Merryn Williams admires the continuing power of Ruth Bidgood’s poetry
The great poet Ruth Bidgood is now ninety-seven, and has called this pamphlet her swan song, yet her work is as powerful and relevant as it has always been. She lives in the ‘green desert’ of mid-Wales, ‘a valley where some still alive remembered hunger’, and many of the themes in this short collection are familiar – broken chapels, silent villages, ‘as if the last humans had died’. At night it’s very black indeed, with only a few widely scattered lights. Yet humans constantly push back and assert the value of effort and memory, as in ‘Flowers for Easter’, where the speaker is looking after someone’s grave, perhaps a daughter’s:
I set a pot of flowers on the stone shelf under her name, and find others already there – from a stranger, who thought this grave forgotten? Trimming encroaching grass, I’m conscious of the valley stretching behind me, over the crumbling graveyard wall, far into hills. There she would ride on borrowed ponies, in her happy years. Today’s jumble of fancy and memory brings a sense of the teenager, laughing, tearing down-valley on her palomino, triumphing, joined with the land’s grandeur. Ears just catch the muted pounding of hooves on turf, the far-away beat timelessly thudding through the ground.
Entirely different and quite surprising is ‘Death of an Ant’. The speaker is wondering whether to put down ant powder, destroying a colony of fellow creatures, and eventually does so, but actually this poem is tackling a much more difficult subject and serves as a metaphor for the feelings of those who fear of being swamped by immigrants. Evidently, for Ruth Bidgood, a swansong does not involve playing things safe!