2 minutes reading time (457 words)

Touchstones: Alison Prince

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. 



Two of Alison's paintings
Smiles, Forests, Damsels, Knitting and Water
 

Comments 5

Guest - Mary Thomson on Friday, 18 October 2019 19:49

Thank you Nell, a beautifully expressed tribute to a remarkable woman and artist.

Thank you Nell, a beautifully expressed tribute to a remarkable woman and artist.
Guest - Freda Edis (Cook) on Friday, 18 October 2019 20:52


A lovely tribute, Nell. It captures Alison's creativity beautifully. She will always be to me, rhough, my art teacher, as well as the poet she later became. She was kind, encouraging and genuinely interested in children and their development. I have many happy memories of her.

A lovely tribute, Nell. It captures Alison's creativity beautifully. She will always be to me, rhough, my art teacher, as well as the poet she later became. She was kind, encouraging and genuinely interested in children and their development. I have many happy memories of her.
D A Prince on Saturday, 19 October 2019 11:08

Alison's name lodged in my mind in the early 1970s when her sharply witty writing made her a regular winner in the New Statesman competitions. By the end of the century we were overlapping in magazines until she wrote to me (via Literary Review) - "Is your name Derek?"; "Er - no". We discovered shared interests. Her letters, usually illustrated, were a joy to receive; she had distinctive, beautifully fluid, handwriting; we shared poems, books, favourite authors, and news of our cats. We came face to face, at last, in 2016 on the Isle of Arran at the launch of Waking at Five Happens Again, a memorable weekend of poetry and people. Yes, I have happy memories of her too.

Alison's name lodged in my mind in the early 1970s when her sharply witty writing made her a regular winner in the New Statesman competitions. By the end of the century we were overlapping in magazines until she wrote to me (via Literary Review) - "Is your name Derek?"; "Er - no". We discovered shared interests. Her letters, usually illustrated, were a joy to receive; she had distinctive, beautifully fluid, handwriting; we shared poems, books, favourite authors, and news of our cats. We came face to face, at last, in 2016 on the Isle of Arran at the launch of Waking at Five Happens Again, a memorable weekend of poetry and people. Yes, I have happy memories of her too.
Guest - Charlotte Gann on Thursday, 24 October 2019 18:23

This is lovely, Nell.  I loved Alison's book of poems – for instance, 'Grass':
'Only what hurts / and what is beautiful can matter now...'

But my favourite memory is of the impact her JOE stories had on me when I was a child.
The warmest.
It's why I've always loved the name, and ended up calling one son Joe!

This is lovely, Nell.  I loved Alison's book of poems – for instance, 'Grass': 'Only what hurts / and what is beautiful can matter now...' But my favourite memory is of the impact her JOE stories had on me when I was a child. The warmest. It's why I've always loved the name, and ended up calling one son Joe!
Pamela Christine Gormally on Thursday, 07 November 2019 14:05

Thank you Nell for such a lovely tribute. I missed her poetry as I came to poetry late in life - I'll now order her latest collection. Very moved by the excerpt and will also look at her writing for children. She sounds an inspirational lady. What a generous life!

Thank you Nell for such a lovely tribute. I missed her poetry as I came to poetry late in life - I'll now order her latest collection. Very moved by the excerpt and will also look at her writing for children. She sounds an inspirational lady. What a generous life!
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Wednesday, 20 November 2019