Dorothy Nimmo

Dorothy Nimmo

Dorothy Nimmo was born in Manchester in 1932 and died in Yorkshire in May 2001.

She published six books of poems and three pamphlets; and she wrote and published short-stories. In 1996 she received a Cholmondeley Award. Her book The Children's Game (Smith/Doorstop, 1998) was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. Her last book was The Wigbox: New & Selected Poems (Smith/Doorstop, 2000), and for the back of it, she provided this biog note:

‘Dorothy Nimmo was an actress for ten years, a wife-and-mother for 25. In 1980 she started to write; in 1989 she ran away from home. She is currently caretaker of Settle Friends Meeting House.’

Nimmo was not a prolific poet, and she published less than she wrote. A pamphlet was published in Lancaster by Brazen Voices in 1984, A Woman’s Work (priced at 50p). In 1987, Graham Mort brought out her first book, Homewards (Giant Steps Press), and John Killick and Tony Ward brought out her next, Kill the Black Parrot (Littlewood Arc, 1993). These are powerful collections though they run to only 35 and 45 pages of poems respectively. The covers of all her publications feature distinctive ‘tile-paintings’ by Maggie Berkowitz. In 1993 also, Sessions Book Trust brought out a pamphlet that retells in poems the life of James Nayler. At the back of this pamphlet we are told that Dorothy:

‘was born in Manchester, educated in York and Cambridge and worked as an actress in London. She spent the 1960s in Geneva but came back to England in 1970 to Peterborough where she brought up four children, gardened and kept goats. She divorced in 1980 and moved to Lancaster where she joined her first creative writing course. In 1989 she took an MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University and then spent nine months at Pendle Hill, a Quaker Centre for Study and Contemplation in Pennsylvania. She returned to live in Gloucester where she was caretaker of the Friends Meeting House and cook at a vegetarian restuarant.’

About her, U A Fanthorpe wrote:

'Dorothy Nimmo’s is authentic poetry. She makes the hairs on the back of the head rise in alarm. Her subjects seem safe: goats, sheep, children, mothers, plants, photographs, names of people and houses; nothing apparently threatening there. No one is going to complain that her poems are inaccessible; they have a message for everyone. But the message is, in its understated way, terrifying … She hears all the time ‘The deafening noise of what they do not say’. And she says it, coolly, accurately, and in a dazzling variety of complex forms.’ 

Peter Sansom reading one of Dorothy's poems





Great Aunt Emma, fearing an intruder, 
would kneel down and push her stick
under the bed. Night after night, year after year,
there was nothing. But one night
Great Aunt Emma, squat in her winceyette, 
pushing her stick under the bed 
hit something soft, unyielding. Come out, 
, she said, I've been looking for thee 
for fifty years.

Last thing at night I carry the cat upstairs 
and open the window. Wind in the birches. 
Yellow light from the carpark. I hold the cat 
against my chest like a furry breastplate.
I shout: Is anyone out there?

He says, Nobody here but us chickens.

I say, Come on up then, 

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