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This article is taken from PN Review 134, Volume 26 Number 6, July - August 2000.

Shelf Lives: 12: Freda Downie Peter Scupham

The poets who never grow old -
They are one of our many loves.
It is as if their drownings,
Their suicides and interminable coughing
Are just so much more poetry
Completing something unfinished in ourselves.

How long it takes -
The cultivation of formal laurels -
And when we come across a photograph
Of an enlarged poet prospering in a warm climate,
Unrecognisable in a hat and whiskers,
What inescapable prose confronts us.

'Our Loves' is the second poem in the Collected Poems, published posthumously, edited by George Szirtes, (Bloodaxe, 1995) - a cenotaph rather than a mausoleum because Freda, a self-effacing poet surviving precariously in a cold climate, is present in her poems as a tang or aidememoire, directing us from some hidden corner of vantage to borrow a glance from the corner of her eye, look in her scrying stone or camera lucida before she courteously vanishes. As George Szirtes reminds us in his affectionate introduction, she had a hatred of 'I, I, I ... me, me, me', though she had a just sense of the quality of her work and could deploy a bewildering tactical armoury to defend its privacy or deny its existence, as John Mole and I learned to our pleasurable cost when trying to entice poems from Freda for cards, collections, or anthologies. She carried space around her; intimacies could sparkle in brilliant postcards and letters, easily ...


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