Published by Enitharmon Press, July 2015
The poems in Newlyn’s book emerged over a fifteen-year period following the untimely death of the poet’s sister. She adapts the form of the ‘Shepherd’s Calendar’ to the phases of grief, condensing a long process of reflection and remembering into the passage of a single year. The poems shift through forms and move between places – Oxford, Borrowdale, and finally Cornwall, where the poet finds a second home near the sea. In these intense expressions of love and loss, anger and guilt, there is no smooth path towards consolation.
Chosen as a TLS 'Book of the Year' by Gabriel Josipovici
'It's a long time since a book of poetry moved me as much as Lucy Newlyn's Earth's Almanac. She has grafted a sequence of elegies for and rememberings of a dead sister over a fifteen year period onto a Shepheard's Calendar of the natural year. This could lead to mawkishness and sentimentality, but Earth's Almanac is tough and complex. Often it is impossible to tell if the details of the changing seasons in Cornwall and Oxford, where the poet lives, are the occasions or the metaphors for memory. I loved it.'
Gabriel Josipovici, TLS
Selected poems from Earth's Almanac
It all followed as a matter of course
after the side of the house
was opened up, no-one noticing at first
the train of consequences
which slipped one after the other
through French windows latticing the garden.
Silt of sunshine, tree dapple, sky’s clarities
in glass, and the painting of walls
in various shades of sage, leaf, grass, apple.
A lifted carpet; the laying bare
and smoothing-down of a wooden floor.
A rug paved in warm earth colours.
The slow creeping over mantels and tables
of house plants. Shiver of leaf-shadow
and leaf shape, each side of windows.
Days lengthening, and the house hinged
on one side like a doll’s, wide open
to the summer’s murmurings:
laughter, to and fro of children;
smells of cooking along the breathing edges
of gardens. Tables and chairs spreading
from room to patio. Twist and flutter of birds
in a mirror, the tiny white thread of a plane
crossing the lacquered surface of the piano.
All day long, time’s seepage between
floorboards. Knots darkening in the wood grain
like eyes. Cracks furring over with leaf spore,
lichen; butterflies folding on cushions,
the garden settling itself quietly into the room,
bringing the sky with it, and all its flitting,
velvety companions. At dusk the soft flap
of moths on light shades, or high up
in corners the webbed skin wings of bats.
And all this happening slowly,
as a matter of course, with no one noticing,
till one night coming down
to find the room a garden,
with the trees hushed, and the owls
hooting, and the windows still open.
It came in July
It came in July, creeping sickening,
saddening – a deadly fear.
On a bench, in the glaring sun:
emptied garden, sister and dear sister,
her face pale with panic – or was it pain?
I asked her a question she couldn't answer.
Then, with a look I'd seen before,
five years before, almost to the day,
she left us, `for a while' she said,
and went indoors, and stayed away.
Replica, spooky double,
first in a sequence of ghastly pairs,
your mouth set in silence, your head
framed in the doorway, your shadow
moving slowly upstairs: speak to me.
It is not too late. There is no never.
It's the brand name for a drink,
and it comes in three fruity flavours.
it has a pungent, sticky sort of smell.
The manufacturers pack it in cartons
for the terminally ill – small bright boxes,
just the right size for an average meal.
It contains all the nutrients
to keep a dying body
ticking over – tick tock tick.
She had it as ice cubes and enjoyed it
for dessert. Towards the end, she took
to sucking it, like a lollipop on a stick.
And I've nothing against it, this essence,
this elixir, except its name: Enlive.
What blind fool came up with that?
An extra ‘n’ at the end would have been
encouraging, but the ‘en’ at the beginning
is completely crass, not to be forgiven.
A curse on the committee
which nodded this name past,
making every breakfast
an uneasy transition,
making every lunch-time
a tactless reminder,
every supper her last.
Put yourself in her shoes
I'll say every time I wear them.
They're backless, brown,
with sporty black soles
and a chunky purposeful look.
I'm told they're in fashion – funky.
I didn't steal them from her wardrobe
with the other gear after she died.
I tried them on beforehand.
How they suited me, how I loved them,
how I stomped about in them round her bed.
‘They're great’, I shouted.
‘They're yours,’ she said.
‘Do I get them now?’ I risked out loud.
‘There's a limit,’ she snapped –
and then, mock-pathetic, ‘just give me
a chance to wear them first,’ she begged.
(I'd rather be in my shoes than yours
I quipped, this time inside my head.)
We got by on this kind of repartee –
the bolder and blunter the better.
It was sisterhood, it was camaraderie,
and for a while we did it in style.
Now I have her shoes instead.