Running Deer, linocut, by Babs Pease
For a relatively compact city, Sheffield – our closest metropolis – is a hive of culture, creativity and composition. Over the last month, Sheffield’s curious minds have been soothed by Off the Shelf, one of the UK’s largest literary festivals, as writers, poets and thinkers have been spouting forth in various venues across the city. Acclaimed poet and one of Sheffield’s own, Helen Mort, took to the stage alongside Stuart Maconie at The Leadmill last week with the pair’s ‘poetry pub crawl’ – a collection of contemporary poetry celebrating the nation’s favourite sanctuary.
Helen was, for a while, Derbyshire’s Poet Laureate. In fact, I had assumed she still was as a new Laureate has yet to appear, but it turns out her tenure came to an end in 2015. Perhaps she was just too tough an act to follow.
With both the wildness and urbanity of the north in her heart, Helen’s poetry speaks as loudly to lovers of the outdoors, of fresh air, peaks and trails, as to those who recognise the street corners, human instincts and politics of the city. I won’t pretend I sit down with a book of poetry on a regular basis, but Helen Mort’s work never fails to draw me in.
Deer, by Helen Mort
The deer my mother swears to God we never saw,
the ones that stepped between the trees
on pound-coin-coloured hooves,
I’d bring them up each teatime in the holidays
and they were brighter every time I did;
more supple than the otters we waited for
at Ullapool, more graceful than the kingfisher
that darned the river south of Rannoch Moor.
Five years on, in that same house, I rose
for water in the middle of the night and watched
my mother at the window, looking out
to where the forest lapped the garden’s edge.
From where she stood, I saw them stealing
through the pines and they must have been closer
than before, because I had no memory
of those fish-bone ribs, that ragged fur,
their eyes, like hers, that flickered back
towards whatever followed them.