new zealand electronic poetry centre

S o m e   s h e l l s   i n   a   t o b a c c o   t i n

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                                                                                                     Helen Rickerby

Thank you Ruth Dallas


When I heard that Ruth Dallas had died, dairy cows immediately jumped into my head.

I wasn't quite sure why, until another memory came: sitting at the brown formica table next to the tiny poetry section of the Upper Hutt Public Library, bent over ‘Milking before Dawn’: ‘In the drifting rain the cows in the yard are as black/And wet and shiny as rocks in an ebbing tide.’

I was a teenage poet (not that the angst-filled verse I wrote really deserves to be called ‘poetry’, but fortunately I was, as yet, unaware of its deficiencies, or I may have given up entirely), and I was looking for foremothers.

There were only a couple of shelves of poetry books, and not many of those had the black-and-white New-Zealand-book koru sticker on their spines. And even fewer were by women.

But the grey steel shelves of the Upper Hutt Public Library poetry section did contain books by women such as Lauris Edmond, Elizabeth Smither, Fiona Kidman and, of course, Ruth Dallas. I devoured them.

It gave me hope to know that not all poets were dead men from England, and that some were women from New Zealand. And some were even still alive.

It’s sad that Ruth is now among those who have passed on, but someone who can make cows sound so beautiful will never leave us entirely.