Rose Flint recently won first prize in the Academi Cardiff International Poetry Competition for her poem The Field. It is a big £5,000 whopper of a prize, and good luck to her, for poets get little enough in the way of money for the work they do; nor would most poets say they do it for financial gain, and if they did they would, let’s face it, need their heads examined. And of course, what stands behind the one poem is years and years of practice and application to the art and craft of poetry-making. I have to say, though, that I am astonished that a poem like this was the outright winner – and delighted; because I never imagined that what is, on the face of it, a simple “List” poem, would be picked as a competition winner. I say it is a simple List poem but it works, of course, on many levels, is beautifully made, powerful in its simplicity. I met her once and we had lunch together when she came to give a reading here, and I had the unusual (for me) experience of feeling the hairs on my neck stand up as she read. Not all poets are able to deliver their work in such a way as to make the hearer feel that they stand in and by their words, or that the poem is, in a sense, in the process of being created afresh as it is uttered, but she was such a one.
So anyway – fields:
Me, with my ambivalent relationship to the natural world, I’d want the field to grow anything at all that isn’t ugly or toxic. But poisonous Nightshade will do, the birds know it for what it is and stay clear of it, and the red is pretty. Or just weeds will do, those sticky, spiky, tangled things that no-one wants in the garden, I don’t mind. Just anything at all that has the push of life in it, a dandelion or two, and grass. Yes, I want the field to have green grass and some of the feathered varieties of wild grasses; wild flowers, tame flowers, yellow flowers that grow on the gorse bush all year long and smell of sweet marzipan, the reeking white dandruff petals of cow parsley, the bastard Spanish bluebell that isn’t really blue and is to the English bluebell what the grey squirrel is to the red, but I’ll have it anyway.
So the field will be a bit on the wild side and people will say it needs weeding or ask what I’m planning to do with it. I’ll shrug and say it is as it is, my field, so long as things grow and it’s not just dry, cracked earth or a swamp of mud where people come and tip their waste and dump the old sofa with the rip down one side of it or the bed with the broken spring. I want the field to be private and by invitation only, with a small sign just visible on a post that says Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted. I do not want the field to be a free-for-all with scavengers raiding the fruit trees and breaking the heads off buttercups and celandines. I want the field to be left in peace until people have learned how to behave themselves.
I want robins and a tree where they can nest and feel safe from anything that might come in and creep on the ground because I want a fox as well, and fox cubs catching the light in their extraordinary tails, and I want a half-wild tabby cat to come, but not often enough to disturb the robins, and if there is a field mouse or shrew in the field then the cat can eat them because that is the way of things and I want the field to be a place where the way of things has place, to some extent, but what I say goes, obviously. So it won’t be entirely natural or red in tooth and claw, but it will have its own vitality.
I want the field to be a good place for me to sit with a rough woollen blanket in the grass, eating a picnic of watercress sandwiches and drinking from a bottle of fresh lemonade, or reading from a book of poems – old Scottish border ballads (O whaur hae ye been, Lord Randal my son?) or Robert Frost (for I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep).
And I beg your pardon: I never promised you a rose garden.