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chrys Salt on Tessa ransford
Chrys Salt MBE is a poet, playwright, and theatre director who is a much loved part of the Scottish poetry scene. She has written and edited many books and magazines, held writing residencies and performed her work in the UK, American, Canada, France, Germany and Finland and India. She is Artistic Director of the Bakehouse a flourishing arts venue in South West Scotland and runs performance and skills development workshops for professional actors at the London Actors Centre and in writing and performance country wide.
TESSA RANSFORD OBE, A PERSONAL RECOLLECTION
My friendship with Tessa Ransford stretched far enough back for me not to remember exactly how we met, but she became a regular contributor to Markings, the Literature Magazine I co-edited with John Hudson in its later years. She became a dedicated supporter of The Bakehouse, our spoken word venue in Gatehouse of Fleet, where she was a frequent visitor and launched several of her wonderful books.
Whenever Tessa came she loved to visit Cairn Holy, the Neolithic burial cairns overlooking Wigtown Bay. She found it quite magical.
Markings was proud to publish a 70th Birthday tribute for Tessa in issue 27 with an in-depth interview and commentaries on her life and work from friends and prominent figures. We were inundated with poets from across Scotland who knew her and wanted to contribute. The keynote of almost every contribution was her kindness ( although she could be sharp) her generosity in bringing poets together, her vision and determination in The Good Cause of Poetry – its power to change hearts and minds and of course, her massive contribution to the Scottish Poetry scene - the creation of The Scottish Poetry Library being her crowning achievement.
Tessa was cut from the same cloth as Adrian Mitchell – a poet we both revered – a natural pacifist, a peace-monger and an instinctive democrat.
Our friendship and mutual admiration led to the birth of Three of a Kind, regular readings with Pauline Prior Pitt.
Pauline sent me this little message to read at her Memorial. ‘I remember Tessa being very, very keen for the two of us to meet and she was right. I relish our friendship. She was so kind to me, and after I won the Callum MacDonald Award she invited me to read with her at Word Power during the Edinburgh Festival and then at the Word Festival in Aberdeen - it is her kindness and her laughter that I think about most of all’.
Tessa’s loss was compounded by the loss of her son-in-law that fine poet Sandy Hutchison, a big man in every way. His eulogy at Tessa’s funeral was the best I have heard. I’m glad I was able to tell him so. Another enormous loss to the Scottish poetry scene.
We dedicated BIG LIT: The Stewartry Book Festival 2016 to Tessa’s memory.
FOR TESSA, AFTER THE FUNERAL
I was dry eyed at your funeral.
The hymns, the prayers, the perfect eulogy,
I watched through glass.
But afterwards driving the high road home to Galloway,
I felt your loss, hills bruised with heather,
birds weaving a jagged course
as if to join the tattered cloud
and make sky whole again.
I tried some words out in my head to fit.
How you would miss
the Autumn Solstice at Cairn Holy now.
the tail of your last summer,
touching the time clock of the standing stones
What I would miss.
Your voice, colonial with a dash of Scots,
passionate, silvery, mostly kind,
steel in defence of those things right and good.
Three of a kind, now only Two.
Emails, postcards, messages,
thanking, congratulating, short, considerate.
I have one from the hospice on my desk.
It just says 'Thank you, love from Tessa' in a shaky hand.
Wasn’t dying enough to think about?
What's left behind when all is said and done
not much for most of us.
‘The leaves by which we live’
swept up by final Autumns one by one.
But this, I know with certainty
The Library you built for us,
the books you made, your passion
for a life of poetry,
its power to change hearts and minds.
These are your standing stones,
your legacy. These shine.
Chrys Salt MBE