John Duffy has worked as a civil servant, social worker, community worker, childminder and bibliotherapist. And he spent several years at home tending to his children and housework, a role he describes as ‘husbandry’.
A native Glaswegian, he moved to Huddersfield (via London) and through a Kirklees PoetryWorkshop met the three other writers who founded the Albert Poets in 1993. The group continues to run workshops in various places and readings in The Albert (the pub nearest Huddersfield Library).
Now retired, he spends his days in utopian speculation.
His previous publications are Perpetual Light (Spout), The Constancy of Stone (Nepotism Press), and Troika (Scratch) – with Paul Donnelly and William Park, and The Edge of Seeing (The High Window).
John Duffy has the sharp specific glance and deep affinities of a nature poet, but will not be pigeonholed so easily. An undertow of gallows humour keeps ‘the dark side of the mountain’ in the corner of our eye, and gives his gentle wit and celebration a fine edge of question and lament.
John Duffy looks deeply into the world – and beyond it. Whether fantastical, historical, or uncompromisingly here-and-now, Glamourie always has an eye on the extraordinary. A skilful, disturbing, luminescent collection.
The Strength of It
I have tethered the moon: the cable
loops from my fist up into dark,
my eyes trace it, wrist thick,
a dull silver flicker in the gloom
places its arc (one plain long
swag from my hand to the hard basalt
of the highest mountain of the moon
where its hook has snagged
on some unearthly crag) –
I could play it, a trout in a burn
that needs to be wheedled,
coaxed from brown pool
or urgent current, drag it
threshing from its circuit
of silence and ease – or
school it like a horse in a pen,
wheel it, twitch the reins,
bring it round again to dance
in patterns, obey the subtle
muscle flex, the hidden signal,
stand it in one place, keep
the shadow from its face, eye
to eye with that mute gaze – or
moor it like a ship – The Moon –
its lunatic cargo rocks
in its hold, in the tug and drag of all
the different gravities that underpin
the way things are arranged
for now – galaxies, gas giants, dust –
those craters thick as barnacles
crust its enduring hull and keel –
there’s nothing but space between
me and the full moon, the moon’s
my balloon, but oh I haven’t tested
the weight and strength of it yet.
Now like the throb in the breast
of a thrush in the hand, I feel
the pulse and the start of the struggle.
The moon desires to be loosened,
soon, and fade. I’ll see if I can best it.
Deeply felt, meticulously From the cupped hands of the title poem to the last line of the collection, crafted and always musical, this is a collection by a writer with a gimlet eye for the natural world and an acute ear for which words matter in bringing it to life. Ranging through the urban environment to the sea in all its moods, crows, rain and singing sands; celebratory, full of human warmth and compassion, these are poems to return to.
John Duffy asks us to attend to detail, to attune ourselves with precision to the small, deep moments in life. The collection is rich with intensity, from the moment a rabbi hushes a hall to the instant after a blackbird has flown. His poems immerse us in sensory experience – walking barefoot on the damp grass, the startling effect of brushing a fresh leaf with the back of your hand.
To make a gowpen: cup your hands
together, hold that hollow of skin and light.
The portion of oats allowed each pauper,
a gowpen of gold the youngest son
snatches from the Fairy Barrow, a gowpen
of meal at the miller’s door (Quick,
before the Master comes back!), a scoop
of water for thirst, a scrape of dirt
to make a grave. We carry nothing,
but our hands are never empty. To calm
the child’s fever, a gowpen of snow.
Shape of pleading, gesture of beggars,
all you can carry in two hands, a gift
to a lover, this bowl of moulded air.