Poems by Elizabeth Bartlett
Elizabeth Bartlett was born of working-class parents near the Kent coalfields in 1924. Educated at an elementary school, she won a scholarship to grammar school, but left at the age of 15 to work in a hypodermic needle factory. She lives in Sussex, and for the last 13 years has worked as a secretary and receptionist for a GP, and the Home Care Service. Her first collection, A Lifetime of Dying (Harry Chambers / Peterloo Poets, 1979), was warmly welcomed by reviewers in The Observer, The Times Literary Supplement, The Sunday Times, British Book News and Quarto. In 1982 Elizabeth Bartlett won 1st prize in the Stroud International Poetry Competition and joint 1st prize in the Cheltenham Festival of Literature Poetry Competition with poems that are included in Strange Territory.
‘Elizabeth Bartlett has waited a lifetime to get her fine and bitter poems published and I urge all readers not belaboured by Jeff Nuttall and others into thinking that anything in stanzas and rhymes must be escapist Georgian versification to buy A Lifetime of Dying. It is truthful, powerful and un-exaggerated. The deprivations of childhood become the deprivations of adulthood and then the disappointments and loneliness of middle age.
But Ms Bartlett is captain of her own soul and has, in addition, a rocketing forthrightness of expression. She has served and survived the Welfare State and her poems should be force-fed to Tories who think the workers get too much coddling. A heartening and liberating book.’
Peter Porter / The Observer
What am I doing here? I only know
the landscapes of back streets, small
houses behind whose doors lie the full
commodes, the scattered crumbs, tins
of soup, pale faces of the prisoners,
and gardens where ox-eye daisies, ling
and feathered grasses conquer everything.
England, England, Lindfield’s pest house,
Eastway’s rigor mortis monkey-puzzle tree,
the sad occupants of terminal stations,
dressed like Morris men with newspapers
tied round their legs, arguing endlessly
with themselves, the old lags writing
poetry which rhymes but is not exciting.
No ordnance survey map depicts the things
etched behind my eyes, the mortician’s room,
where he lays out the tools of his trade,
the cotton wool to puff out cheeks, a stitch
inserted in the mandible, the lip-stick, (pink
for babies), and the tape to bind together
autopsy cases. He works fast in hot weather.
Like snow on fells where I have never been,
he dusts powder onto unresisting cheeks,
plugs the anus, receives best suits, nightgowns
and babygros for babies who will never grow
any bigger. The women may even have kept
their wedding dresses. His wife lets seams
in and out, his willing preserver of dreams.
Strange territory this. The rivers are full
of blood, the inhabitants are criminals
or old or dead, the routes are arteries marked
with cottages, rusting kitcheners, disposable
sheets; the valleys are dark as shadows
in tenement yards, and only the sky is as wide as your arms or the length of your stride.
Price £3.00 per copy post free
Cover photograph: Author
Publication: DECEMBER 1983 (62 pages laminated paperback).