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Guernsey Guernsey Literature Poetry

Versatile, unflinching and soulful. Richard Fleming’s tour de force

Richard Fleming
Richard Fleming launches Stone Witness

Stone Witness by Richard Fleming, published by Blue Ormer Publishing

Richard Fleming’s new collection is a tour de force, harvesting poems which include some of his strongest work to date. The best of Richard Fleming’s work is possessed by soul; that unmistakable sense that the poem you are reading is inhabited by something other than mere words.

Stone Witness collects 40 poems , and it feels like a major collection. The two longest poems are the title poem, and The Murchen Quartet, quite magical in its hare imagery.

Midnight; a sickle moon, black trees in silhouette,
tall, jagged tops,
an electrocardiogram
scribbled on the night sky.

(The Murchen Quartet)

Into this charged landscape, a stranger arrives.

Kneeling, he opens a satchel,
secured by leather-made leash
and gently releases,
as though giving birth,
two leverets, supple and sinewy-soft

(The Murchen Quartet)

One of the many skills Richard Fleming has at his disposal is to conjure the natural world. But this moment of a man mysteriously giving birth in a meadow is starkly contrasted to other poems in this collection that brood unflinchingly on ageing and death. There is a  woman in Quarry drowned in time and drawn down by death’s dark current.

                            Drowned daughter
she descends through grey seams
hewn by generations
of quarrymen long dead

(Quarry)

while in Next Please, the horror of ageing is coldly explored.

staring, fearful, at the ceiling
or some mirage, in the corner,
no one else sees. The disorder
of their lives is like a puzzle:
pieces fail to fit together,
sky or trees or roof is missing.

(Next Please)

Richard Fleming was born in Northern Ireland, and in poems such as Titanic (built in Belfast) and His Mother Dances, and Picnic,  he strives to recall childhood details to give us glimpses of his early life.

The first image
is always a tartan rug,
then, swiftly, other items follow:
Dad’s parked Austin, monochrome,
Mum’s picnic basket, acres of beach,
Atlantic breakers rolling in
and, there, behind my milk-white shape,
huge sand-dunes rising.

(Picnic)

Richard Fleming’s experience of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, worked a strange magic on the poet. Instead of publishing poems about that conflict, his reaction was to celebrate life, in sometimes joyous poems that extol his adopted island home of Guernsey. Much of his writing on the island was collected in A Guernsey Double (2010) (aided by the Guernsey Arts Commission) as a two-person project with the current writer to pool our poetry about Guernsey and create a poetic landmark in the writing of the island.

To my mind this project culminated in October 2016, when Richard was commissioned to write a poem about the island, which stands as the eponymous centrepiece of this collection, Stone Witness. The broadcast of this poem was a magical moment, which celebrated the mysterious La Gran’mère du Chimquière, the 5-3,000 year old menhir standing outside St Martin’s Parish Church in Guernsey. This poem is destined to become a paean to the island itself.

Stone,
old, old stone, I groan with age.
Gran’mère, Earth Mother,
I stand sentry beyond the churchyard gate,
and watch, with sightless eyes,
the snail of human traffic creep along.

I am old and granite-cold: your islands anchor stone.

Your father’s fathers came to me
to pray, to lay or lift some minor curse:
an endless chain of island men,
one generation to another,
linked.

(Stone Witness)

There are moments of humour in this collection, such as his tribute to Philip Larkin, or in the miniature Eden: The Short Version, which can be fully quoted.

God gave Man
Paradise.
It all went
pear-shaped.

(Eden: The Short Version

This is a rich collection, and I cannot do justice to its versatility and scope here. There are apocalyptic visions, such as the extraordinary Last Moments, sketches of lost friends and family, and more political work such as Flotsam where we see a refugee washed ashore.

She lies face down
barely breathing,
a human starfish,
one black asterisk
referencing nothing.

Great credit is due to Steve Foote, the publisher of Blue Ormer Publishing, who has brought the island the book by Edward Chaney Genius Friend, about G.B. Edwards, author of The Book of Ebenzer Le Page. which I blogged about here.

As the pre-eminent poet on Guernsey, Richard Fleming’s wonderful collection is an important addition to the Blue Ormer list, and to the story of Guernsey poetry.

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A Guernsey Double a writer's life Guernsey Literature

Genius Friend

GeniusFriendCover1

Edward Chaney’s long-awaited book on G.B. Edwards, Genius Friend is being published and launched at the Guernsey Literary Festival today. And I’m very sad that I’m not there to see it.

G.B. Edwards wrote The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, which is by a country mile the best book written about Guernsey.  It is essentially Ebenezer’s long life story, and is the most authentic representation of life on the island from the late nineteenth century till the 1960s. It is a tour de force of storytelling.

There is a remarkable connection between author and subject here. G.B. Edwards was a friend of the author when Chaney was a young art student, and Edward was struggling to finish the novel. With Chaney’s encouragement the old writer completed the task, and left the manuscript to Chaney who, after a struggle, was able to find a publisher for it in 1981.

I was lucky enough to meet Edward Chaney through mutual friends Jane Mosse (now Fleming) and Richard Fleming in 2010. Jane has helped Chaney with research for the book. And Edward Chaney was also kind enough to write the introduction for A Guernsey Double, the book of poems by Richard Fleming and myself.

Click through here to read what Richard has written about it the publication of Genius Friend on his blog here.

I can’t wait to read Edward’s book, whose lovely title was taken from this sad portrayal of G.B. Edward’s life in The Spectator in 1982. But more I personally love this book because it ends in the sixties, when I lived as a little child on the island, and reminds me of my Grandfather and other family members. It is a kind of pre-history to a part of my own life. Most of all I empathise with the pervading feeling of sadness present in the book, written by a man in self-imposed exile from the island he loves.

A glowing endorsement

A Guernsey Double is about to be published. This is a project I have dreamed about doing since I started writing over thirty years ago. And at long, long last it is happening, and endorsed by the Guernsey Arts Commission to boot.

Amusingly given the length of time I have been thinking about the project, it turns out I did not have quite enough material. So the last few months have been spent in a frenzy of writing new poems. And while I am delighted with the results, I find I am nervously tinkering in the last few days with the new ones, and still noticing infelicities, which is worrying.

The book is a two person collection of poetry about the island of Guernsey by Richard Fleming and myself. Professor Edward Chaney has been kind enough to write the introduction: “Not since the extraordinarily poetic Book of Ebenezer Le Page has a single volume made the soul of the island so unremittingly its focus”, he says at one point. This is clearly rather good.

I have briefed Betsy Alvarez who is providing some excellent cover ideas for us. I am having to pinch myself.

Note to self: do not have the launch event the same day as an England World Cup match.

A Guernsey Double

Delighted to say that my book with Richard Fleming has received an endorsement from the Guernsey Arts Commission. Additionally Edward Chaney, who is the literary executor of G.B.Edwards, who wrote the best novel about the Island ever, has agreed in principle to write a short introduction for us.

Richard and I are now in the last throes of making sure our material is up to scratch.

Re-reading Ebenezer

Have begun re-reading The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by G. B. Edwards. This remains the best book ever written about Guernsey.

The book was published posthumously. Edwards’ literary executor, Edward Chaney succeeded where Edwards had failed in finding a publisher. If, when Edwards sent it out, The Book of Ebenezer Le Page was given more than a second glance, it would have seemed hard to categorise: and publishers love their categories. The plot of The Book of Ebenezer Le Page meanders with the haphazardness of real life. An apparent lack of artifice which we can now see enhances the vivid reality of the characters.

It is also interesting to me that Edwards was in self imposed exile from the island for most of his life. He lived in London for many years and, after his retirement, lived in Weymouth instead of returning to Guernsey. There was some sort of family feud, and he had been disinherited. Weymouth was the port where the old mailboats Sarnia and Cesarea used to leave for the islands. So he was almost in touch.

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Guernsey Literature

Literature in Guernsey – an untold story

I have been working towards creating an Anthology of literature about Guernsey, as I believe the island’s best kept secret is its literary tradition.

I think there are three sources of this literature. The first that written by Guernsey people about their own island (such as G.B. Edwards The Book of Ebenezer Le Page). The second would be derived from those who have discovered Guernsey (such as Victor Hugo) and the third would be literature of the Guernsey diaspora – the work of exiles.

Literature about the island has never been collected with imagination and authority. Thankfully there have been heartening artistic initiatives on the island in the last year or so, which have begun to offer more stimulus to Guernsey’s cultural life.

The current wider economic uncertainty means that Guernsey’s tourism industry may become even more important. I’ve proposed to Guernsey Arts that an imaginative and professional anthology of Guernsey literature could be a real asset to the island, and have long term benefits for Guernsey as a whole.

Here’s why:

  • Guernsey already captures the imaginations of people around the world. For I have been using Twitter in the last few weeks to search for mentions of Guernsey on the Internet. More than half of what is being said about Guernsey, in this planet-wide snapshot, was about the recent novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. Literature is a window on the world for the island.
  • Literature about Guernsey is a great untapped natural resource. To visit a place, you first have to visit it in your imagination. If successful, an anthology of Guernsey literature could stimulate tourism and support the local economy. As this anthology aims to include material from people of the Guernsey diaspora, which makes it a book stuffed with reasons to visit or revisit the island.
  • Literature about Guernsey is an uncharted region. This anthology should contribute both arts and education in Guernsey. Having an idea of what got us to this point culturally will help the Island move forward with a clearer sense of its own identity.
  • There’s never been a better time to express Guernsey’s vitality and culture. At a time of globalisation, it is vital to retain Guernsey’s unique selling points. Until now its literature is a tool which has not been employed.

Signs thus far have been positive. Watch this space.

Literature in Guernsey – an untold story

I have been working towards creating an Anthology of literature about Guernsey, as I believe the island’s best kept secret is its literary tradition.

I think there are three sources of this literature. The first that written by Guernsey people about their own island (such as G.B. Edwards The Book of Ebenezer Le Page). The second would be derived from those who have discovered Guernsey (such as Victor Hugo) and the third would be literature of the Guernsey diaspora – the work of exiles.

Literature about the island has never been collected with imagination and authority. Thankfully there have been heartening artistic initiatives on the island in the last year or so, which have begun to offer more stimulus to Guernsey’s cultural life.

The current wider economic uncertainty means that Guernsey’s tourism industry may become even more important. I’ve proposed to Guernsey Arts that an imaginative and professional anthology of Guernsey literature could be a real asset to the island, and have long term benefits for Guernsey as a whole.

Here’s why:

  • Guernsey already captures the imaginations of people around the world. For I have been using Twitter in the last few weeks to search for mentions of Guernsey on the Internet. More than half of what is being said about Guernsey, in this planet-wide snapshot, was about the recent novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. Literature is a window on the world for the island.
  • Literature about Guernsey is a great untapped natural resource. To visit a place, you first have to visit it in your imagination. If successful, an anthology of Guernsey literature could stimulate tourism and support the local economy. As this anthology aims to include material from people of the Guernsey diaspora, which makes it a book stuffed with reasons to visit or revisit the island.
  • Literature about Guernsey is an uncharted region. This anthology should contribute both arts and education in Guernsey. Having an idea of what got us to this point culturally will help the Island move forward with a clearer sense of its own identity.
  • There’s never been a better time to express Guernsey’s vitality and culture. At a time of globalisation, it is vital to retain Guernsey’s unique selling points. Until now its literature is a tool which has not been employed.

Signs thus far have been positive. Watch this space.