Some poems yield deeper and different insights on each reading.  One reason I love working in groups is, that when poems are read aloud, in different voices, there’s always a nuance or new register that brings the poem differently alive.  I woke up this morning thinking about Stanley Kunitz’ poem, The Layers and was sure, because it’s such a favourite, I must have blogged on it before.  It seems I only mentioned it in passing, as an example of a ‘talking poem’.

I’m away from my home in Canterbury – where I’ve lived now for almost two years, not far from the village where I mostly grew up, from age eight until I left home at seventeen. I’m staying in Falmouth, where I lived for five of the twelve years I was mostly resident in Cornwall.  Like Canterbury, Falmouth is a potent place in psychogeographical terms.  Both have relatively small populations but masses of visitors – lots of tourists and in the case of Falmouth, maritime traffic, and Canterbury, people drawn by the great and ancient traditions of the Church. Both have a large proportion of students to permanent residents.  Being in these beautiful and significant places gives a sense of ‘walking through many lives / some of them my own’.

Being ‘back’ is both wonderful and emotional. With friends, we pick up where we left off but of course circumstances change. On Friday, I read at Warleggan Church as part of a Bach Pilgrimage, organized by Carn to Cove,  alongside Charles Fox, as part of a tour by violinist Thomas Bowes. Warleggan is known as the most remote village in Cornwall and is high up on Bodmin Moor.  The Moor is often a cliché of swirling mist and louring rocks but on Friday, could not have been more benign. The sky was a matt blue, the usually black water of Colliford Lake was turquoise, and the late-flowering hedgerows, an exuberant mix of flowers that are normally over by now, bluebells and wild garlic, mixing with red campion, Queen Anne’s lace and bright new leaf on the knobbly oaks.

It was heart-achingly lovely but poignant too.  Several years ago, I lived on Bodmin Moor for six months after leaving my husband and I have mixed and complicated feelings both about the place and my time there.  On this visit, I learned that someone I’d hoped to catch up with in the village had died recently and unexpectedly. There were choes of Kunitz’ lines, ‘I see the milestones dwindling / toward the horizon /and the slow fires trailing/ from the abandoned camp-sites, /over which scavenger angels/ wheel on heavy wings.

Beauty and loss.  Tom’s exquisite playing conveyed a whole universe of emotion with Bach’s music somehow bringing order and harmony to what was a muddle of feelings.  I suppose there are parallels with the riotous hedgerows which seem chaotic and yet within them, each individual flower and leaf fits a precise pattern.

But it has been wonderful to be here in Falmouth with my tribe, and to experience that sense of connection, reconnection and renewal, literally as I’m staying with friends who are in the process of a big renovation project.

People sometimes ask whether I’m ‘settled’ in Canterbury.  The implied word is ‘finally’.  I don’t think settling is what I do – but neither do I shed the many places I’ve lived in.  Perhaps that’s why ‘The Layers’ came to me so powerfully today – that there are layers of me that are specifically and powerfully Cornwall.  Here’s a question – do we ‘wear’ the places we live in, houses, towns, landscapes, like layers of clothing?  Or are we are formed of them, in a geological sense, like layers of granite or chalk, with areas of fossils or flint?

Stanley Kunitz writes, ‘I am not done with my changes’.  It reminds me of something I read by Geoff Dyer – in his book ‘Out of Sheer Rage’ that he had a sense of not ‘having lived in all my houses yet’.  Also, thinking about the stories I tell myself about my life in Cornwall and elsewhere, I’m reminded of his statement about ‘Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It’, ‘Everything in this book really happened, but some of the things that happened only happened in my head.’  My time on Bodmin Moor was a bit like that.



  1. Carol Ross June 6, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    Lovely post Victoria. I will have to look up the poem The Layers. I don’t think I’ve read any Stanley Kunitz yet. Warm wishes (literally today!) Carol.

    • 6vicky7 June 12, 2013 at 5:44 pm

      thanks Carol – you are in for a treat – I recommend his book about being over 100 years old and still gardening …

  2. Lila Weisberger June 6, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    Dear Victoria,
    I hear your feast, your losses, longings and the power of your life force. I find the same sentiment in Kunitz’ poem “The Layers” which has lines that teach me the best way to survive. I want to “live in the layers not on the litter.” I was thinking today that as I slow down the clock is chasing me. It is quite a task to accept the new layer I am in.

    Thanks for your provocative, touching words.

    • 6vicky7 June 12, 2013 at 5:46 pm

      Thank you Lila – you are certainly someone who lives fully in the layers – I think that’s a place where the clock can’t chase you! with love xx

  3. oe12 June 6, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    Hi Vicky- enjoyed reading the post and the poem. Both very lovely.

  4. Roz Cawley June 7, 2013 at 8:37 am

    I love your blog posts, Victoria – each one of them has real ‘grist for my mill’ in it, each one sends me away from the keyboard thinking, turning things over in my mind. The Kunitz poem really spoke to me, I did not know it but will read it and savour it over and over. His words
    ‘Oh, I have made myself a tribe
    out of my true affections,
    and my tribe is scattered!’
    describe my Internet friendships so well!
    Thank you for sharing these thoughts with us.
    Roz x

    • 6vicky7 June 12, 2013 at 5:49 pm

      That’s a great observation about the internet tribe! So glad to have your feedback, thank you x

  5. Karen Harvey June 9, 2013 at 9:40 am

    I remember us looking at The Layers in one of your workshops at Ty Newydd. Whenever I reread it or hear it discussed, new layers of meaning emege especiallly as time passes. I am now a few years older, have had a few more years life experience I relate to more lines of the poem. Thank you for your lovely words and reminding me of this poem. I shall look it up again.

    • 6vicky7 June 12, 2013 at 5:48 pm

      Hi Karen – I think this is one of those poems that’s infinitely rich – every time I read it, I see something new. Happy memories of TN xx

  6. Janey Thompson June 11, 2013 at 7:59 pm

    Love the Kunitz, which is on my kitchen cupboard; I sent this link to my son, who really liked your words – he too is going through liminal times and finding expression in some good writing

    • 6vicky7 June 12, 2013 at 5:47 pm

      Thank you Janey – good to hear your son is expressing himself in writing.

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