Thursday, February 04, 2016

Libby Houston

[Image source:]

This is not the post I planned to write today, but I want to note it down while I think of it.

I was scanning through Tom Raworth's wonderful Notes (his blog, really), and in his account of the Lee Harwood memorial night in Brighton (25/9/15), he mentions a poet called Libby Houston, "whom I remember as the only woman poet in an overwhelmingly male reading scene of the early 1960s". As if that wasn't intriguing enough, he remarked that she might be the only poet of that era to have a tree named after her: Sorbus x houstoniae . ( .

That doesn't tell the half of it. Houston has done lots of work on the botany of the Avon Gorge for the university of Bristol; she's a skilled rock climber, She discovered Sorbus x houstoniae herself: there's only one known specimen and it can be reached only with ropes. It's a natural hybrid of Sorbus aria (the common whitebeam) with Sorbus bristoliensis (one of several unique endemics in the Avon Gorge).

All this is well documented on her Wikipedia entry. [Sadly, the beautiful photo used to illustrate Sorbus x houstoniae is, in fact, just Sorbus aria; ripening berries and big winking leaves photographed in Vivary Park, Taunton.]

Houston has published several poetry collections and I eventually tracked down an online poem on John Harvey's blog: :  I guess it's OK to reproduce it here:

In 1943
my father
dropped bombs on the continent

I remember
my mother
talking about bananas
in 1944

when it rained,
creeping alone to the windowsill,
I stared up the hill,
watching, watching,
watching without a blink
for the Mighty Bananas
to stride through the blitz

they came in paper bags
in neighbours’ hands
when they came
and took their time
over the coming

and still I don’t know
where my father
flying home
took a wrong turning

Apparently this was the first poem from her first collection, A Stained Glass Raree Show (1967), so it may not be very representative.

There are also three quotations and a nice photo of Libby Houston (with Sorbus blossom) here:

I'll update this post when I find out anything more.

Oak carving of Libby Houston by Alistair Park, 2014

[Image source:]

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