Laura Day: Norman Nicholson and Cumbrian Poetic Landscapes

As part of the Armitt 2023 Talk Series, Laura Day gave an excellent talk on Norman Nicholson and Cumbrian Poetic Landscapes. It's always a joy to visit the Armitt Library in Ambleside and their series of talks is extremely interesting and thought provoking. This talk was certainly no exception.

I discovered that I loved Norman Nicholson's poetry relatively recently. I had read and enjoyed much of his prose writing about Cumberland and Westmorland before I embarked on his poetry. I think visiting Millom and St George's Church, and seeing Christine Boyce's commemorative stained glass window, really inspired me. Nicholson's relationship with T S Eliot also encouraged me to read his work. While publishing his early work, Nicholson was introduced to T.S. Eliot who was working as a reading editor at Faber & Faber at that time. He helped Nicholson publish his first collection, Five Rivers. 

When I started reading Nicholson's poetry, I realised how close his work feels to Dylan Thomas. The same sense of being rooted in the landscape, the same feeling for the landscape and the people who inhabit it.

Black Combe White

Home at last to the known tight streets,
The hunched chapels, the long canals of smoke -
And now, from my own doorway, between gable and chimney,
That harsh, scarred brow, entirely stripped of snow,
Impending over yard and attic sky-light,
A dark, parental presence. And when the neighbours tell me:
'The Combe was white last night!' - I don't believe them.
It's always black from here.

We could almost be in Thomas's Llareggub!

Laura Day's talk focused on the landscape that inspired Norman Nicholson who was born, raised, and died in the same house in Millom, in South Cumbria. His county landscape, given that he lived on the Cumbrian coast, looked out over iron ore mines and other forms of heavy industry, including the Sellafield nuclear power station (then known as Windscale). She read and explored many of Nicholson's poems which are less familiar to me. Her focus was on the poems of the industrial landscape. Really interesting.

Nicholson writes of slagheaps and dust, the Duddon Estuary, and the Irish Sea; an industrial, then post-industrial, landscape. In the talk Laura Day explored the way Nicholson connects to the landscape through both his poetry and prose. 


The toadstool towers infest the shore:
Stink-horns that propagate and spore
Wherever the wind blows.
Scafell looks down from the bracken band
And sees hell in a grain of sand,
And feels the canker itch between his toes.

This is a land where the dirt is clean
And poison pasture, quick and green,
And storm sky, bright and bare;
Where sewers flow with milk, and meat
is carved up for the fire to eat,
And children suffocate in God's fresh air.

Laura's passion for Nicholson's work was really inspirational. An excellent talk.