdon Pen.
The place names root the poem in Dorset, but the pub’s customers making their way home is universal so even those not familiar with the Dorset landscape can still engage with the poem. Memories of growing up are interspersed with poems of landscape. In ‘Granny T.’
I cycled over to see you each day after school
to sit and not say a word, and you
not saying word to me, just leaving me be.
This companionable silence is broken by the girl’s mother arriving to take her home. The poem ends:
They robbed me of your dying,
of its smell of urine and half-washed skin;
even the grave and giving you back
to the smell of your Dorset earth.
The smells come as a surprise because they’ve not been set up in the opening stanzas, but they also signal a change. The girl has been excluded from the end of her grandmother’s life so is evoking her memories through smell. Whereas the gentler memories of familiarity are evoked through friendly silence. Not all memories are welcomed, e.g. in ‘Wedding’ which ended in amicable divorce:
I had worn a different hat,
but no-one actually laughed.
refuse to acknowledge
the face in the wedding photos.
I know it is how I look
but it is not myself.”
The ending injects hindsight and seeks to look for forewarnings of the future to come which wasn’t known at the time the wedding photos were taken. Although the poem looks back, the final comment keeps readers in the present so it doesn’t feel nostalgic or as if it only meant something to the writer. Another looking back poem is full of poignancy, ‘Barricades’, which starts with a group of girls, ‘marinated by nannies, nurseries and limousines’ in an Oxford college where snow has fallen outside:
and here in my room a huddle of girls by a half-starved
fire, eating mother’s home-baked cakes.
They listen with care, they are easy and kind.
We share coal, we fraternise till it’s dark.
A gathering’s planned at the Randolph, a taxi to town;
their eyes wander, translating me into space.
I seem to have swallowed my voice,
and it aches inside.
It illustrates that working class unease, that feeling that at any moment the poem’s narrator, despite earning her place at Oxford, will be uncovered as not one of the privileged girls and forever marked as an outsider.
Waiting for publication in this case has paid off. The poems in So the Sky are spare and focused, use poetic devices in free verse form to illustrate their point and, although most are looking back in time, they do so with historian’s forensic eye.
Emma Lee’s most recent collection is Ghosts in the Desert (IDP, UK 2015), she co-edited Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge, (Five Leaves, UK, 2015), reviews for The Blue Nib, The High Window, The Journal, London Grip and Sabotage Reviews. She blogs at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com.