I’ve always had a thing for graveyards – the way they are often wild, peaceful spaces within cities; the whole Goth aesthetic of wonky angels; the old names and implied stories on every stone. There’s nothing I like better than a pilgrimage to a literary grave too: the sense of somehow being in that writer’s presence. There are some fantastic literary burial places in London – most recently Gruff and I went to see Marlowe’s in Deptford, in a churchyard with giant stone skulls on its gate, and I love Bunhill Fields where Blake and Defoe are buried, and Highgate cemetery where Dante Gabriel Rossetti dug up Lizzie Siddal’s grave to get his poems back. My favourite is probably behind the little known St Pancras Old Church, worth a visit if you’re between trains at King’s Cross, where there’s a tree surrounded by densely packed headstones, moved there by the young Thomas Hardy to make way for the railway (the most Victorian story I’ve ever heard.) Mary Wollestonecraft is also buried there, and her daughter Mary used the tomb as an excuse for meetings with Percy Bysshe Shelley, during which they planned their elopement.
This week at Lumb Bank in Yorkshire I made my usual pilgrimage along the footpath to Plath’s grave, although I think perhaps hers is the saddest literary burial spot I know of – she seems so alone up there, among strangers in a place that was never really home.
My co-tutor on the course, Neil Rollinson, had just set a found poetry exercise for the students, and I ‘found’ poems everywhere – perhaps most apt was the sign on a gate that declared:
Hell Hole Rocks
This path is NOT a public right of way
Previously I’ve seen all sorts of weird tributes left by fans: a bottle of black nail polish; a stone painted with the legend ‘I hate men’. This time there were only coins and plastic flowers, and a bizarre letter wrapped in plastic. After declaring ‘I have to leave something of myself’ it instead finished with a muddled piece of text about death being a radical transformation, unaccredited and explained by the note: ‘I have amended the quote I found in order to reflect my own truth’. Which sums a certain kind of Plath fan up rather nicely…
In other poetic news, returning home this weekend I found an anthology waiting for me: 1914: Poetry Remembers, edited by Carol Ann Duffy
It is another kind of memorial: poppy red, and filled with both familiar and unfamiliar WW1 poems alongside new poetic responses to them. Being asked to write about war was a difficult brief. Most of the contemporary poets, including myself, have been lucky enough never to have to fight or witness war in our country: it would be easy to regurgitate platitudes about peace, or wallow in unearned sentiment. Having just had Gruff when I got the commission, I chose to respond to Margaret Postgate Cole’s ‘Afterwards’ with a poem about mothers and sons, and have been very interested so far in seeing how other poets found an angle on the material.