Between darkness and darkness, through a gap
in blackout curtains, I watch the washed-out
northern sun as it crawls, like an albino
spider across a gable of bone-white brick –
listen to the pair with nothing to say
to each other, sit on the wall and say
it at length – imagine a world where all
directions matter, not only here, only
north, only you as you drew me: magnet
to my compass; lighted mead-hall to my
sparrow, in its moment out of the night.
I was born in Yorkshire and have chosen to spend most of my life there. I love the landscapes of the north – the Yorkshire Dales, moors and coast, the Lake District fells and the border country of Northumbria. I also have a soft spot for many of the northern cities, including my home city of Bradford, and Newcastle, where my wife was living when I first met her.
All the signs are gagged, bandaged in snow,
that still spirals down, shrinking the dwindling triangle
on the windscreen. You have to keep going
– the child in the back – to the steep cobbled street
where he clings to your waist, hobbling black ice.
Home spits in your face, sinks you in slush,
slaps down your hopes like a wounded mother
in some cold-blooded myth, testing you.
Until he arrives, flies a red kite, holds your boy’s hand,
holds you, hot in the morning, hooped in a dawning of trust.
The thaw starts. It tests you that he stays, and you stayed.
My mother’s family were from Tyneside, but moved to London before the second world war. She married my father and we moved to Northern Ireland, but the marriage failed. When my own first marriage broke down, I moved North with my small son, aiming for Leeds, but settling in Sheffield were I met my second husband. We’ve lived here for more than 30 years, teaching, writing, and contributing to city’s amazing cultural scene. The poem describes my winter arrival in Sheffield, and my slow learning that a place can hold you, and love can last.
We ran down the jigger, past paint-peeled doors
that closed each tiny yard behind the back-to-backs;
we kicked and scarpered, but nothing happened:
no bugger in shirt sleeves came out shouting;
no prune-faced dog offered us its teeth;
no shrill voice screamed; no threats, no chase,
no scuffer bashing his boots on the flags.
What’s mischief for, if no one notices?
Later, such light transgressions yielded
to the more painful, practised wrongs
it is our triumph to excel at.
Born and brought up in Liverpool where my family has lived for generations it is, naturally, the Northern city for me and shaped me in ways I probably can’t even detect. Like the best patriots I don’t actually live there now (I am in the hills of Wales, a country which had such a profound influence on Liverpool) but it’s in my blood stream and I have written many poems about the city and my growing up there. What I cherish about battered Britannia is not the flummery of our national institutions but our regional variations, flavours and habits of speech and mind. May they thrive! Liverpool dialect: a jigger is a narrow alley between two rows of back-to-back houses; a scuffer, a policeman.
They say that exile clarifies things – who can tell?
To ask ‘county or country’ is to miss the point,
it’s not something that’s easy to articulate
and neither is it a matter of volition.
We stop for a sandwich in the leeward shelter
of a dry-stone wall on a high Pennine ridge.
A profound, wordless conversation is unfolding –
I could be with my father, or with my own daughter.
The sky is stoic; by turns threatening and comforting.
We look down on the cities while we yearn for the moors –
we carry this with us wherever; forever.
It would be facile to declare that it’s innate – Doncaster is as near to Nottingham as to York – but my emotional connection is with cities, towns, villages and landscape stretching northwards from my home. My family emanate from South and East Yorkshire as far back as I can trace them; my language and cultural references are distinctly of the area. I define myself as from Yorkshire first and northern second, though there is a definite blurring of those lines for me. My personality and my soul are rooted in the North - it’s about belonging, affiliation and identity.
I look behind at everything I felt was safe –
boring, as I used to moan. Rented bricks, laddering
tight terraces with fretful cracks, plastered back to health
with licks and promises. Steps scrubbed clean each week; brass
polished to reflect the purity of soul; doors ajar to trumpet
trust. Every dinner preordained by day till Friday fish;
telly set in stone. Once I’d left the pit, I gulped down
fresher air, frittering my coal stocks in the south.
The miners’ cottages are matched in Antique Mist,
garden storage where the outside lavs had been.
I see the smoke rise from the new wood-burning stoves and smile.
I spent my childhood in a West Riding mining area, until I left home for student life in the south. I have bounced back from various points around the country, returning regularly to visit friends and relatives in Yorkshire. Last year the final bond with my home town was broken. I had visited my last close relative weekly over years of declining health until her death, and I had to sell the family home where we had all lived at some point. I am still irredeemably drawn to see the place again; I still call it home.
There’s no sense of her left here. Nothing but
Empty rooms and blank space. No dust, no small
Marks, no odd bits or unnoticed fragments
That would bring up a life. Gone. Someone’s cleared
The place of her too well. And I can’t put
My finger on it, but it feels wrong, all
Of her is gone and no one cares she went.
Surely, a few dry needles from her tree
Of life cling here like femmer ghosts? They don’t,
Of course. Her sort never makes history.
You get what you make of life. Or you won’t.
I am English born, of English blood. Because my family emigrated when I was 6 months old, I was disconnected from so much of my living Northern root; it still hurts. I married another disconnected Northerner; the Hobson family came to the US originally from Yorkshire.
My babies were born in the South, now we are all packed in a van,
inching along the M5. Northbound.
Our house packed in boxes; half neatly labelled,
half thrown in anyhow. Nuts and bolts rolling free in the bottom,
reassembling furniture promises to be interesting.
My babies sleep amongst favourite toys,
unaware of their shift in gravity, this homecoming,
their roots are unearthed, about to be re-potted.
A lorry is on the hard shoulder. Cab ablaze.
As we crawl past this moment is seared into my memory:
We pass and race away homewards, while behind us the road is closed.
I was born in Manchester and grew up in Dukinfield. I moved away for University but moved back to Dukinfield shortly after the birth of my two children, I now live back in Dukinfield surrounded by family.
“Everyone is Welcome Here” – WHQ
In voluntary exile, I travelled north at the end of a century,
found the headquarters of the world on a street in Newcastle.
Every Thursday Friday Saturday night, muscle memory carried me
from The Forth, from The Tele’, from The World-Famous Trent House,
a holy trinity of pubs all leading to Worldies, where whatever shade
your skin, you were welcome. The dance floor was an embrace.
Music flooded my ears, poured out of my body as sweat
and at the bar, I drank in language, bathed in dialect.
For once in a lifetime, we had it sussed. Here was an extended family
of our own choosing. Nowhere felt more like home,
a version of the world that doesn’t exist.
I visited Newcastle in the summer of 1999. I fell in love with the city, with the Northumbrian coast, and never went home.