Ruby Lawrence

Kolme:Tre – A personal response by Ruby Lawrence

Silver Birch trees in winter, especially when they are numerous, remind me of frost-covered cobwebs. They are undeniably rooted in the ground, firm to the touch, and yet have an affecting ghostliness about them. As does the poetry of Carita Nyström, which comprises the third and final section in this collection. Her poems handle fleetingness – strange moments of presence and absence, occurring as a consequence of spending time with landscape. Water, light, insect, sound – all these are on the move, and can be moved with, or experienced in passing, like an apparition.   

I sit in the garden reading Jenni Diski - 

Strangers on a Train. 


Suddenly a dragonfly lands on my hand 

and it lingers. I watch its eyes rotate. 


I speak to it softly – it doesn’t fly away. 

In fact it travels with us.

Nyström’s poems do not contain the bubbling euphoria of a ‘nature-poet’ such as Mary Oliver; they are far more quiet, haunting themselves. Who is the ‘us’ of this poem, A Travelling Companion? The speaker and their book? Mourning is threaded through Nyström’s work as an explicit theme, so this ‘us’ also conjures the poet’s dead.

The ‘it’ of ‘it lingers’ is equally unmoored, able to hold within itself the lingering quality of reading, memory and, yes, dragonfly. This poem could be sifted into the one before or after: its imagery and gestures find echo in all of Nyström’s other poems in this book – there’s a porousness throughout. Apparently simple poems such as this one reel me back in, demanding more readings, my interpretation drifting each time. 

I am suddenly hit with what a pleasure it is to really sit with a piece of work – in this case, Nyström’s third of Kolme|Tre. To dedicate space and time to her poems. To come at them softly. Last week, I read them very slowly in the bath, annotating the pages with a marbled coloured pencil. Today, on a typically grey Glasgow morning, I visit them again, sat at my dining table, eating oranges. At some point I wander over to the window to take a picture of trees. 

In Solovetskij, Nyström transports us to the meadows that surround what was once ‘Russia’s richest monastery’. She layers ‘sweet-smelling clover’ with the movements of old women and monks in the monastery. Bells and prayers function as temporal doorways to the monastery’s history of torture, hard labour and starvation. She concludes the poem with this: 

Can we really understand? 

In the meadow the harebells nod: 

Yes, it really was like that. 

In this phenomenal haiku-esque stanza, vegetal life bears witness to history, the nodding of a flower able to feed what the poet is remembering, with the plant-humility of a being that has no ego but is nonetheless alive and intentional. With subtlety and sparseness, the poem invites a reader into a way of meeting place that is highly sensitive to historical traces. The mute nodding of the harebells allows for the imagining of habitat as a ‘character’ of sorts, one intermingled with past atrocity. The possibility is opened up, although not explicitly mentioned in the poem, of unmarked graves, of further testimony that could be offered by soil composition.  

I scroll through pictures of Silver Birch trees on my phone, finding this from December last year: 

It’s a lichen-covered Silver Birch in a conservation birchwood called Craigellachie, near

This pictured tree has a Birch Polypore growing on it: a common, beautiful-looking parasitic fungus with a staggering array of medicinal uses.

It seems that after meandering through Nyström’s poetry, I feel compelled to look again and again at Silver Birch, a tree that has been very present in my life, especially recently. A tree that can be found across huge swathes of the globe, including Finland. In general, Nyström’s work lulls me into a state of hushed, slow attention to what is already close – it fills me with a desire to re-visit the places and species that are familiar to me.

In November I’ll be heading to Mustarinda, an ecological arts residency house deep in ancient Finnish forest, to (hopefully) write some poems. Perhaps I felt drawn to this collection when perusing The Poetry Business online shop, as I longed for a poetic handshake from Finland to ‘prepare’ me for my residency, somehow.

Nyström’s work cautions me against expecting anything of a forest. It gently nudges me off a path of anticipating productivity, and for that I am grateful.

In response to her work, I wrote this. I think it lives somewhere between Nyström, my anticipation of the Finland residency, and this trippy scene from 1993 film The Secret Garden.

Mother I’m in the forest I have run 

out of words.   In the forest, words 

running.     Mother – out!    I’m the  

forest.     I’m words.       I have run     

the forest out. 

About Ruby Lawrence

Ruby Lawrence (b. 1992, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne) is an artist working with writing, poetry, performance and film. Much of her work explores ecofeminism, kinship, and embodiment.

Theatre credits include The Yellow Wallpaper (adaptation – The Omnibus Theatre, London, 2018) and Pillow Talk (Camden People’s Theare, 2017). She has made two films: Skipping Lunch (Underwire Film Festival nominee 2018) and sounding skin (soundpedro festival 2023).

Ruby’s poetry has been published by Propel, Gutter, The Moth, Pilot Press, Travesties!? and Arboreal. In 2023 she was shortlisted for the Out-Spoken Prize for Performance Poetry, and performed sound poetry as part of Radiophrenia Festival.

She can be found at @ruby_lawrence_o

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