Emily Oldfield
1 March 2020. 33 pp. ISBN 978-3-901993-77-0 (= PSPS 35)
£6.50 (+ 1.50 p&p), €6.50 (+ 1.50 p&p), US$ 9.50 (+ 2.50 p&p)

“Oldfield's poetry has the drive and depth of the river and surroundings it celebrates. The engine of her words fuses landscape and lived experience to form a powerful and thrilling current: we are swept along through this debut pamphlet which is the calling card of a major poet in the making. Here are poems of place which both honour and transcend that definition. Like the River Irwell itself, Oldfield's poetry carries the hard force of history within it, but we are always reminded that "we are human, soft." This is poetry for today, for us, but rooted in a fascinating past.”
Keith Hutson

"Emily Oldfield's poems are strong and supple, expansive but intimate. This is a formally adept debut from a poet of great talent. The collection is necessarily restless, always moving, shifting – it's no coincidence that running and what it signifies is a frequent theme. Oldfield’s territory is the edgelands, neither city nor country. She’s fascinated by how they can seem both stifling ("the clock is a god" in suburbia, we’re told) and exhilarating, how they become their own explanation: “in-betweenness breeds excuses”. Oldfield explores places as living beings, how they think, breathe and hold memories: "the old railway line ached in its phantom limb". The places she evokes are often harsh: the ground makes us yield, threat is always present, bulrushes are "rough / and unsorry". But her landscapes desire too, yearn for the humans who pass through them. Compassion mingles with violence in "Rawtenstall": "I learned tenderness in smashing two stones together / and laying them over / the crook in the river." In "Brock", she excavates the boundary between the animal world and the human. The poems which deal with body image and illness are powerful and show how bodies can be a mystery to their occupants. A thrilling book of place and displacement.”
Helen Mort

Table of Contents

Excerpts from Grit


begins in tracing the old paths
near Dickinson Barn, the disturbed district
between Bacup and Weir. It is autumn,
the blackberries swollen
with that urgent warmth
of a storm centre – the ripe
in your veins. You are twelve years away

and I learn passion in a pace
pressing foot into flat
– the track demanding each angle of touch
to be measured, weighted.
The plotting of place
between stream and
embankment, bull rush and heather,
bramble and amber. I cross.

This place does not treasure
the moment, but movement,
how the grass wraps the edge of each finger
gauges a wrist-span, works into hair.
It is enough to remember
when we visit the landscapes that change regardless,
the skin that turns from us, and shifts, and hardens.


You are going to feel a sharp scratch, she says
and your heart sinks with that strange fizz
of a tablet turned in cold water, the achingly spaced
tick, tick, tick – at the nurse’s wrist. The watch
against her veins just hides your own
limp against her outstretched palm
as lips slide like soap, and suds of speech
shore up against the ruins of your arm.
Every inch of your body scrubbed
by the bar which hangs in the shared shower
and you cling to this moment, but with no grip
this embrace is your allowance.

Reviews of Grit

"EMILY OLDFIELD HAS flair. Her first collection is a hotpot of poems taking their substance from a wide range of experience and response, with a good sense of how words work with and against each other, pushing through percept towards discovery, seeking extremes of sense in clashing metaphors. Place is frequently her stage (and she comes from an interesting place called Rossendale) for enactments of confrontation with contextual conflict and resolution, but refusing that dreamy suspension so often inflicted on poetically conceived landscape."

Peter Riley, The Fortnightly Review, Summer 2020.
Click here to read the full review.

"As the title implies, the reader will need to prepare to get dirty in this encounter with the stones, mud and earth beneath their feet; will have to steel themselves for anything but an easy road. Oldfield unflinchingly describes her experiences of growing up in a landscape shaped by weather and industrial heritage, full of places she knows intimately from lonely runs and childhood memories. Threaded through every poem are reminders that all this was here long before any of us and that the rocks and mountains, like people, bear the scars of what is done to them. [...] When I started to read Grit I feared I might be getting into a cycle of worthy and interesting poems about a rugged landscape. It quickly became apparent these were poems about a raw communion with the elements and with the past. I was exposed to the cold and to the ever-changing Pennines, the throb of Lancashire, the impact of weather and generations of folk. Oldfield has a canny knack of taking you with her on her gutsy runs up and down the contours of her memories and troubles, until you are bent over double and out of breath."

Pat Edwards, London Grip, September 12, 2020.
Click here to read the full review.

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