My writing life began long before I left school, and I began to leave school (frequently) long before the recognized time came, so there is no real demarcation, for me, between school and ‘professional’ life. The quotes are there because I think of professional life as something one enters by way of an examination, not as an obsessional occupation like writing for which you provide your own, often extraordinary or eccentric, qualifications as you go along. And I’m not flattered by the idea of being presented with a ‘profession’, honoris causa; every honest writer or painter wants to achieve...
First published in The London Magazine, Dec/Jan 1986/87
On Sunday, they went to Nicosia. On their right as they drove, but far in the distance, was the faint blue line of the sea. Nearer at hand, pylons were slung across the landscape between the outcrops of white chalk; knolls and tumuli arose from flat green fields. The road began to climb. Sage-coloured trees of perfect form stood against the skyline.
The sun — it was now midday — gilded June's hare arm, and glinted on her nail polish; a shade called Frosted Peach, which she had applied freshly at the hotel...
From The London Magazine January 1960
There was a barrel organ playing at the corner of Torrington Square. It played 'Destiny' and ‘La Paloma’ and ‘Le Rêve Passe', all tunes I liked, and the wind was warm and kind not spiteful, which doesn't often happen in London. I packed the striped dress that Estelle had helped me to choose, and the cheap white one that fitted well, and my best underclothes, feeling very happy while I was packing. A bit of a change, for that had not been one of my lucky summers.
I would tell myself it was the colour...
When Doris Lessing was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007 she was the eleventh woman and the oldest person to ever receive the award. The judges marked her out as ‘that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny’. A prelude to these qualities could well be said to appear within the short story ‘The Mother of the Child in Question’ published by The London Magazine in September 1988.
The story follows a social worker who tries to convince a poor Pakistani family to send their disabled...
First published in The London Magazine, October/November 1989
Deep in the Scented House
Deep in the scented house,
a herring merchant
is parting his wife's buttocks
with cold hands;
while she has buried her face
into the pillows
to watch the zebras
passing gently by:
they seem to float
like swollen butterflies,
their rhythmically-cantering bodies
striped and hot.
These are the things one hides,
calmly and quietly trying
to go to sleep.
A high-pitched woman's voice is shouting Basil!
and then a spotty dog comes whizzing past;
and then a little ball of dried-up seaweed
comes rolling and hopping casually along
with that serenely happy air about it
that Mary's naked bush used to have:
Mary, I can see...
Even a London house must have its swifts,
the roof should be a beacon
in the western light to guide them. Now,
at evening, midges rise in beams that sweep
the warmed slates as they brim
with offerings, a salver to the sky. Skimming
the swifts perfect their loops and strokes
with inkless nibs, incline,
address their airy letters home.
Kate Miller's 2015 collection The Observences is published by Oxford Poets (Carcanet) and was shortlisted for the 2015 Costa Book Award for Poetry. She was awarded the Edwin Morgan International Poetry Prize in 2008 and her poems have been selected for Salt Publishing's Best British Poetry anthologies several times.
This poem first appeared in The London...
From The London Magazine January 1961
It is always when a curtain at an open window flutters in the breeze that I think of that frail white curtain, a piece of fine gauze, which was drawn across the bedroom windows of Mrs Van der Merwe. I never saw the original curtains, which were so carelessly arranged as to leave a gap through which that piccanin of twelve had peeped, one night three years before, and had watched Mrs Van der Merwe suckle her child, and been caught and shot dead by Jannie, her husband. The original curtains had now been replaced...
From The London Magazine March 1966
Two Wives and a Widow
A modern version from the Middle Scots of William Dunbar
If one night in the year is romantic,
that night is Midsummer's Eve. Such a night, it was...
about midnight, I went out by myself and came
to a flower garden behind a hawthorn hedge. On a bough,
this crazy bird was splitting its sides,
singing. And such a scent of flowers.
The grass wet with dew, the nightingales shouting.
A night for lovers. Alone as I was,
lonely, I was. Then I heard voices,
loud, laughing voices talking in the garden.
It was a party. Whose party? So I climbed...
From The London Magazine June 1960
Old man, you surface seldom.
Then you come in with the tide's coming
When seas wash cold, foam-
Capped: white hair, white beard, far-flung,
A dragnet, rising, falling, as waves
Crest and trough. Miles long
Extend the radial sheaves
Of your spread hair, in which wrinkling skeins
Knotted, caught, survives
The old myth of origins
Unimaginable. You float near
As kneeled ice-mountains
Of the north, to be steered clear
Of, not fathomed. All obscurity
Starts with a danger:
Your dangers are many. I
Cannot look much but your form suffers
Some strange injury
And seems to die: so vapors
Ravel to clearness on the dawn sea.
The muddy rumors
Of your burial move me