About David Morley
David Morley is an ecologist, poet, editor and teacher. Emerging with Releasing Stone (Arc, 1989), he has since published five collections with Carcanet, the most recent, The Invisible Gift: Selected Poems (2015), won the 2015 Ted Hughes Award; his previous collection, The Gypsy and the Poet, was a PBS Recommendation. He teaches at Warwick University and is Alliance Professor at Monash University, Melbourne. An international advocate of Creative Writing, he is the author of the bestselling Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing, and his podcasts are among the most popular iTunes downloads on the subject worldwide.
Morley’s background in zoology expressly influences his approach to language, as his collection Scientific Papers (2002, the first of a trilogy, ending with Enchantment) states, ‘each piece of writing is a scientific paper in itself, a series of findings’. Given the poet’s interest in the play of phonetics and form – these collections include concrete poetry, use of the pantoum, and the poet is known elsewhere for his ‘slow poetry’ sculptures – they are findings in the medium of language; language and science become a ‘single discussion of perception’. In ‘Goldcrests’, excerpted here, poetic language is mimetic of the fidgeting alterations of the birds and their environment:
She sings light, he sings lightly, from the pine-needled nestcup.
He shifts lightly; she shifts light, among the burrs in the nestcup.
How slightly, how very slight, the sky shrinks to their egg shell hue.
The trilogy also saw an increasing engagement in Romani lore and dialect, as here, with the ‘Bears’ who amble through Victorian England with a clan of Gypsies and their enlivening names for counties and cities. Tim Liardet wrote of The Invisible Kings that the ‘gutterals and cadences […] create the spell within which Morley’s universe turns to magic, and led me to ask whether understanding could exist in phonetics alone’. In introducing here work from The Gypsy and the Poet (2013), a book which brings together the real-life encounter between John Clare and the Gypsy Wisdom Smith in a sequence of sonnets, Morley states that Wisdom ‘leapt into me from the pages of John Clare’s notebooks’. ‘The Invisible Gift’ echoes Liardet’s words in that John Clare so tenderly ‘feathers a space’ for language charged with negative capability: he ‘does not know what to think’; song transcends thinking and knowing, as the song of goldcrests transcends the ‘pine-needle dark’. The poem’s careful incubating of such a ‘gift’ (read with careful attention to its ‘taps and lilts’) also fittingly echoes the poet’s lifelong commitment to nurturing the gifts of other writers and students.
Morley talks, in one of his generous introductions to his Archive recordings, of his interest in the ‘opening between fields of language and experience’, and one can hear in his delivery a close attention not only to the ambiguities of language and dialect but to the very spaces between words.
David Morley’s favourite quote about poetry:
‘This is why I value that little phrase “I don’t know” so highly. It’s small, but it flies on mighty wings. It expands our lives to include the spaces within us as well as those outer expanses in which our tiny Earth hangs suspended.’ – Wislawa Szymborska
This recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 11 January 2016 at Soundhouse and was produced by Richard Carrington.
Poems by David Morley
Featured in the Archive
Books by David Morley
A Static Ballroom
Fellowship from the Freshwater Biological AssociationPrize website
Arts Council Fellow in Writing at the University of WarwickPrize website
Fellow of The English AssociationPrize website
Ted Hughes Award for New Poetry for 'The Invisible Gift: Selected Poems'Prize website
Cholmondeley AwardPrize website
Eric Gregory AwardPrize website
Tyrone Guthrie AwardPrize website
Hawthornden International Writers FellowshipPrize website
Arts Council Writers AwardPrize website
Raymond Williams PrizePrize website
National Teaching FellowshipPrize website
Fellow of The Royal Society of Literature.Prize website