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Sue Vickerman

Sue Vickerman

Biography

After a superb debut poem at age 7 ('Mandy, Shandy and a Bottle of Brandy') I had writer's block for 25 years. I filled the time with travel, education, and educating others. Having studied theology, I pursued my spiritual quest in India and in the women's movement including a peace camp in upstate New York. If anyone knows the answers to life's big questions, contact me via the publisher. I also spent two years in Hangzhou, China and another two in Berlin. I have an M.Phil, which is good for holding up a bed with a missing leg.

I now live in a lighthouse near Aberdeen. I'm working on a full length poetry collection to be published by Biscuit in 2005, THE SOCIAL DECLINE OF THE OYSTERCATCHER, and a novel SPECIAL NEEDS. The manuscript of my completed short story collection THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MARK AND MELISSA is languishing in a cupboard.

Publications

Poems: winner, Biscuit Poetry Prize 2003. Pamphlet, SHAG, published by Arrowhead, 2003. Recipient, Scottish Arts Grant (2003). Poems in Diamond Twig and Lancaster LitFest 2001 anthologies; also in Orbis, Smiths Knoll, Mslexia, The Affectionate Punch, Other Poetry, Acumen etc. Shortlisted, Writers Inc Writers of the Year Prize 2003 and Mslexia Poetry Prize 2004. Centenary poem The rise of the rock dove commissioned by Leeds University Joint Chaplaincy, 2004.
Short stories anthologised (Virago, Diva Books etc) and in Staple, Peninsular, The Frogmore Papers. Recipient, Yorkshire Arts grant (2000).
Articles in The Guardian, The Times Educational Supplement (alright, only the Scottish edition), and special-interest publications.

Influences

Poets I like include: Sharon Olds, Kate Clanchy, Simon Armitage, Carol Ann Duffy, RS Thomas, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Seamus Heaney, fellow Arrowhead poets Bob Cooper and Jennifer Copley, Diamond Twig poets Marlyn Rosario and Fiona Ritchie Walker... etc. etc. I tend to enjoy Bloodaxe poets, and especially Bloodaxe's excellent anthologies, such as Making for Planet Alice, Linda France's Sixty Women Poets, and Staying Alive.

Older women

I love their skin, crazed as an old dish,
their scent like freshly printed literature,
herb pillows, denim gone soft in the wash;
how they chop wood, take nostalgia trips
to Greenham, lift bikes up steps, do weights,
knit socks. I love the glimpse of private space
between shirt and skin, slacks on firm hips
from climbing in France. Women who drink Guinness
and wear rainbow woollies from Brazil, and embrace
other women; women whose positions on sex
are as relaxed as armchairs; women whose exes
are shelved in albums. They'll grab you like cake,
light your candles, lead you to believe,
then smile, put on their cycle clips and leave.

Waiting for puffins

You said they would arrive in May.
Noticing a gossamer of droppings
cobwebbed over the cliffs, sheer rock
feathered into a duvet, my hopes soar
out of the window. I forfeit a cooked breakfast
for seaweed and scrambled pudding-stone,
locking the lighthouse but leaving a note
just in case: Gone to puffins. You know where.

Scanning the chess-board of sleek-backed auks
I train your loaned binoculars on profiles,
rubbing the steam of my hot look from your lenses,
trying to catch a distinctive beak, curious
eye-markings, tell-tale red among the grey suits
of kittiwakes. A thick-set fulmar hangs stiff-winged
on an updraught, stalls, then drops. Guillemots,
startled, unfurl overhead. I dodge, umbrella-ed.

Auks need ledges on which to rest, whereas puffins
dig burrows in the soft ground of cliff tops.

My boots catch on lichen, slip in pools
while the rising tide pulls slowly at the time
available, slides round another inlet. I clamber
beyond common sense, sure of a sighting,
the distinctively large head, the amusing waddle.
Scaling the milk-stained cliff among the waterfalls
of nests, I reach the final outcrop, and discover
an inaccessible bay, curved in a lipless smile.

There! I zoom in, breathless, on a patch like liquorice,
touching the focus lightly, waiting for a profile
that doesn't jab and point. I blink back salt,
blink away my double-vision, a thousand couplings.
But there are no bright, calypso beaks, jolly as plastic;
no sad-eyed, comical sea-birds from book-spines
and cartoons, the ones you promised; only auks'
dark looks and razorbills' blunt chins, and my eye-
corners lapped by the encroaching edge of the sea.

The social decline of the oyster-catcher

Back then, you were the swaggering rocker
of wading birds; boldly-coloured, dazzling
in flight, the most conspicuous bird-of-shingle,
the loudest. I remember your effortless landings
on muddy sand-banks; your hot-shot red lenses;
how you eyed up the cockles. You always claimed
the most abundant mussel beds, the ones
on rocky outcrops in down-town estuaries,
the tangiest; always picked the best ridge of sand
for your high-tide roost. You were so cool
with your minimalist nest: no fuss; lay the eggs
on an exposed pebble shoal, let nature do the rest.

It was frequenting estuaries that brought you down.
Your stout, pale pink legs - not your best feature -
wandered too far in the long, dark winter. Increasingly
you nested by rivers, even on farmland, digging bluntly
in mud and soil when you used to be so at home
on rocky shores, on beaches. And thus it was

that your diet deteriorated from coastal molluscs
to earthworms. Now, even a good cockle year
doesn't bring you back. Instead you get into fights
over food. I've seen you poking through the rubbish
at night, spearing litter. I used to love watching you
on the beach, how you waited for a chance to strike
into an open shell, or simply hammered one free
with your powerful chisel-tipped bill.
But that was the coast, and this is now: not Norway,
not Iceland, but a long way up a northern river
with no shellfish. Only your clear, sharp
kleep voice tells me you're the same person.

Wimpy Bar, Fraserburgh

The sky a simple cut of cloth
down the length of the street; the sea
at the end, cupped between houses
like liquid metal. Salt drifts
on my table, sticks to my fleece

while the sharp-cornered sun
of the shortest day back-lights
the bus station; while the proprietor
stacks up dirties, wipes up sauce
and delivers my fish, battered.

A truck checks into the harbour.
A trawler, picked clean, gets in line
along the aluminium of a warehouse
where school-leavers in white
slap fish in sinks

as the tide turns, edges along the wall;
as tendrils of nets come alive in the water
and a boy with no home to go to
cracks open a padlock with a pebble;
slips into the rocking cradle of a boat.

Poems on this page Copyright © 2003 Sue Vickerman


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Last modified: April 2nd 2005