Dorothy Wordsworth, Amy Clampitt and my mum
by Sally Goldsmith
I am dedicating my first collection, which is published and launched tomorrow, to the memory of my mother. She may not have been the best reader of poetry but being so intimate with me, she often understood exactly what had set a poem off – “That’s that cupboard” she’d say or “I always loved the sound of those larches.”
When she heard that I was a winner in the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition in 2008, she said “Oooh, you’ll be famous!” I told her that poets are hardly ever famous to which she answered “What about that man who walked lot?” She meant Wordsworth. Such is the faith and love of mothers.
I have never really been able to get on with Wordsworth. Dorothy – yes. I love all that day to day stuff in her journals about William’s piles and their bad teeth. And here she is with her little dog, all frilly bonnet, plain face – and writing of course. She walked a lot too. Not famous though apart from being his devoted sister and probably too much in love with him.
And that brings me onto older women writers generally. Amy Clampitt – who I adore – didn’t publish her first collection till about my age. And the MA course at Hallam was full of 50 something women who were at last doing something for themselves, not children or partners. When I was involved in writing poetry for a character in a radio play – who like me was menopausal and wrote poetry – one BBC producer said of the character “Of course, Heather is a UFF – an Unpublished Female in her Fifties.” I thought – that’s it, that’s what they think of us, how they discount us.
Well, I am not ambitious except in my desire to get better at what I do. I do not bear any grudges to young writers who should and ought to be championed. But I have a small wish that older women who are new writers had a bit more respect, were just that bit more visible.
But for the moment, I am so happy and a little scared about the launch of my book tomorrow. And grateful to all those who have helped me. A lot of my friends will be there – poets yes, but also neighbours, community activists – many of whom know sod all about poetry. They will clap and rejoice with me. It feels like a huge achievement. Bugger being famous!