Gerry Cambridge is a poet, essayist and print designer with a background in natural history photography. Founder-editor of Scotland’s leading literary magazine, The Dark Horse, he has held several writing fellowships, including one at Brownsbank, Hugh MacDiarmid’s former home, and two Royal Literary Fund Fellowships.
Since 1997 he has led writing workshops across Scotland, often combining his twin passions for poetry and the natural world. He occasionally plays harmonica as part of a duo with the Scottish singer-songwriter Neil Thomson.
The HappenStance volume, Notes for Lighting a Fire, was the poet’s first collection of poems in nine years. It begins and ends with light’s variation — fire: the winter fire in the grate, the fire of the sun at the world’s edge. Between these two poles are poems of desire, possession and memory.
In 2015, he celebrated twenty years of the poetry journal he originated and still continues: The Dark Horse, and in 2016 issued a colourful and entertaining memoir describing his experience of editorship over two decades.
Gerry Cambridge was a judge for the National Poetry Competition in 2016.
His most recent collection of poems, The Light Acknowledgers & Other Poems, appeared in December 2019.
- The Light Acknowledgers & Other Poems, HappenStance 2019
- The Dark Horse: The Making of a Little Magazine, HappenStance 2016
- The Printed Snow, On Typesetting Poetry, (prose essay) HappenStance 2015
- Notes for Lighting a Fire (paperback with 5 new poems) HappenStance 2013
- Notes for Lighting a Fire, (hardback) HappenStance, 2011
- Aves, Essence Press, 2007
- Madame Fi Fi’s Farewell and Other Poems, Luath Press, 2003
- The Praise of Swans, Shoestring Press, 2000
- ‘Nothing But Heather!’: Scottish Nature in Poems, Photographs and Prose, Luath Press, 1999
- The Shell House, Scottish Cultural Press, 1995
- The Dark Gift and Other Poems, St Inans Press, 1994
- Gerry Cambridge website
- The Dark Horse
- Scottish Poetry Library podcast
- New Linear Perspectives Interview
- Playing harmonica 2013
Review of Notes for Lighting a Fire by James Aitchison
Notes for Lighting a Fire is a landmark in Gerry Cambridge’s progress as a poet. In this new collection he returns to some of the subjects and themes of his fine first book, The Shell House (1995). One striking similarity is his ability to rise, as if effortlessly, from the terrestrial to the celestial by setting worldly things in a cosmic context. He achieve this effect at the end of the title poem, in some passages in the sequence, Light Up Lanarkshire, in Light Leaves (2) ii, and in ‘Hearing Astronomers Speak”:
each long fierce orange ray
fittingly strange, born as it is
from the death of other stars.
There is a visionary quality in ‘Astronomers’ and in ‘Processional at the Winter Solstice’, a beautiful litany with a profound sense of the sacred.
In some poems seemingly simple acts are transformed into rituals (‘Blowing Out an Egg’, ‘Sacrifice’, the head-shaving in Light Leaves (1) iii and again in ‘Exposure’). The first head-shaving poem is an act of filial bonding with his balding father; in ‘Exposure’ it is an act of humility, as if to match the tonsure of a monk and find, paradoxically, a new and yet much older self. Even in a simple lyric, ‘Christmas Oranges’, the delightful play of the senses in peeling and eating the fruit is a little ritual act.
One needs a keen poetic intelligence to know when to end a poem. In some of Cambridge's poems the intelligence is a form of wisdom: the metaphorical shadows in ‘Two Chirps’ II, destroying the song in ‘Blowing Out an Egg’, the joy of possession in ‘Sacrifice’. Beginnings, too, are exciting, those moments of instantaneous discovery in ‘The Whitethroat’: “A scraggy tree of improbable song” .
Portrait poems are difficult, I find; my fear is that I’ll stumble across the invisible dividing line between true tribute and sentimentality. Cambridge’s portraits of individuals and of social groups — for example, the coal miners in Light Up Lanarkshire — are wholly convincing, and his portraits of his parents in Light Leaves (1) are beautifully understated expressions of compounds of emotions: love, marvelling, indebtedness, amusement and the merest trace of irritation.
Self-portraits emerge, indirectly and yet clearly, from the poet’s bird-nesting poems. The adult looks back and feels guilt at the theft of the eggs and the abortion of birdlife: “In those days, robbery was my form of love” (‘Sacrifice’). The boyhood he recalls is a time of innocent predation and joyful possession. Cambridge expresses complex thoughts and emotions in a deceptively simple way, one of the great achievements of the craft and art of poetry.