Poetry from the heart

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Poet Glenda Kerney Brown’s debut collection explores the themes of nature, memory, love and her own journey with MS. Yvette Huddleston reports.

Poetry is often described as a distillation of emotion and this notion is perfectly expressed in a powerful debut collection, Rock and Lodestone, by Otley-based poet Glenda Kerney Brown.

Having previously worked in Theatre in Education and as a professional actor in London, Kerney Brown, who grew up near Baildon Moor, turned to art to help her through a dark period in her life. In the early 1990s she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and it was at this crisis point that she began writing poetry.

Her rage at the injustice of it all comes through very forcefully in these early poems as with a searing honesty she confronts the bleak reality of her situation. In one of them, Optic Neuritis1: Sea Change on Baildon Bank 1993, she writes ‘I wade on footpaths I have run/before my sea-change;/now damage has become my home’.

In a footnote Kerney Brown describes these poems as having ‘burst out’ of her. “You have to find some way of dealing with it,” she says. “And for me having always been an artistic, creative person, poetry is the way it came out.” After the initial shock of the diagnosis, Kerney Brown was in remission for nearly seven years. “During that time I didn’t write at all,” she says. “I did what I wanted to do – it was almost like I didn’t really have MS. I didn’t think about it and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.” Then suddenly it returned – at the age of 39 she started limping and a few months later she met her husband. “It was love at first sight,” she says. “I never believed in that, but it happened.”

The love poems in the collection are incredibly moving both in their depth of feeling and their disarming candour. In Sonnet for Us she writes ‘Cold time is dealing out relentless hands,/would we have looked away, if we but knew?/You cry “No! we must live by fate’s commands,/Hold tight our nightly vows of ‘I love you’”/So now we battle on, and as I dim,/You care for me, and though I sink, we swim.’

The majority of the poems in the collection were composed over the past two years during which time Kerney Brown has been attending a weekly creative writing course at Otley Courthouse led by the acclaimed poet James Nash, who has also written an introduction to the collection. Themes explored in Rock and Lodestone include nature, the potency of memory, the dignity of animals, the kindness of strangers and what Nash refers to as ‘the underlying tragedy of our human experience, which is that we inevitably lose (or are lost to) the things we love’.

Kerney Brown tackles all her themes with intelligence and sensitivity, creating beautiful, accomplished and affecting lyrical poetry. Kerney Brown writes most days and says that her writing has given her new vigour and purpose. She is already working on a second collection of poems. “Being in a wheelchair I have become the person I was supposed to be,” she says. “I am a poet. I am satisfied with life – and there is still much more poetry to be written.”

Rock and Lodestone, £4.99, is published by Bennison Books and is available on Amazon. All proceeds will be donated to the MS Trust. Kerney Brown will be appearing at Ilkley Literature Festival Fringe on October 11.