gray lightfoot

dreamer…poet…bus driver.

1. ABOUT GRAY LIGHTFOOT

Living at the far west of Cornwall, Gray Lightfoot has started writing again. His job as a bus driver gives him the opportunity to play with words in his head as he drives past bus stops full of angry or bemused passengers. He is writing and performing poetry in the hope of making audiences laugh.

You might think driving around the lanes of Cornwall in a double-decker bus is not the most conducive profession for thinking about poetry… but you would be surprised to know just how much thinking time a bus driver has (usually while they are waiting for a hapless tourist to reverse their 4×4 into a farm gateway).

As the first Lightfoot of his bloodline to be born out of Cornwall for at least three hundred years, Gray displays all the passion of an exile in his writing. His ancestors include Cornish farmers on his father’s side and Cornish tin miners and fisherman on his mother’s.

Gray is inspired by the landscape of the Cornwall he views from the cab window. Poems such as Merry Maidens, The Town Centre Lizard of Helston, Murmurations: Marazion Marsh, I’m in Love with the B3306, Ode to Porthcurno, The West Cornish Bus Driver’s Prayer and On Becoming A Penzance Pirate have all been inspired by the view from his cab (not to mention his a poem, unsurprisingly called A View From A Cab, excerpt below)

I’ve seen in a winter-rimed mirror

The careworn face beset by the wind

Of England’s most westerly driver

Writing rhyme on his own at Lands End

So, next time you’re at a bus stop and the driver sails past your outstretched hand with a faraway look in his eyes—don’t be angry with him. You just might be witnessing the birth of another (ahem!) marvellous poem.

7 thoughts on “1. ABOUT GRAY LIGHTFOOT

  1. Hello Gray,

    I live in the Boston area and am writing you to say that I happened upon your beautiful sonnet, Kissing The Shuttle. Also online, I saw a video clip of your performance. The history you tell, and reimagine, is profound, and so very interesting! So, I’m writing you to say how much I enjoyed it.

    I’m surprised I hadn’t discovered this earlier. But certainly better late than never. You see, we share an interest in these “kissing shuttles” and, it seems, using poetry to reenact history. And what a coincidence — our work enjoys the same title! (So can be found nearby one another in google searches.) In 2018, I published an illustrated book of poetry titled, Kissing the Shuttle — A Lyric History. It’s set largely in the mill towns of New England, specifically in the Blackstone River Valley of Rhode Island, where I grew up. It traces the shuttle’s link to spreading disease, the tuberculosis epidemic in particular. Some other connected stories too.

    I’d like to share that my grandfather came from Accrington to work in the mills of Pawtucket, Rhode Island as a teenager, right before the war. No doubt, he’d otherwise have been one of the Accrington pals you so poignantly write of. I had no idea! I’m grateful for your bringing this history to my attention. His name was Christopher Walsh, and he worked for Howard & Bullough factory as a kid in Accrington, then at their mill in Pawtucket. After many years he became the mill superintendent! He spent his working life in that mill.

    So, again, Gray, thank you. I enjoyed your poem and your performance of it very much. What a small world!

    Cheers, and good wishes to you for a happy, healthy New Year.
    Mary Ann Mayer

    1. Hi Mary Ann…I’m so glad you enjoyed the sonnet and thank you for your kind remarks. Yes, the Pals idea to get young men from the same town to join up together backfired as a single manoeuvre, let alone a battle, could near totally wipe out a generation of a town’s menfolk. Fortunately for me my grandfather survived. He came from nearby Burnley, a small town one of a number all lumped together into the Accrington Pals. My first proper job was as a labourer in a cotton mill and I did my fair share of sweeping up. I met my wife in that mill and we have been together for over 45 years. We recently went back to the mill (now a shopping outlet) to reminisce. Spending the first 35 years of my life in East Lancashire, I witnessed the demise of the cotton industry first hand (my dissertation, as a mature student, was a screenplay set amid the heritage sector of the dying industry). I did not know that there was a migration to New England of millworkers (at a time of high production here) and I would be interested to find out more about it. I shall look out for your book.
      Thanks once again for your kind comments and all the best to you for the New Year.
      Gray

  2. Hi Gray,

    Thanks! Now you have me curious as to why my grandfather came to America at that time. Sure, a century or so earlier the “industrial espionage” Brits arrived, beginning with Samuel Slater of Belper, who smuggled (in his head) intricate designs for mill design and machinery using the Arkwright system. (England tried very hard to keep technology from the colonies. ) “Slater Mill” in Pawtucket became the first cotton mill in America (1793?)and is the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution. Other early industrialists followed…but not any wave of English laborers as far as I know. Irish, yes, to dig the canals that harnessed the river power to power the mills. And all other nationalities; in huge droves, the Queboicois from Canada arrived. My book won’t shine any light on the particular English presence though.

    England came to admire the mill village designs of New England, housing, landscaping, cleaner air, etc. ( have you heard of the Ladies of Lowell?)….even calling it a utopia. Hardly! The mortality rate was brutal. Half of those working in the mills ( for 10 ys. )wouldn’t survive, and 55% of workers were children as young as 7. ) I’m fascinated by your filmaking expereince. There’s a documentary film premiering later this year, called ” Slatersvill: America’s First Mill Village.” In fact the filmaker has a connection with Belper, and did some filming there.

    FYI Thought I’d share my poem with you below, Kissing the Shuttle. Hope it formats ok. Also, a link to a recent book talk/reading. It’s quite flawed, but covers the poems and historical backstories. The title poem was mistakenly omitted though.

    All best, Mary Ann

    Kissing The Shuttle

    The toll it took,
    to spin the thread
    to weave the cloth
    that spewed the lint
    that choked the lungs

    that made the young weavers,
    women and girls
    most susceptible
    to illnesses that would fell them,
    white lung, brown lung,
    TB, influenza, contagions they would spread.

    Weaving cotton, the air had to be moist;
    windows closed tight, floors kept wet;
    steam pipes overhead sprayed the air,
    “steaming” the cotton and the girls,
    each tending four looms—

    refilling shuttles
    with fresh bobbins of thread,
    by “kissing the shuttle”—
    lips pressed against the shuttle’s eye,
    then sharply inhaling,
    to pull the thread through

    sucking lint and toxins into their lungs
    three hundred times a day!—
    They’d share the shuttles,
    reuse the shuttles, kiss the shuttles,

    their mouths thick with the taste
    of what lodged
    in their lungs: lint, fibers, dirt,
    a glue called “size”
    and chemicals if the thread was dyed.

    They’d cough the dirt up and start again;
    and not only that—
    these girls with ruined lungs coughing up cotton,
    lips bruised, teeth coming loose,

    were just girls—
    so, they’d share lipstick, reapply it,
    after all that kissing
    left behind
    in the weaving room.

    1. Hi Mary Ann

      Really loved your poem…my kind of poem. Great imagery. When I worked in a cotton mill in Lancashire in the 70s…employment was high so people could leave one job in the morning and get another in the afternoon. There were lots of job in a mill that produced, amongst other things, cotton wool balls that they couldn’t get locals to do, such as night shifts or in the carding rooms, which was like being in a snow globe 24/7. Britain asked its colonies for workers and the aforementioned jobs were filled with people from what is now Bangladesh.

      There weren’t many ‘model’ villages in the north of England. The only one I can think of is Saltaire, Titus Salt’s project near Bradford which I suspect, without googling, was a woollen mill. Quarry Bank Mill at Styal in Cheshire is a cotton mill heritage site which had ‘enlightened’ owners and was the setting for BBC’s The Mill, which perhaps you might check out (conditions/unionisation). I no longer live in the north of England and one of the few things I miss is the industrial heritage (and the pies) although Cornwall (my ancestors moved from here to the north for work) has its fair share with tin and copper mining. Both Wendy and I have Cornish miners in our family tree. The screenplay I wrote back in the 90s at uni is something I would like to go back to. It was called Heritage and dealt with the idea that areas that were once producers of goods now offered jobs in the Heritage sector, celebrating the industry we no longer had. I’m sure I can at least create a poem from it. All the best for the New Year

      Gray

      Sent from my iPhone

      >

  3. Hello Gray,

    I am a choir director at the University of Notre Dame in the United States and stumbled upon your ‘The Miracle Play of Jonah and the Whale’ and was just delighted by it. One of our choirs, the Notre Dame Children’s Choir, will celebrate its 10th Anniversary in 2022-2023 and I have been searching for a contemporary miracle play for them because in their first year they loved performing Benjamin Britten ‘Noyes Fludde.’

    I am writing to seek your permission to commission music for your beautiful text and to perform the work in 2023. This would be a production performed by our child choristers who range in age from 5-18. While these are child performers, we modeled on an English cathedral program. I would be happy to share with you some of our choir’s recordings; we most recently toured Leeds, Liverpool, and London (just before the pandemic).

    I would be pleased to tell you more about our program and discuss any logistics that you might require. I hope you might consider this and I do not mean any disrespect, if this is not something you are comfortable doing.

    Warm regards,
    Mark

    1. Hi Mark
      Pleased to hear from you. The provenance of the play was at university (back in 1991) when one of my assignments was to write a mystery play making use of the techniques used in original medieval mystery plays. I don’t make a habit of writing in support of religious themes but it was important to me to write it as I believe it would be portrayed at the time but making use of 20th century language. The tutor was impressed enough to give me an ‘A’, remarking only on the use of a narrator as not being in that genre. The play was forgotten about until I moved to Cornwall, a Celtic nation within the UK and the land of my ancestors. Here I noticed that there was a tradition of medieval performances such as The Ordinalia and Bewnens Meriasek, written in the Cornish language (Kernewek). I began writing and performing poetry and recalled the poem and published it on my website as a poem. It has since been translated into Cornish by a good friend who undertook it as a personal challenge. It has only been performed once, which was at the book launch of my book A View From a Cab (the poetry and musings of a bus driver in Cornwall) where I rail-roaded members of the audience into performing it.
      I would deem it a great honour for you to commission music to accompany it and give you my permission to do so.
      I would be obliged if you kept me in the loop regarding your progress in any way that you can and I wish you the best of luck with your endeavour.
      My email is graylightfoot@gmail.com
      Website – http://www.graylightfoot.co.uk

      Best regards

      Gray Lightfoot

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