SophieWhitleyFlavell (@sophie_flavell) October 11, 2013
This short poetry collection about parental love and coping with loss was published by Prole Books in mid-August 2013.
Prole says: "Along with Issue 11, this month (August 2013) we are also launching Sue Millard's debut poetry pamphlet, Ash Tree. Sue's work charts and celebrates the short life of her granddaughter, Naomi. There's a real range and high quality to the work - like all Prole publications, it engages the reader and gets a response - and we don't mind admitting that it had both of us weeping by the end.
"In her foreword, Gill McEvoy says: It has been a privilege to be asked to write this short foreword: Millard has expressed Naomi's story and her own feelings so strongly and so poignantly that I have felt deeply moved… "
Janni Howker's terrific review of Ash Tree was published in February 2013 on Ink, Sweat and Tears. "It is a testament to Sue Millard’s exceptional skill as a poet that the poems in her collection “Ash Tree” have the tensile strength to contain the raw material of their contents."
Cumbria Magazine's December 2013 edition has a very nice long article about my books, and particularly Ash Tree: "Raw emotion at a life cut short--Kevin Hopkinson meets author Sue Millard whose book of poems was her way of dealing with personal family tragedy.
"...Prole, founded by two like-minded people, Phil Robertson and Brett Evans, who publish a print magazine containing ‘high quality, accessible poetry’, and whose book section have put out Ash Tree. They reckon, she says, that the 'good stories come from America and the good poetry from here.'
"Ash Tree – both powerful and poignant, anguished and eloquent in the telling – certainly backs up that assessment."
Kevin Hopkinson http://cumbriamagazine.co.uk/ December 2013
"A collection of poems in remembrance of Sue Millard’s beloved granddaughter Naomi, who died of cancer aged almost six, Ash Tree is a moving testament of grief, anger, pain and, astonishingly, joy and hope too. Never sentimental, the journey of the child and her family along the inexorable road of diagnosis, treatment, hope, despair and acceptance is chronicled with love alongside those aspects of everyday life which keep us going at such times – birds in the garden, a child drawing and the ash tree which becomes a metaphor for rebirth and renewal." Sue Allan in Cumbria Life, October 2013
"Ash Tree is both record and testament, a depiction of the grief and love surrounding the poet’s loss of her grand-daughter Naomi, just short of her sixth birthday and after a two-year illness.
"There have been various poetry collections about bereavements, notably Douglas Dunn’s Elegies, and, while readers will always be moved by the grief, so much is involved in the quality of the telling. I don’t mean “technique” exactly (for “technique” is such a cold word), more a quality of artistic tact and sensitivity, the ability of an author (and one which is wonderfully present here) to present the confused mass of events and emotions without falsity, succinctly and with feeling.
"Although the book’s 19 poems move broadly chronologically, we are conscious of endless fluctuation as the poet’s moods shift so hugely from despair to love to hope. The volume contains a few poems (‘Search Bar’, ‘Ariadne’ and Doses’) whose content and images are stark: they are dominated by drugs and shadows and fear. They are harsh poems, close to being unpalatable, but they are an essential ballast, a base from which the poet and her poems can rise towards a genuinely cathartic achievement.
"There is also the powerful poem ‘Godless’, in which the voice of desperation exclaims, There is no god in heaven … I’ve torn the god idea / out of its smug blue sky. And then we learn of the poet’s one sustaining faith, in the call of blood, the bond of kin.
"Throughout the body of the book we read of the abiding and ultimately consoling presence of the natural world, which is ever there, both as counterpoint and complement. The poet wishes at one point that the mare she is riding might gallop Naomi away, to a swift and perfect death / to cheat the miserable length of dying. Fledgling swallows, tiny and vulnerable, can be picked up by the poet to shelter / the mystery / that should fly to Africa, and hope.
"The sudden relieving draught of nature caught me most strongly in two beautiful moments, first of all in ‘Many waters’, with a truly memorable closing stanza: Hush the goodbyes. I shall watch / while your river flows to the falls / and try to smile for you. Likewise, at the end of the penultimate poem, the poet, who has been dreaming of a rain which is now cloth-soft and without passion, says, When I woke, it had rained in truth – / sweetly cleansed all, / like a baptism.
"The collection’s dominant motif is that of the ash tree of the title and the title poem. The tree is rotten and must be cut down but at this point we have sadly to contrast the clean-cut mercy of the saw which awaits the tree, with the cruelty of Naomi’s treatment. But a healing note is heard in the final poem, ‘Phoenix from the Ash’, when we read of the tree’s roots dug in and her twigs stoutly bursting into life. Only then do we read of Naomi’s new brother soon to be climbing on the tree’s stump and the poet can now recall how / she danced up there, in purple and in pink.
"This is a fitting climax to a touching and beautiful book."
Robert Nisbet in London Grip, http://londongrip.co.uk/2013/09/poetry-review-autumn-2013-millard/ September 2013
I gave a talk at the Wordsworth Bookshop in Penrith on 24th October, 7pm, about Researching a Historical Novel. Lots of interesting questions afterwards and I signed quite a few books, mostly Coachman and Ash Tree. @WordsworthBook
I read at the Open Mike session at Litcaff (Merienda, Treasury Court, Fisher Street, Carlisle, Cumbria CA3 8RF) on Weds 21st August 2013. Comments from the audience were very favourable; they really understood that the poems came, as Nick Pemberton put it, "from a raw place."
I read live on Radio Cumbria on Wednesday 28th August 2013 during a conversation with Gordon Swindlehurst on his lunchtime show.
"Missing", one of the poems from Ash Tree, featured as part of Eden Arts' "Lost Tree" project at Brough Castle, Cumbria in August/September 2013. It was well worth a visit; quite thought provoking, plus a stunning setting and the sense of history in the stones. And incidentally, Ash Tree can be obtained from the Ice Cream Parlour at the farm.
I am very grateful to fellow poet and novelist, Janni Howker for reading many of these poems with me for a poetry project last year (2012) and I thank her for giving me permission to use two of those audio files as "tasters" here.
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Over Night - listen: mp3
There was a full moon last night.
Rising through trees, its round face
I went to bed, and dreamed
Rain wetted the street—not the wild
When I woke, it had rained in truth—
© Sue Millard and Janni Howker 2012-2013