This week’s poem is from Hilary Menos’s Red Devon, first published in 2013.
In the late 90’s the poet Hilary Menos moved from Camden Town in London to a farmhouse two miles from a small village in Devon. Over the next ten years, together with her husband Andy Brodie and three sons, she turned this into a 100 acre organic farm with a herd of pedigree Red Devon cows and a flock of Wiltshire Horn sheep.
In Red Devon, her second collection, Menos reveals her experiences as a “blow in” from upcountry moving into a tight-knit rural community and seeing at first hand some of the human and animal costs of the conflict between traditional farming methods and the demands of modern commercial agriculture. She also tells the story of a burgeoning love affair between farmer Grunt Garvey and haulier Jo Tucker, a romance which ends in tragedy. Alongside these two stories, one fictional and one very real, runs a concern for farmers around the world whose livelihoods – and lives – are threatened by global changes in agriculture.
There was the one dog, neither use nor ornament.
Each morning he lurked by the tanker’s dribbling spout
licking his chops. Spawned every cur in the district.
Bit the postman, once, and got away with it.
There was the other dog, two-bit brother to the first,
eyes like spilt milk. Danced on the slurry pit’s crust
one time too many, said Bob, and no good since.
Bit the builder’s foreman twice, and got away with it.
There was the third dog, each month went walk about
under a chicken moon, fetching and shedding stars.
Deaf to everyone but Bob’s dad, now four years
bed-bound. What shall I say? Bit nobody, yet.
And lastly there was the bitch. Bit the child.
The four shots blew through the lanes and echoed loud
in the neighbour’s eyes. Only Bob shook my hand,
hitching his trousers up with a “Welcome, my friend.”