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Objects for Private Devotion
by Lydia Harris
£10 (pub. 2022)

Rarely does a collection of poetry reveal a land, a tradition and a history as potently as this one. The islands of Orkney are brought to life through these poems of water, moss, fossils, brochs, handbells and graves; through the lives of those who live there, those who once lived there, and through the ghosts that live on. Harris’s visceral relationship with this land and its stories is devout and compelling. As an exploration of the culture of objects for private devotion, this is almost a book of prayer.


Praise for Objects for Private Devotion:


“History is always our closest neighbour. This enthralling, quirky, wide-ranging collection fuses archaeology, palaeontology, folk history, prayer and much, much more in a compelling series of short sequences. These are poems as hymns of deep time. Who would have guessed that archaeology can also be a form of song? Harris has a distinctive, idiosyncratic voice and her poetry always bears witness – she’s never a bystander. The importance of her work doesn’t lie solely in its respect for the beauty and fragility of things, or the way it reveals an Orkney standing at the heart of the world; it’s about how well-crafted poetry can allow history to resonate within us like a felt music, so that the past isn’t just brought back to life, it brings us back into our own lives too.”

John Glenday

 

“Harris is a gifted writer, devoted to the intricacies and cadences of language. Formally diverse, inventive, surprising; each poem balances the miracle of one syllable against another to see how it sings. I wanted to read each piece aloud to savour its thoughtful music. Her enthusiasm for Orcadian dialect, characters, landscape and history is irresistible. Each encounter – with sphagnum, fish, fieldfare, bog, broch, quernstones, handbells and humans – shifted my perspective. This collection is a hymn to noticing, caring, and reporting back. When I got to the end, I had to go back to the start and re-encounter each turn of phrase.”

Heidi Williamson

 

Quernstones


They’re born in pairs, you can’t slide  
a blade between them, bedstone fastened
to the bink, top stone with its oak handle,
free-form, ready to spin, ready to swallow
grain in a clockwise turn. A clean cloth under
to catch the puffed-out meal, cloud on the breath
between edge and edge, a whirr, sometimes a click
from the throat and they ride and spew, mark time,
run rough over husks, steady heart, steady beat,
as the days shrink, as they wear themselves smooth.

 

(from Objects for Private Devotion)

Objects for Private Devotion

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