Categories
A Guernsey Double Guernsey Guernsey Literature Poetry Richard Fleming

Richard Fleming’s magnificent poem for the BBC: La Gran’mère du Chimquière

I feel very proud of my friend Richard Fleming this week. As the best poet on Guernsey, Richard was recently approached by the BBC to write a poem for the National Poetry Day. The poem, La Gran’mère du Chimquière read by Richard, should be – must be – listened to here. Drop in at the 41 minute mark or a smidge before.

In 2010 Richard and I released a collection of poems about Guernsey called A Guernsey Double, and in it there are a few attempts by Richard and I to nail the significance of the menhir La Gran’mère du Chimquière. However in this new poem Richard has succeeded in a way neither of us has managed before, and has created a poem of magnificent sweep and stature, that may just be the single best poem ever written about the island.

Not only is this a spellbinding, poem, but it is also a wonderful piece of radio too. A heartfelt reading by Richard capturing a charged silence and the obviously moved reaction of Guernsey’s much-loved presenter Jenny Kendall-Tobias, and fellow writer Jane Fleming, Richard’s lovely wife. Jenny is the most consistently supportive broadcaster for literature in the island, and it is fitting that she and Richard and Jane created this amazing moment of radio, one  that the whole island should be proud of.

Here are two photos of Richard. One looking relaxed, and the other, a snap the pair of us with the La Gran’mère back in 2010, with Richard looking heroic and haunted by a future muse.

img_1208r-and-p-and-g

Categories
A Guernsey Double Guernsey Guernsey Literature

La Gran’mère, a Guernsey goddess

granmere%202I am an idolater. This is not something many of us can say in this godless age.

My Goddess is somewhere between three and five thousand years old. She was hewn from a large lump of granite until, around the time of the Romans, she was carved again, adding the garments and, possibly, the face she wears now.

She is known as La Gràn’Mère du Chim’tière, in the Guernsey French of Marie De Garis — whose Folklore of Guernsey (1975) is a peerless source of information about the island’s traditions— or La Gran’mère du Chimquière; the Grandmother of the Cemetery. And she stands just outside the consecrated ground of St Martin’s Parish church, next to the gate that opens into the churchyard. Those who walk into the charming parish church pass something that has existed twice as long as Christianity itself.

She is a bone fide graven image. You can tell this because, in 1860, a zealous churchwarden called Tourel grew furious at the reverence being paid to her by parishioners and ordered the La Gran’mère to be destroyed. This desecration was successfully achieved, and she was broken in half. Such was the outcry among local inhabitants, however, that she was mended with cement and relocated to her current position. To this day offerings of flowers and coins are left on her head.

The Guide to the Parish Church of St. Martin says “the Church stands on the site of a Neolithic tomb-shrine below which two springs emerge. One, La Fontaine de la Bellouse was said to have healing powers.” It is still a pleasant spot, despite the white van that seems to be perpetually parked in front of La Gran’mère every time I visit.

In fact I have been checking in with this Goddess for more than fifty years. I have a compulsion to visit her as one of the first things I do every time I return to the island. And although I don’t quite stand in the lane talking aloud to her, there is some daft part of me that thinks an update on my life is somehow downloaded into the impassive stone.

She is not an insubstantial being whose appearance is unknowable. This divine chunk of ancient history is not fenced off, and stands completely unprotected on the street. You can touch her; she has a tangible reality.

After my own grandmother’s funeral service in St Martin’s church, my grandfather, whose legs had become weak with the day’s events, paused to steady himself, leaning on La Gran’mère’s shoulder completely unselfconsciously.
Gran'mere 25Oct
My friend Richard Fleming and I collaborated on our book A Guernsey Double. We both wrote about about La Gran’mère, but from opposite perspectives. For Richard she is  something to be hurried past: “yet, as I pass with dogs that cringe/ and shy away from nameless harm,/ the day seems darker,/far less warm.” While for me she has become something to which, bizarrely enough, I turn for comfort “Anchor me, Gran’mère,/ my stone tongue/ is tapping my teeth;/ anchor me/in my night storm,/in my heart worn/exhaustion.”

Although I personally worship La Gran’mère I will leave the last words to Marie De Garis.

Looked at during the daytime la gràn’mère wears a very benign look, but photographs taken by flashlight at night reveal quite a different aspect. She then looks a fierce and malevolent object.