There will always be singing; an appreciation of Doris Lessing


When I look back I seem to remember singing.
Yet it was always silent in that long warm room.

Impenetrable, those walls , we thought,
Dark with ancient shields. The light
Shone on the head of a girl or young limbs
Spread carelessly. And the low voices
Rose in the silence and were lost as in water.

Fable is © Doris Lessing (1919-2013)

Author and Poet Doris Lessing
Author and Poet Doris Lessing (1919-2013)

Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing (1919-2013) was  a novelist, poet, and sci-fi writer. This appreciation of Doris Lessing was first published on the Women Writers, Women’s Books Site  in 2013 with thanks to Anora McGaha, and to Barbara Bos who live edited the piece at the time of writing. Thanks to Olivia Guest at Jonathan Clowes Ltd who has allowed me carry Poems by Doris Lessing here at Poethead.

When a person of great age dies, there are many responses about the richness of their life and how we have been blessed by their presence for so long in our world. Yet for me there was and is profound sorrow at the loss to us of Doris Lessing Nobel Laureate, author, philosopher and poet. I do not delude myself that my sorrow is one of intimate connection to her, a whole generation of women writers have that connection to her voice.

My connection to Doris Lessing’s writing began in my twenties when I first read The Golden Notebook, I read almost all her work after that. I am unsure of where the gut tear occurred with my reaction to her work, but here was a writer who did things that I admired. It was difficult to locate her effect on me, but I knew it and recognised it as important to my writing.

Living in Dublin city, I often retreat to a small house in Mayo, where my now deceased friend, Michael McMullin, a philosopher and jungian, had retained a library. His Doris Lessings were collected on the top shelf of his library, alongside some images of Chartres Cathedral, and his Yeats collection. Like Lessing he had attained a great age and had a voracious thirst for knowledge, he was born in Ceylon in 1916.

Michael’s assidious collecting of Doris Lessing was winsome, and he often referred to her. His nomadism had taken him from Ceylon, to Cambridge, to escape from Hitler’s invasion of Paris, to Finland, to Canada, and at the end his life, a hillside In the North-West of Ireland. I did not meet Doris Lessing, but I had met in Michael that intellectual and questing spirit that seems to inflame the diasporist writer. It can only be described as a great and humble presence, their being present to everyone who he/she encounters all the time.

Doris Lessing’s death brought back my own recent loss with a punch. I saw the rumours of her death emerging from early Sunday morning and waited to hear if it were true. My decision to go ahead and link the Lessing poems was an urgent need to show people that there was more to her output, although it is sadly unavailable.

Two years ago while re-reading Lessing in the Mayo library awaiting a death, the Lessing poetry began to make me a bit more than curious. On returning to the city, I thought to do some searches of her writing, as I was aware that she like Ted Hughes, had elements of Sufism in her writing. I was aware that she had written poetry but couldn’t find much. The place to look for the mythological, esoteric, and philosophical mind of the writer is in their poetic output. Poetry is the revelatory act of participation in the world.

Doris Lessing had written a small collection Fourteen Poems in 1959, published by The Scorpion Press, and she had contributed to the Inpopa Anthology (2002). Her poetry isn’t available online. The Scorpion Press Archive is housed at the McFarlin Library (Special Collections) at the University of Tulsa.

Alison Greenlee, Librarian at the McFarlin Special Collections Library located for me a copy of the book in my Alma Mater, University College Dublin. I made an appointment to go in as soon as I could and transcribed a selection of the poems for myself. The next step was to contact Jonathan Clowes Ltd, who are Doris Lessing’s agents.

Olivia Guest at Jonathan Clowes Ltd, Doris Lessing’s Literary Agents, worked on my behalf to bring Doris Lessing’s poetry back online. We corresponded initially by letter and I procured a temporary 12 month licence to add Lessing to my index of women poets. I wanted her to be recognised for her entire body of work and not alone the novels. After the initial permissions to carry the Lessing poetry were given, the first letter went awol and had to be re-issued, I put them up and shared them regularly across multiple social media platforms including FB, Twitter, Salon.

I wrote about the poems on Open Salon. There were 3,000 hits on the poetry over the two blogs. People contacted me to say that they wanted to read the books, that they had no idea that she was a poet, and that they were heartened to see a woman poet of great age appearing on their computer screens, as there is often a problem with having older women visible in the media.

The following year, I sent Olivia Guest a synopsis of the reaction to Doris Lessing’s poetry and we agreed to extend the licence for another 12 months. She was surprised that the reaction to lessing’s poetry had been so widespread and curious. I sent her screenshots of the data and emails regarding the works.

This year of 2013, I again contacted Olivia and reminded her that my licence to carry the poetry was about due to end and that it gave me great sorrow to take the poems off my index, people were always looking for them, they accounted for a lot of searches for women writers, alongside Dorothy L. Sayers and Nelly Sachs.

last week I received an email that made me sadder. Doris Lessing had little confidence in her poetry and her agents were happy to allow me keep them indefinitely because they did not see the possibility of a re-issue.

This is the email that Olivia Guest sent me recently,

Dear Christine

We’d be delighted for you to host the poems for longer especially if you’re getting such good reactions. Doris Lessing was never very keen on her poetry and didn’t think it was any good so I doubt we will see a re-issue but at least this way, they are available in an alternative form.

Many thanks and best wishes


The Megaliths Series, by Ann Madden (Irish Artist)
The Megaliths Series, by Ann Madden (Irish Artist)

I wondered then if Doris Lessing knew over these years that I had the poems and that they had caused such a reaction on the Poethead ? I still do not know if she did. Last week I announced on Poethead that I would be retaining the poems for sometime, and that I had received the above letter, blogged it in absolute delight, because it is a small but profound part of her writing jigsaw and it allows us to call her a poet.

To a mind like Lessing’s, death is a transformation and not an ending. Yesterday, after I decided to honour her writing and look again at the story of the poems, I closed up my blog for the day and took a walk with my daughter. When I got home, I saw that there were upward of a thousand hits on the Lessing letters, articles, posts and poems.

Today there is a similar amount building up. People want to know that questing intellect and they are searching. If I could say one thing to Doris Lessing, it would be that her poetry is the source and cause of joy and many, many people feel her loss in this world.

RIP Doris May Lessing (1919-2013)


Note: November 2014: Since the time of writing this piece in 2013, the stats for the Lessings posts have changed.

  • Open Salon, An Appreciation of Doris Lessing- 2360 views
  • Poethead Posts On Doris Lessing  – 2184 Views , 1319 Views, and 4673 views

s200_christine_elizabeth.murrayChristine Murray is a City and Guilds qualified stone-cutter. Her poetry is published in a variety of print and online publications. Her poem for three voices, Lament, was performed at the Béal Festival in 2012. Her Chapbook Three Red Things was published by Smithereens Press in June 2013. A collection Cycles was published by Lapwing Press in September 2013. A dark tale The Blind (Poetry) was published by Oneiros Books in  October 2013. Since time of writing this appreciation She (Oneiros Books) and Signature (Bone Orchard Press) were published in 2014.



There will always be singing; an appreciation of Doris Lessing

International Women’s Day 2013, poems for Malala Yousafzai

Poem for Malala

To Malala Yousafzai.

We see it all.
All of it.

The red-stain,
the shame.

We do not feel the skull-shatter-impact,
the moveable plate – the tube,

the tubes.
The blood-bags.
The bags of blood,
the urine.

Your eye,
the eye-blood
that occludes your vision.

Red filters down,
lowering them to the ground.
Our hackles are raised.

Father – Mother
Daughter – Son
Sister – Brother
Niece – Child

Child child child child child.

Somethings are veiled.
It is necessary to veil
what is sometimes a wound,

to cover
to dignify
to protect.

A green veil.
A beaded veil,

the tip of
an eyebrow raises it –
Disturbs it,
for the breath of.

I would sew the sequins myself,
make good the golden threads.

If you must veil,
let it crown you,
let it crown your head,

as laurels, green, on your head.

malala (2)For Malala is © C. Murray, published along with 200 poems protesting the shooting of 14 year old Malala Yousafzai. Time to say No ! is published by Pen Club Austria. With sincere thanks to both Helmuth Niederle and Philo Ikonya for producing this ebook. 

International Women’s Day 2013, poems for Malala Yousafzai

A New Ulster

A New Ulster Poetry and Literary Ezine

issue VI , A New Ulster

What distinguishes A New Ulster as poetry journal is evident also in Bone Orchard Poetry and in other Ezines that are led by artists and writers who respond with alacrity to a need for publishing platforms for new and established writers. When I started this blog  five years ago, I did a yearly review of what is offered to the poetic writer in the way of publishing platforms. The developing commitment of literary editors to the usage of online tools, such as Ezines, BlogZines, online-publication, and adapting traditional publication was at an exciting point.  Jacket2, Harriet the Blog (The Poetry Foundation) and Poetry Ireland were busily adapting to and testing the poetic waters, as was UBUWEB . Editors have been using social-media tools to ensure that poetry is read. I find it strange that there appears to be an inherent distrust of the medium in some quarters here in Ireland. Underutilisation of open-source systems and social media  tools strikes me as  a little ungenerous.

The years began providing exciting new magazines and platforms, an increase in poetic-writing is showing itself in publications like Burning Bush 2, And Other Poems, Anon Publications Bare Hands and Southword, to name a few. The other side of the coin is how traditional publications are adapting to internet and using social-media to advance poetic writers and  their audiences. It may have been bold to claim a poetic-renaissance but I am sticking to it, maybe others will catch up when they get their heads out of Miley Cyrus’ arse, who knows ?

A New Ulster a publishing platform led by Amos Gideon Grieg and Arizahn, is that wonderful poetic-hybrid of traditional and internet publication that uses a wide variety of social-media platforms to generate audience and writer alike. Because the publication is writer led, the editors bring in their skills as poet and fiction-writer, and their (hopefully not exhausted enthusiasm) for new forms and methodologies of communicating  literature with their readers. 

Poets featuring in a New Ulster include :

  • Issue  1Judith Thurley, Micheal Mc Aloran, Colin Dardis, Csilla Toldy, Cliff Wedgbury and J. S. Watts
  • Issue 2 Micheal Mc Aloran, Alistair Graham, Heller Levinson, Inso, Jogn Liddy, Geraldine O’Kane, Aine MacAodha, Brian Adlai, J. S. Watts, Peter Pegnall and Peter Fahy.
  • Issue 3:  David McClean, Neil Ellman, Angela Topping,  Nancy Ann Miller, Christopher Barnes, Stella Burton and more.
  • Issue 4 , added as link
  • Homepage of a New Ulster
  • Aine McAodha on Poethead
A New Ulster

Dorothy L. Sayers’ translation of ‘The Divine Comedy’

Herein follows an incomplete list of book-links related to Dorothy L. Sayers’ translation of  The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri.

Readers of the poethead blog will note that I dedicate Saturday mornings to the work of women writers, editors and translators. The translation of The Divine Comedy undertaken by  Dorothy L. Sayers  was completed in part by Barbara Reynolds.

Dorothy L. Sayers considered her translation of The Commedia to be her most important work,  and yet only one copy of the book was available through the Dublin Library Service last week. The Guardian Newspaper devoted just a single line to the fact that this work of translation was undertaken by Sayers. In the same instance both The Guardian and the Dublin library service suffer a surfeit of Sayers’ genre or detective stories.

The Divine Comedy translated by Dorothy L. Sayers ( some useful links)

Bibliography for Barbara Reynolds (Wikipedia)

Alegorical portrait of Dante, Agnolo Bronzino, c. 1530 The book he holds is a copy of the Divine Comedy, open to Canto XXV of the Paradiso.
Allegorical portrait of Dante, Agnolo Bronzino, c. 1530 The book he holds is a copy of the Divine Comedy, open to Canto XXV of the Paradiso.

Dorothy L. Sayers produced a classic translation of Dante’s Hell and Purgatorio which is still read. The problem with media and literary journals not citing Sayers or Glasscoeappears to be based in an institutionalised sexism which is a contributory factor in the invisibility of women editors. Evidently, The Guardian Newspaper and the Dublin library service give more attention to Sayers’ genre works than they do to her translation and other works.

It does not seem to pose great difficulty for male editors and writers to consistently cite what they feel are the definitive texts when the writer happens to be a dude. I believe that women editors and writers must begin to cite the works of women when quoting classical works of literature. If nothing else it may help those women journalists who seem incapable of taking women’s literature seriously.

Note : Recent attacks on Dante’s Commedia delineated  in this article show a lack of critical discernment and appreciation by those who would chose what anyone may read.

Some related texts

Further Papers on Dante

The Lost Tools of Learning

Are Women Human ?

A.N Wilson Dante in Love

Dorothy L. Sayers’ translation of ‘The Divine Comedy’

The Burning Bush Revival Meeting is online

The Burning Bush 2 went online this very week, and there is a little poem in it by myself written in Barcelona. Even a  short holiday makes me miss the winds and lakes in Ireland! I am adding here the link to the Burning Bush landing page, along with a list of poets therein, and a copy of my poem too. I have also added a link to the TBB2 site in the Poethead blogroll .

Background to the TBB2 (Revival)

“For those who might not know, the original Burning Bush was published from 1999 to 2004 in Galway, Ireland. It was edited by the poets Michael S. Begnal and Kevin Higgins (until 2000 when Higgins left and Begnal became the sole editor). There’s a piece here on Mike’s blog which gives the background and history of the original magazine. I’m pleased to report that, fittingly, Kevin and Mike have both contributed to The Burning Bush 2. They are among a number of past contributors to the Burning Bush included in these virtual pages.” ( by Alan Jude Moore , editorial issue 1)

The Poets in issue #1 of Burning Bush Revival

“As we mentioned in an earlier post, in the first issue we wanted to include as many poets as we could who had published in the original Burning Bush. Several former contributors answered the call, including Kevin Higgins, Patrick Chapman, Todd Swift, JT Menesini and Nuala Ní Chonchúir.” Here’s the complete list of poets in the first issue of Burning Bush Revival. There is also a Facebook appreciation and info page available at this link.

About  the poem, ‘and her yellow music caught in the throat of birds’

I wrote a small poem in Barcelona which is there at the very end of the poets’ list. I lately again found the notebooks where I had initially written the Irish version (in an old craftsman’s handbook, which I had tied with elastic at the time). The poem and two others were filed in a folder relating to a set of images I had been working on called Archivum. The folder was in a small group of other folders that I had been meaning to search through, and last week just after the funeral of a dear friend I recovered them while looking for his letters. I wrote it in bad Irish and thought it better to send a translation instead. (luckily)

The full list of poets in the Burning Bush 2 Revival Online Meeting 

Michael S. Begnal, Kevin Higgins , Maurice Scully,  John Thomas Menesini, Patrick Chapman, Nuala Ní Chonchúir,  Keith Gaustad, David Wheatley,  David Stone, John W. Sexton, Todd Swift , Emily Cullen , Dave Lordan, Paul Perry, Annemarie Ní Chuireann, John MacKenna Stephanie Conn, Gerard Smyth Shannon, Ward Miceál Kearney, Sarah Maria Griffin, Jean Kavanagh , Peadar O’Donoghue , Kerrie O’Brien, JP Dancing Bear,  Gerard Beirne , C. Murray

The Burning Bush 2 can be found at this internet address.

The Burning Bush Revival Meeting is online