Signpost Nineteen, ‘Woodsmoke’, Anne-Marie Fyfe



Did you know that the amygdala and the hippocampus in the brain deal with emotion and memory? Did you also know that, whereas sound and vision do not pass through these areas, our sense of smell does? This might be why Anne-Marie Fyfe’s perfect little poem, ‘Woodsmoke’ is so successful and gives you the tingles. If you don’t know what I mean by “the tingles”, you haven’t found the right kind of poetry for you yet – I urge you to keep looking.

‘Woodsmoke’ is the final poem in Anne-Marie’s collection, Late Crossing, published in 1999 by Rockingham Press and available from this link:

Check out Anne-Marie’s website, /,  which tells you all about her poetry collections (most recently the stunning House of Small Absences), her workshops and readings, and not least about Coffee House Poetry at the gorgeous Troubadour Café in London  (Go to the workshops if you can.)

Back to the poem. I chose it because this blog is simply to showcase poetry that inspires me to write, in the hope that it will inspire you, too. I remember being told in a creative writing lecture to pay attention to all the senses. This one manages to include sight, sound, and taste, as well as scent. Maybe it even includes the sixth sense: extrasensory perception. Here it is, reproduced with kind permission of the poet:



The thought comes to me today –
suppose I were to die
for an hour or two, rest
with you on Chapel Road:
in that chasm we’d breathe
September’s woodsmoke, catch
the russet tang of apple.
We could listen to the river
rill over granite
then quicken for the open sea.
We wouldn’t speak. No need.
Just to look on you again
and you to look on me.



(Tingle, tingle, tingle.) Please note how every line has an image or thought and how ideas and emotions are beautifully condensed in this poem.

The first line makes you want to know what the poet was thinking, and read on. The second line is such a shock – see how brilliantly the line break is placed between the second line and “for an hour or two”, whereupon we exhale a little with relief, then have that gentle word, “rest” carrying us to the next line, “with you on Chapel Road”. Not “the road”, but a specific road, which shows us there is relationship with the poet and the person to whom it’s addressed. Perhaps they walked to chapel together every Sunday? To me, there’s also the possibility that the “you” of the poem is buried in the graveyard next to that chapel.

The next line has the super-clever word “chasm” – perfect to describe a place where someone could be dead just for a few hours to meet a loved one who’s died, followed by the word “breathe” to give us a little air. Then “September’s woodsmoke” and “the russet tang of apple”, bringing thoughts, images, tastes of Autumnal (yes, I’m going to have to say it) “mists and mellow fruitfulness”.

Then the delightful word “rill”, but not a pretty babbling brook down a verdant valley; this one runs over “granite” – harsh, cold, dark and grey. Followed by “then quicken for the open sea”, which gives the poem movement, sound, and a feeling of water rushing and the expanse of oceans, as well as the whole imagery of the sea, its waves, and its relationship to the circle of life, the moon and time.

Then the little line we two short sentences that grab you by the heart:

“We wouldn’t speak. No need.”

And the last two lines, so lyrical with their beautiful rhyme.




Can you see why this poem chose me?

For your own poems, look for astonishing first lines to grab the reader’s attention, then memorable last lines. Look for movement in your poem, or a way to make it soar, as this one moves from dying, resting, breathing, listening to a brook quickening for the open sea. Try and express as many senses as are necessary to the poem, and remember how scent goes with memory and can be potent. Use rhyme sparingly and in keeping with the poem.

There are so many prompts that can be taken from this poem: the sound of brooks, the sea, smells, memories, loved ones who’ve passed away and what you’d like to do again with them, or maybe someone you hated, or had a bittersweet relationship with.

As always, if anyone’s inspired to write a poem after reading this, then please let me know via the comments tab.