There Will Always Be Singing; Doris Lessing 19192013
‘When I look back I seem to remember singing.
Yet it was always silent in that long warm room.
Impenetrable , those walls , we thought,
Dark with ancient shields. The light
Shone on the head of a girl or young limbs
Spread carelessly. And the low voices
Rose in the silence and were lost as in water.’
Doris Lessing 19192013
When a person of great age dies, there are many responses about the richness of their life and how we have been
blessed by their presence for so long in our world. Yet for me there was and is profound sorrow at the loss to us of
Doris Lessing, Nobel Laureate, author, philosopher and poet. I do not delude myself that my sorrow is one of
intimate connection to her, a whole generation of women writers had that connection to her voice.
My connection to Doris Lessing’s writing began in my twenties when I read The Golden Notebook, I read almost all
her work after that, and I liked it. I am unsure of where the guttear occurred in my reaction to her work, but here
was a writer who did things that I admired. I couldn’t quite locate her effect on me, but I knew it and recognised it as
important to my writing.
I live in the city and often escape to a small house in Mayo, where my now deceased friend, Michael McMullin, a
philosopher and jungian, had retained a library. His Lessings were collected on the top shelf of his library,
alongside some images of Chartres Cathedral, and his Yeats collection. Like Lessing he had attained a great age
and had a voracious thirst for knowledge, he was born in Ceylon in 1916.
I found it winsome that Michael would so assidiously collect Lessing, and that he often referred to her. His
nomadism had taken him from Ceylon, to Cambridge, to escape from Hitler’s paris, to Sweden, to Canada , and to
end his life, a hillside In the NorthWest of Ireland. I did not meet Doris Lessing, but I have met in Michael that
great intellectual and questing spirit that seems to inflame the diasporist writer.
Doris Lessing’s death brought back my own recent loss with a punch. I saw the rumours of her death emerging
from early sunday morning and I waited to hear if it were true. I felt weird about linking her poems, but again I felt
that people should know that she was a poet of accomplishment.
Two years ago I was rereading Lessing in the Mayo library, Michael was dying and we were taking turns to watch
him. When I returned to the city, I thought to do some searches of her writing, as I was aware that she like Ted
Hughes has elements of sufism in her writing. I was aware that she had written poetry and I couldn’t find much. I
always think that the place to look for the mythos, esoterical and philosophical mind of the writer is in their poetic
output. Poetry is the revelatory act of participation in the world.
I found that she had written a small collection Fourteen Poems in 1959 , published by The Scorpion Press , and
that she had contributed to the Inpopa Anthology (2002). Her poetry isn’t available online. The Scorpion Press
Archive is housed at the McFarlin Library (Special Collections) at the University of Tulsa. I needed to know, and
whilst I located people who had a copy of the book, I really wanted to read it for myself.
I contacted Alison Greenlee at the Special Collections Library and she located me a copy of the book in my Alma
Mater, University College Dublin. I made an appointment to go in as soon as I could and I transcribed a selection
of the poems for myself. The next step was to contact Jonathan Clowes Ltd, who are Doris Lessing’s agents.
I am forever grateful to Olivia Guest at Jonathan Clowes Ltd who worked on my behalf to bring Doris Lessing’s
poetry back online. We corresponded initially by letter and I procured a temporary 12 month licence to add Lessing
to my index of women poets. I felt that I wanted her to be recognised for her entire body of work and not alone the
novels. After the initial permissions to carry the Lessing poetry were given, the first letter went awol and had to be
reissued, I put them up and shared them regularly.
i wrote about the poems on Open Salon. There were 3,000 hits on the poetry over the two blogs. People contacted
me to say that they wanted to read the books, that they had no idea that she was a poet , and that they were
heartened to see a woman poet of great age appearing on their computer screens, as there is often a problem
with having older women visible in the media.
The following year , I sent Olivia a synopsis of the reaction to Doris Lessing’s poetry and we agreed to extend the
licence for another 12 months.
This year of 2013 , I again contacted Olivia and reminded her that my licence to carry the poetry was about due to
end and that it gave me great sorrow to take the poems off my index , as I felt at home with them and that people
were always looking for them.
last week I received an email that made me sadder. Doris Lessing had little confidence in her poetry and her
agents were happy to allow me keep them indefinitely because they did not see the possibility of a reissue. This
is the email :
We’d be delighted for you to host the poems for longer especially if you’re getting such good reactions.
Doris Lessing was never very keen on her poetry and didn’t think it was any good so I doubt we will see
a reissue but at least this way, they are available in an alternative form.
Many thanks and best wishes
I wondered then if Doris Lessing knew over these years that I had the poems and that they had caused such a
reaction. I still do not know if she did.
Last week I announced that I would be retaining the poems for sometime and that I had received the above letter
I blogged it in absolute delight, because it is a small but profound part of her writing jigsaw and it allows us to
call her a poet.
To a mind like Lessing’s death is a transformation and not an ending. Yesterday, after I decided to honour her
writing and look at the story of the poems, I closed up my blog for the day and took a walk with my daughter.
When I got home , I saw that there were upward of a thousand hits on the Lessing letters, articles, posts and
Today there is a similar amount building up. People want to know that questing intellect and they are searching.
if I could say one thing to Doris Lessing, it would be that her poetry is the source and cause of joy and many ,
many people feel her loss in this world.
RIP Doris May Lessing X X
Doris Lessing was a nomadic writer whose presence in the world of writing reflected massive geopolitical
changes. She was born in Persia, (now Iran)and grew into womanhood in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). This fact
alone speaks of her diaspora, that great nomadism wherein the shape of the globe shrunk and huge
postcolonial change took place.