Po­etry And Mo­tion

Run­ning in­spires poet He­len Mort and calls to mind other works

Runner's World (UK) - - Contents -

How a love of run­ning in­spires poet He­len Mort

He­len Mort has been run­ning since she was 12. ‘Run­ning has of­fered me clar­ity,’ says the poet and writer, 31, who lives in Der­byshire. ‘The day makes much more sense when you look down at it from the top of Stan­age Edge. I’ve al­ways used run­ning as a source of cre­ative in­spi­ra­tion, too – I love to take a line or an idea out with me and try to write a poem in my head as I go.’

He­len’s first col­lec­tion, Divi­sion­street, was short­listed for the Costa Book Awards and the TS Eliot Po­etry Prize. Here she shares five of her favourite routes and the lines of po­etry each evokes.


My reg­u­lar morn­ing run from my home in Ch­ester­field, Der­byshire, fol­lows the Trans Pen­nine Trail that hugs the canal. Run­ning by Tap­ton Lock at dawn, I of­ten see herons and think of Paul Far­ley’s de­scrip­tion of their take-off, how a heron


I love run­ning in Lon­don at dusk, es­pe­cially a route I know well from Lewisham to Black­heath and Green­wich: crest­ing the hill by the ob­ser­va­tory to see the city be­low, re­mem­ber­ing all the times I’ve set off for the Lon­don Marathon. Amy Low­ell cap­tured Lon­don at night bril­liantly in

A Lon­don Thor­ough­fare. 2 A.M.,

de­scrib­ing how the moon


Noth­ing beats a cir­cuit of the Fair­field Horse­shoe, a Lake­land clas­sic. I’ll start from Ry­dal, get­ting stuck into the steep ground straight away. As I reach each summit, lines from Ger­ard Manley Hop­kins ring in my head:

‘O the mind, mind has moun­tains; cliffs of fall…’


One of my favourite routes in the Lake Dis­trict is a 10K around Ry­dal Wa­ter and Gras­mere Lake. The loom­ing pres­ence of Helm Crag brings to mind the sec­tion in The Pre­lude where Wil­liam Wordsworth de­scribes how ‘a huge peak black and huge As if with vol­un­tary power in­stinct Upreared its head.’

I’ve writ­ten lines in­spired by Gras­mere, too, and the eeri­ness of the Corpse Road to Ry­dal at night: ‘Who’d jog along the Cof­fin Path? Most evenings only me, hur­ry­ing be­tween the huddled trees…’


In Ed­in­burgh, I love run­ning next to the Wa­ter of Leith along the Walk­way, think­ing of the in­spir­ing lines Scot­tish Makar [na­tional poet for Scot­land] Jackie Kay wrote in her poem In the Long Run:

[From No worst, there is none: Pitched past pitch of grief] For me, run­ning is as much men­tal as it is phys­i­cal, a way to clear my head.

‘can­not light the city; It is too bright. It has white lamps, And glit­ters coldly.’

‘strug­gles into its wings and soars sun­wards and throws its huge over­coat across the earth.’

‘Aye, you’ll run: fast, slow, fast, and in slow mo­tion – Lop­ing past your bro­ken heart, the ways you were mis­taken.’

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