Olivia Byard was born in South Wales, and grew up on the Cotswolds and in
Montreal, Canada, where she subsequently studied at Queens University and the
University of Alberta. She returned to Britain as a young adult. She started to
write and publish poems both at home and abroad in the late eighties. In the
early nineties she began creative writing workshops in the weekly class
programme at Oxford University Department for Continuing Education. She also
taught for a while for Reading University Department for Extended Education and
was a part-time tutor for Stanford in Oxford. She taught Workshops for OUDCE at
Oxford for twenty-three years, but now prefers to read and teach when invited,
when not writing her fourth book. Her first collection of poems, From a
Benediction, from Peterloo Poets, was nominated for The Forward Prize for best
First Collection. Her second book, Strange Horses, from Flambard Press, was cited by
The Telegraph as one of the best recent collections, and received excellent
reviews. Her third book, The Wilding Eye―New and Selected Poems, was published by
The Worple Press. Her work has also been published and anthologised both in Britain
and abroad. It has been championed by such figures as Les Murray, Alastair
Fowler and Bernard O'Donoghue; and in their life-times, John Bayley, Anna Ridler
and Brian Cox. She has strong feelings about unfairness in society and the wider
world―and about climate change in particular―and our urgent need for renewables and a sustainable, kinder system of living where humans, animals and
plants can all thrive together in a healthier world. She has published a number
of letters in The Guardian, and often comments on social, political, and
literary matters on-line. The Wilding Eye was reviewed by and chosen as
The New Statesman recommended read in June 2015.
The Torturerís Horse
Ďin... some untidy spot
where... the torturerís horse
scratches its innocent behind on a tree.í
ĎMusťe des Beaux Artsí W H Auden
I worry about the torturerís horse―
I know itís futile, but I do; how it smells
blood on the hands that feed it oats
and its careful eyes roll; how it trembles
each time its withers are stroked because
it senses just what those hands do;
how it tosses its head as it waits down below
hearing thin screams on the air;
how it misses its footing and flinches, in case
that well-used crop falls too near.
I suspect it would twitch again
as a body falls down from on high;
and would shift with yet more unease
at another solitary cry. So I pray
it doesnít quiver as those legs
splash into the sea; that it munches
and scratches its wealed and scarred arse―
untroubled by you or me.
The Crimson Scarf
For my Mother
When I first kissed the puckered skin
that had been breast, it was to make you
better. We always kissed to make it better.
For a while you sported a crimson scarf―
a slash of colour defying dark and all its
weighty terrors. I weighed the false breast
in my hands and found it very heavy.
Later you would start to cry―I would not
know why, and grow impatient
with your passivity. In fact the ravages
had spread, and you, confined
to your sick bed, grew thinner by the day.
Soon death outstripped both clothes
and kisses. But Iíve kept your crimson scarf
with its powerful charm against the dark.
A Child Leaves Home
I grieve for your dead childhood:
abandoned, an empty chrysalis.
A few of your things remain: too trivial
or precious for your maiden flight,
and, talismans in safe hidey-holes,
I squirrel them away―while they stay,
you must return. After we left you,
your wings folded quietly by your sides,
looking forlorn, almost untried, I cried
for your fragility. That capsule of time
encases me still; a hard case from which
I will only crack free, when you return:
and I admire your wing span.
On a festively-cold afternoon, you
skim an ice-rink square alone―swish
across its unpocked skin, attuned
to silence and criss-crossing tracks
Youíre fleeing the clink of bottle
and glass―the alien brittle all-season din
Among snow swirls and winter still,
bells howl out your wildness
What hides there in sly twilight?
Hush, do you hear―among
this undergrowth? Overgrowth?
If something wrong squats
fetid in its lair, drag it
with labouring arms to daylight―
stake it down under the hard sun and wait,
then when allís done and quiet,
cut off a piece of hair, and burn it.
Snippets of heart-code
at risk in stirred air, will slowly sink―
shift and rest among leaves
bark-torn twigs, the bones
and healthy droppings of tiny beasts―
sift over time to compost.