About the book
Collected Poems by Susan Noble incorporates three collections of poems: The Dream of Stairs: A Poem Cycle; Inside the Stretch of My Heart; and Before and After the Darkness. To mark the fortieth anniversary of her death, this comprehensive volume is being published in hardback, paperback and Kindle, making all her poems publicly available for the first time.
The Dream of Stairs was privately printed as a posthumous memorial volume in 1975, a year after Susan’s untimely death in 1974 at the age of 31. Having announced with typically light-hearted self-depreciation that ‘The muse has struck me!’, Susan wrote the poems in batches of half a dozen or more from 1965 onwards in what she described as manic bursts of creativity. But these poems are anything but light-hearted, and even a first reading will reveal clearly that levity is not on the menu in a universe ‘Where there are no jokes / And people do not pretend.’ There are a number of changes to the first edition: a slight reordering of the poems, minor amendments to the structure of the poem cycle, a revised, enhanced layout, and indexes of titles and first lines. More significantly, the original selection has been augmented by many additional poems, which clearly fit within the cycle thematically and structurally.
Many of the poems in Inside the Stretch of My Heart were triggered by the quotidian experience of living and working in central London in the late 1960s and early 1970s, yet beneath the fragile surface of her acute observations of domestic and office life in the city, intensely spiritual insights are being played out, sometimes delicately, sometimes shockingly, but always movingly.
The poems in the third collection in this volume, Before and After the Darkness, were written in the early 1970s, like those in Inside the Stretch of My Heart, and include a number of poems written in 1973 and 1974 in the months before Susan’s death.
Two further companion volumes are also being published: A Flock of Blackbirds: Selected Short Stories; and her novel, Drifting Between Empty Tramlines.
About the author
Brought up in South London, Susan Noble, was the second of three children. Her childhood was enriched by being part of a large and closely-knit Jewish family. Unfortunately stricken by polio (then known as infantile paralysis) in her early years, Susan went through life with a degree of physical handicap which she was to overcome with courage and determination.
Educated at Croydon High School, Susan studied English at Somerville College, Oxford. After graduating, Susan worked in London, first at the Royal National Institute for the Blind, dictating books for transcription into Braille, and later at the National Central Library in London, where she qualified as a Chartered Librarian.
Susan’s exceptional sensitivity was reflected in the prolific outpouring of poems that make up Before and After the Darkness, Inside the Stretch of My Heart and The Dream of Stairs. In these intense, haunting poems, she chronicles her personal response to the world around her, while vividly portraying the inner landscape of her mental and emotional struggle.
One’s first impression of Susan was of fragility. She was an acutely sensitive person, but her physical and emotional fragility really masked a very great spiritual strength. Her sensitivity indeed was not directed only towards herself, but towards others. She was sensitive to the needs of others, and her strength and also perhaps some of her inner conflicts came from a deep desire for goodness which could not be matched in reality by the world as she found it.
Susan passionately wished to be independent; she struggled for it from the time she went to university, and throughout her work as a librarian, and she was able to maintain it to the very end. There was an intellectual and emotional intensity which burned within her and which predominantly found outward expression in her writing and when she expressed herself thus she did so with great imaginative power and also with an uncompromising honesty and integrity.
Rabbi Dr David Goldstein
Sample manuscripts from Collected Poems
Chawton House (London Villager, September 1972)
Creation - draft 1
Creation - draft 2
Day and Night
The Dream of Stairs
Song of the Schizophrenic Monk
The Talents (Matrix 4, December 1973, City Lit)