Lesley talks to neo:writers about her work, and how it has been shaped by childhood rhymes and the landscape of memory.
Equation: x2 + y2 = r2
Giotto’s circle for the Pope, freehand, blood red, a perfect, painted O, the mouth of God without compasses.
The halo gleams – cold – faintly luminous above a circlet of thorns.
o o O O the circumference of joy and pain, pain and joy, the cervix dilates, a small skull crowned in the corona.
Ripening gibbous moon, about to fruit for harvest, black cataract eclipsing the sun’s blazing iris.
Derivation ‘kirkos’ (Greek) – from the base ‘ker’ which means to turn or bend
The furnace red-hot, tongs and hammers, iron softened, beaten, bent and turned to wheel or hoop, ductile flakes of silver tapped and wrought – rings for fingers –
in the crucible, molten gold, for trysts, aureoles of love and marriage, girdles of possession.
Twist the willow, loop and coil a cradling web, a dream charm to banish nightmares.
A simple shape of Euclidean geometry
The precise, concentric calendars of trees, time caught in woody annuli. Across the drifting water, perfect ripples spool from fallen seed cases.
Citrus slices, acid geometry dazzling the tongue, saffron coloured yolks, scarlet berries and yellow-eyed daisies, the buff and honey oak-apples with their dark pinholes of escape.
Grindstones, millstones, standing stones and circus rings, spinning wheels, pulley wheels, ferris wheels and carousels.
Ring-a-ring-a falling roses, bullet holes, time decomposes tick tockwise, clockwise, not anti-clockwise – the circle closes.
To listen to ‘Circle’ please click below.
“Lesley Quayle is a poet and folk/blues singer. She is widely published and has recently released a new collection ‘Sessions’ (Indigo Dreams Publishing) and is currently working on a novel. Born in Scotland but currently living in a remote part of Dorset, she spent most of her adult life living in rural Yorkshire with her husband, four children and a flock of Herdwick sheep. For 10 years she was co-editor of Aireings, a Leeds based poetry magazine. In 2010 her chapbook, ‘Songs For Lesser Gods’ featuring her award winning sequence of sonnets of the same title was published by erbacce press. She plays the guitar badly and the bodhran with enthusiasm.”
SD Hello, Lesley, and welcome to the neo:blog. Wonderful to have you here.
LQ Thank you.
SD When I first read your poem ‘circle’ I was instantly struck that it was not only constructed as a stream of consciousness, but that the poem seems to argue with itself at times. For example “Ring-a-ring-a falling roses, bullet holes, time decomposes tick tockwise, clockwise, not anti-clockwise – the circle closes.” Playing with a child’s rhyme to describe an adult awareness of mortality, to me this is the poem wrestling with itself. Does that ring true with yourself as the poet?
LQ The rhymes and rhythms found in simple children’s verses often resonate with people as they are the first examples of poetry most of us encounter. Used within an adult context, they can enhance a meaning, an image, a story and make it all the more memorable and interesting. And also, sometimes I just enjoy playing with rhyme – picking it up and running with it. The idea for the poem originated from a dictionary definition, which initiated a chain of thought around the specific, precise mathematics and science of a circle and the perfect human artistry of Giotto’s freehand drawing. Science, maths, art – different disciplines, often portrayed as antithetical, the scene was already set for contradiction.
SD But I also sense that there is a metaphoric element to this poem. It cannot be taken as simple description or surface level thought. The poem seems to move through the seasons in the way it references, “about to fruit for harvest”, “Twist the willow” and “scarlet berries and yellow-eyed daisies” all draw a Spring Summer picture in my mind, but then in the final line the roses fall and the circle closes. I feel that this poem is about a life, or perhaps the thoughts that might go through a mind in the final moments of life. Does that premise resonate with you?
LQ There are generally different layers of meaning in any poem depending upon how the person reading it chooses to interpret it. People often see things in my work which I may not have consciously intended to say – which is fascinating as the creator and, very occasionally, somewhat disconcerting. My work is very influenced by the natural world, both as metaphor and literally, and the ‘circle’ of life and death, as evoked by nature, is not an entirely uncommon theme in my poetry.
SD Amazing, and is this stream of consciousness or imagist approach a constant theme throughout your work?
LQ Not usually. Having had the initial idea and been intrigued by it, I wasn’t really sure how to handle it or where it was going, so I just sat down and began to write. I have to admit, I was quite surprised, but nonetheless pleased, that the words seemed to assemble themselves into the bones of a poem quite quickly. However, it did need tweaking and editing when I’d finished to better flesh out those bones, but I enjoyed the initial stream of consciousness process enough to repeat the experiment with another poem about gold.
SD And can you also sustain this stream through your form poems, your sonnets for example, or do you take a more classical approach with form poetry?
LQ That really depends on the subject matter. I enjoy writing form poems, particularly sonnets and villanelles. However, although I do usually stick with the classical approach, I have written many which don’t adhere strictly to the form. More often than not, I allow the subject to dictate the form and breaking the rules often generates a better poem.
SD Now, you’re also a musician, a folk and blues singers. How big an influence has music been on your poetry, or is it the other way round and your poetry influenced your music?
LQ When people ask me what I ‘do’ I usually answer that I’m a poet and singer. The music and poetry are completely inter- twined. I would have immense difficulty choosing between them if I had to but I’m not sure how much influence one has on the other. When I learn a new song, I’m often attracted to the lyrics before I really hear the tune and, as a bodhran, spoons and bones player, rhythm and beat are vital to me, so I think that must factor into my poetry too.
SD And did you start writing poetry first and then come onto music, or was it versa vice?
LQ I took great delight in words and songs from a very early age. I grew up surrounded by a family of women who made-up and told stories and sang folk songs, music hall ditties and, in the case of my grandmother, hymns whilst she was doing any boring household chores. My mother read poetry to us when we were children and encouraged us to explore the world of literature. I’ve been singing in folk clubs since I was fourteen, at which age I was also editing a school poetry journal. So, it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation – music-poetry/poetry-music, no idea which came first.
SD Do you find being part of a creative collective, as you are with your music, has strengthened your work, or do you prefer to work in isolation and only come together for the actual performance?
LQ When I’m writing I have to do it in isolation. I’m afraid I turn into a Greta Garbo and ‘want to be alone.’ I think I’m too easily distracted otherwise. For me, personally, writing is an entirely solitary pursuit and even performing it can be a somewhat lonely event, I’ve found. I sing with my guitarist husband and we learn our respective parts separately, coming together to fine tune the whole before going public. We also play regularly at Irish music sessions and as part of spontaneous ‘jam’ sessions in local pubs with other musicians. There does seem to be much more of a collective, interactive, spontaneous bond of creativity between us all as musicians, which I love. But, for poetry, I definitely need peace and quiet and space.
SD Now, you wrote a series of sonnets under the title of ‘Songs For Lesser Gods’, the title alone intrigues me, makes me think you have written them for mankind, and we are the lesser gods. Can you tell us more about them and how they were received?
LQ ‘Songs For Lesser Gods’ is a series of four sonnets, written in the aftermath of the 2001 foot and mouth crisis, which features in my 2009 pamphlet of the same title (erbacce press). At the time of the outbreak, we had a small farm in Yorkshire, where I bred Herdwick sheep. Hill farming is relentlessly hard work and pretty thankless and I felt that we were forever at the mercy of the gods – “the God of Broken Mouths, the God of Thankless Tasks, the God of Lambs and Sleepless Nights.” Then came foot and mouth – “the God of Plague” – which made all the other ‘lesser gods’ pale into insignificance. It was, obviously, on one level, a record of a tragic train of events but, on another hand, it is also a metaphor for life in general. It won the Trewithen Prize for nature poetry and is often requested at readings.
SD Excellent. So are you working on anything at the moment, a new collection, or an album maybe?
LQ I have just had a new collection published by Indigo Dreams called ‘Sessions’ which has, at its core, a series of poems about various session musicians and buskers. The other thread which runs through it is that of the landscape and folk of my beloved Yorkshire Dales, a huge influence on my work over the years. I’m currently working on a new collection of poems about street beggars and homeless people and finishing off my first novel, a dark psychological thriller based in Leeds.
SD And when/where can we see more of that?
LQ ‘Sessions’ is available now from Indigo Dreams Press (indigodreams.co.uk) I have had some interest expressed in my novel from a publisher, and I hope to have finished by the end of the year.
SD Wonderful. Lesley, thank you very much.
LQ Thank you too.
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