Northwords Now Issue 38

The FREE literary magazine of the North

Uncommon Place

Gerrie Fellows Shearsman (2019)

A Review by Jean Langhorne

In Uncommon Place, her fifth collection of poems, Gerrie Fellows explores the diverse landscapes of Scotland, from the Borders to the Cuillin Ridge on Skye, with fields, rivers, Botanic Gardens and mountains in between. Her main focus is on the experience of the walker with place; how the changing nature of place is revealed at a walking pace and the interactive relationship of the poet with place.
    These finely crafted poems represent layers of knowledge and experience, developed by Gerrie over years of walking in a variety of Scottish landscapes and of close observation of the natural world.
    Several of them take us with her on a journey and, through her acute observational skills and vivid imagery of the natural world, she allows us to share her experience of how the land slowly unfolds at a pedestrian pace.   They demonstrate an awareness and appreciation of the geology, natural history and human history of Scotland and the interplay between them.  They also include many instances of enchanting moments of beauty:
“in the strings of the wind    the river’s music
peregrine’s solitary mew      dragonflies
a coupled zither
            tumble rings of gold through air”

    In addition to her lucid and intelligent writing, Gerrie’s trademark as a poet is her objectivity; an effective stance from which to comment on nature-culture interaction. Often, what draws her to write about a landscape is its human presence and she frequently draws our attention to the tension between or juxtaposition of man-made structures and elements of wildness:
“the rusted fence, fallen wall
  intense green of moss and bilberry”

    This collection of poems about Scotland’s hills, moors, rivers and enclosures conjures up a vivid sense of place and of season. They weave in themes of geology, ecology and human history, expressing Gerrie’s understanding of the ecological and cultural nuances of a landscape and illustrating her deep literacy of place:
“the whole island
        done over with boulders
                  clearance cairns
        fields gone to rough ground”

    For me, the poems in Uncommon Place are simply a joy to read. I feel they demonstrate the poet’s skills of acute perception; her focussed attention producing a depth of awareness of the natural world and details of place.  
    As a whole, this collection beautifully expresses her preoccupation with walking as a means of bodily and sensory engagement. The poet’s relationship to place is revealed as a dynamic and interactive process; a kind of relational dialogue, integral to our perception of the environment.