Margaret A. Griffiths: a Personal Reminiscence
Margaret Griffiths (or Maz or Grasshopper, as she was known on the Internet) died alone in 2009 at her home in Poole, Dorset, aged 62.
When the Bournemouth Echo tracked down, with difficulty, a photograph, it turned out she was beautiful, with a dark grace that declared her Welsh ancestry.
Reclusive in the real world, she was full of insight, open and generous in the virtual world of the Internet and made many friends. I am proud to count myself among them.
With beginning hindsight we can see that the early years of the 21st Century were the golden age of Internet poetry. Thousands of writers discovered a quick and easy means of developing and publicising their work, and hundreds of workshops and publication sites sprang up to support them. Margaret was an outstanding talent to emerge from the Internet and her death marked in a real sense the passing of an era.
I first met her through various poetry workshops and subsequently in her capacity as editor of Worm, a British poetry ezine. She workshopped her own poems but had little interest in publication.
As an editor and critic she was forthright, honest and supportive. In a virtual world populated by prima donnas and characterised by flame wars where sensitive souls grapple over real or imagined insults, she retained her critical integrity while offending hardly anybody. Messages from Margaret invariably concluded with the valediction “Take care” and you somehow knew it was always sincerely meant.
I considered it a privilege to receive her comments on my own work: frank and insightful, she contributed in no small way to my development. I was proud to have her encouragement to contribute regularly to Worm from 2001 onwards.
One of Margaret’s most striking characteristics was her versatility. Most poets operate within a limited emotional and stylistic range, but she could tackle anything. She sometimes said that she regarded her Muse as male—logical, when you think about it, for a female poet—but in fact she wrote in many voices, male or female, young or old and with an astonishing range of subject matter. She was a writer of both free and formal verse, light and serious, long and short. Unusually also in the poetry world, her work was of a consistently high standard: you will struggle to find a bad poem by Margaret.
Among her later work, or so it seemed to me, she had more of a tendency to write autobiographically. She would never have troubled anybody about her illness—or admitted to it even—but one or two of her poems appear to refer to it. This, of course, she denied.
Here’s a poem she admitted was autobiographical. It’s impossible to pick a favourite from her work since the quality is so consistently high, but this, describing the memories that flooded back unbidden when she opened a jar of cosmetic mud, is one of the finest sonnets I know:
Opening a Jar of Dead Sea Mud
The smell of mud and brine. I’m six, awash
with grey and beached by winter scenery,
pinched by the Peckham girl who calls me posh,
and boys who pull live crabs apart to see
me cry. And I am lost in that grim place
again, coat buttoned up as tight as grief.
Sea scours my nostrils, strict winds sand my face,
the clouds pile steel on steel with no relief.
Sent there to convalesce—my turnkeys, Sisters
of Rome, stone-faced as Colosseum arches—
I served a month in Stalag Kent, nursed blisters
in beetle shoes on two-by-two mute marches.
I close the jar, but nose and throat retain
an after-tang, the salt of swallowed pain.
A collection of her work will be published shortly and is certain to take the world of poetry by storm.
Take care, Maz.
D G Anthony
30 thDecember 2010