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This report is taken from PN Review 161, Volume 31 Number 3, January - February 2005.

Noël Welch and Kathrine Talbot Alison Oldham

High on Dartmoor is a field where gorse is topiaried. Above it, one climbs through steep woodland to a rugged tor. Below it, the land slopes down to a re-creation of a mediaeval Marian garden with a statue of the Virgin and child, a small orchard and an oratory, then to the twelfth-century longhouse where Noël Welch lives. There are granite outcrops everywhere, even in the garden where one of them determines the shape of a pond and where their randomness is countered by a formal layout and box topiary. Noël's poetry shows her active empathy with the natural world and the high value she sets on order and space. In 'Ironing', which is about the difficulty of writing poems, there is a playful, meticulous cherishing both of words and the stuff of everyday domestic life. In 'The Fields are Drained of Sun' she tells us how hard the road can sometimes be between the conception of a poem and its often indifferent realisation.

A longing for rural space brought Noël to Dartmoor in 1953 with her lifelong companion, Jeanne du Maurier, Daphne's younger sister, a painter and co-designer of the garden. Previously they had lived in St Ives, which is where I 'discovered' Noël's poetry, searching for ekphrasis - specifically, for poems which brought before the mind's eye the abstract art of post-war St Ives. Though her 'Portrait of a Poet' depicted a work by the Newlyn figurative painter Dod Procter, this was the closest I ...


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