On Saturday 12 October, the poet Alison Prince breathed her last. Born in 1931, she'd had a long life, as these things go, though her last few years were complicated by illness, including major heart surgery. She is survived by four children, six grandchildren, three great-great grandchildren, and two cats.
To everyone who knew Alison in her last decades, she was a starburst of creativity. She could turn her hand to almost anything: she could paint, she could draw, she could write, she played clarinet (jazz in a local group), she sang, she sustained friendships, helped and encouraged other writers, especially poets. She lived on the Scottish west coast island of Arran, which she loved. The vigour of her cheerfulness and determination was second to none.
Alison had always loved and written poetry (Mariscat Press brought out The Whifflet Train, a delightful pamphlet collection in 2003) but it wasn't what she was best known for. She was a prolific children's author, a life-long professional writer. The Sherwood Hero (1995) was joint winner (with Philip Pullman) of the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize. Oranges and Murder was the Scottish Arts Council Children's Book of the Year in 2002. She wrote for adults too: biographies of Kenneth Grahame and Hans Christian Andersen. And cult lovers of the Trumpton series will already know who wrote the scripts.
But I knew her as a poet. In 2016 I joined with Hamish Whyte of Mariscat Press to publish a full collection of Alison's poems.
Waking at Five Happens Again was stylishly printed by Glasgow Print and Design Centre, beautifully typeset by Gerry Cambridge.
This lovely book gathered together a rich harvest of late poems. Been 2014 and 2016 Alison had been writing poetry profusely. She was acutely aware of her own mortality: it was as if it had sharpened her appetite for language. In the year before Waking At Five, I would open letters and emails from her and out the poems would tumble, so fast I could hardly keep up with responses. Many featured death in one sense or another, sometimes as the 'seductive musician', sometimes as a croupier, or 'the vast unknown'. Every scrap was characterised by wit, resourcefulness, lightness of touch, and a precise lyric ear.
Certain poems are touchstones. Here is one of them. It is the last piece in Waking At Five Happens Again, by the poet, Alison Prince.
Nunc et in hora mortis nostrae
It's very old, this singing
with no conductor and no instrument,
sometimes monastic, sometimes a madrigal
for joy or lament. Weep, O Mine Eyes,
the rising thirds a creeping grief.
If not running well, do it again.
It's the trying hard, the coming right,
that brings us to this table with its water jug,
to listen and to sing.