Rosemary McLeish, 1945-2020.
We are sorry to announce the death of our dear friend, Rosemary McLeish.
Rosemary McLeish was an amazing writer and artist whose debut full-length poetry collection I AM A FIELD and second collection DEFRAGMENTATION are published by Wordsmithery.
Although she wanted to be a journalist when a child, it wasn’t till she was nearly 40 that she began writing in earnest. A degree in Psychology as a mature student had a mysterious effect: after the course her hands wouldn’t stop moving; perhaps her body’s way of telling her that she needed to create; so she bought a piano, started writing and making art. Rosie mostly focussed on art during the time she lived in Glasgow and became a well-respected Outsider Artist – one of her artworks is on permanent display in Korea.
After moving to Kent she began performing her poetry regularly. Barry and I met her in 2017 and were blown away by her poems and delivery. In the next 3 years, Rosemary became a firm fixture on the Kent live lit scene, was published in magazines and anthologies and also took part in our Confluence Writers’ Development Scheme, performing alongside Henry Normal at our showcase at The Brook Theatre. She was runner up in the MsLexia/Poetry Book Society Women’s Poetry Competition 2018 with ‘Red Rebecca’, runner up in the Bedford International Writing Competition for her poem ‘New Wine’, and second prize for ‘No More Sanctuary’ in the Lord Whiskey Animal Sanctuary Poetry Competition 2019. Rosie was extremely widely-read and her considerable knowledge and passion about art and music is infused into her writing.
She was a great nurturer of other writers, and supported Confluence from its early days. You can read her poems in Issue 4 (‘I am a field’); Issue 5 (‘Clurabhig Sonata In A Minor Key’); Issue 6, a creative memoir piece (‘Arabesque’); Issue 8 (‘Babi Yar Revisited’ and ‘Aleppo’,); Issue 9 (the playful Richard Dadd Haiku series: ‘Richard Dadd’, ‘Following me about’ ‘Bloody Knife in Hand’,) which also showcased Rosemary’s art on the cover and inside.
Her debut full collection I AM A FIELD is a poetic memoir, and a musing on a lifetime’s deep connection with nature. Of the inspiration behind the collection, Rosemary said that she was "in love with the natural world, and feel so much part of it that these poems are where you will find me." In her review of the book, Joy Howard of Grey Hen Press writes that Rosemary takes ‘fear by the throat, telling it how it is’; which was very much Rosie’s way, in life and art.
Its final poignant poem about the transient life of a lone ‘Wolf in the Kootenays’ foreshadows the next collection:
“In this warm summer day
I pause for a moment
in the here and now;
mountain fades into blue air
fur blurs into grass as
I rest for a breath,
then I’m gone.”
DEFRAGMENTATION is a second poetic memoir. After her cancer returned, this time incurably, Rosie wanted to write about what the process of dying was like, warts and all, calling writing ‘the best medicine’, and she did, in this devastating, but beautiful collection. There would be no happy ending to this story. But even with the topic, flashes of Rosemary’s mischievous, dark humour come through, in ‘Stardust in your Eyes’ she says; ‘I’ll be watching you’.
“… suddenly you’ll hear
my voice in your ear making some caustic remark,
or my laughter will ring in your head at an inappropriate moment,
or you’ll realise an unpalatable truth
and an image of me will flash before you, me and my
big foot in my mouth.”
In the days since her death there has been a tidal wave of messages of sympathy and grief; from poetry friends, art friends, those who had published her, from people who’d only met her once, or not at all, but had become good friends online, and those who had read her poems. They all mention her amazing talent both at writing and art, her generosity towards other writers, her vibrancy and passionate soul. Like them, we will miss her. Rosie was such a self-effacing person, I wonder if this outpouring would surprise her. Rosemary McLeish was loved by so many people and an inspiration to so many; she will live on in her poetry and art which touched, and will continue to touch, many more.
‘I used to think that when you’re dead you’re dead.
… I know better now.
Sitting in the garden looking up at the blue, blue sky
one lovely day this summer, I thought, that’s where
I’ll be, home again, dispersed amongst the stars.’
From ‘Stardust in your Eyes’
(Photo by Luna Zsigo)