Louise was born and grew up in the West Country and now lives in London. With a background in theatre, her first collection A Child’s Last Picture Book of the Zoo won the Cinnamon Press debut poetry competition and was published in 2012. A pamphlet In the scullery with John Keats, also published by Cinnamon, came out in 2016. Her poems have been widely published in magazines including Ambit, The Rialto, Poetry Wales and Stand. In 2018 she won first prize in the Prole Laureate Poetry Competition with her poem ‘The Marshes’, which appears in John Dust.
John Dust – A poet’s introduction.
John Dust is a fictional character. I made him up. Or did he make himself up?
He arrived just as my physical connection with Somerset was coming to an end. I was mourning the loss of both my parents, the family home was being sold, and it was during one of my last visits that I first glimpsed him. As I was arriving into Taunton on the coach I had a strong image of a man, pushing through the hedgerows in the dark fields, I saw him quite clearly, he stood up and waved, and so the first two lines of the first poem featuring him were born.
Pushes through hedgerow, caved in busted’
At the time I didn’t have a name for him, but as I worked on the poem, it became clearer what he symbolised to me.
He was Somerset. The Somerset I grew up with, the fields and the lanes, the villages and the towns. He was also the history of the place, the rural life that was dying out. The memories that I had of growing up in Taunton. Playing in the stream at the bottom of the road. Waiting for the bus back from Ilminster after a night out with friends. Drinking Cider in Vivary Park. Picking apples in my Father’s orchard. There was also an older history which began to layer into the poems. The battle of Sedgemoor ( the pitchfork rebellion), the old paperworks factory when we lived in Creech St Michael. Jack the Treacle Eater ( One of the four follies near the village of Barwick). The skeleton of a woman with a dog in The Taunton Museum.
Memories and images flooded in, as the poems took shape, and John Dust wove himself around the words, like the brambles that grew around the fields that I played in as a child.
John Dust brought nature, and magic. Like the story of being pixie-led, or being fetched by the fairies. Superstitions, beliefs, folklore and stories. He conjured Somerset back to me, at the time I felt I was losing touch with it.
This is not the first time I have created a character for my poetry. In my last pamphlet ( In the scullery with John Keats published by Cinnamon Press) it was a visit to Keats House in London, that first ignited my interest in John Keats. A very playful character he became as well!
Maybe the creation of a character allowed me to explore memories and feelings that at the time were too painful to write about directly. There is a place for confessional poetry of course, but it doesn’t work for me. Every poet has a different voice, and I rather enjoy exploring many voices!
John Dust certainly liberated me to examine feelings of loss and personal history, in a way that excited me imaginatively. However he conjured himself into existence, I am grateful to him.
I am also indebted to these books which helped me with my research.
The Folklore of Somerset. Kingsley Palmer
Curious Somerset. Derrick Warren.