Gillian Petrie

Gillian’s earlier years were spent raising four children and then working in the field of cancer care. For thirty years, she worked in the hospice movement: as head of Marie Curie’s national home nursing service; as a founder-trustee of Nairobi Hospice, Kenya and as founder-director of Polish Hospices Fund which organised training for Polish doctors. She and her husband, Professor Muir Hunter QC (who brought his legal expertise to the projects), were decorated by the Polish Government.

Turning to poetry in the nineties, Gillian joined Kick Start Poets of Salisbury, becoming chair in 2000-2002. During those years, the group invited many distinguished poets including John Freeman, Alan Brownjohn, Matthew Sweeney, Alice Oswald, U A Fanthorpe and Lawrence Sail. She was subsequently taught by Professor Sir Andrew Motion (then Poet Laureate) and Professor Jo Shapcott on the MA creative writing course at Royal Holloway, University of London. She undertook a further course with Jo Shapcott and Daljit Nagra at Faber & Faber.

Gillian’s work has been published in anthologies: Bedford Square 2 edited by Sir Andrew Motion (John Murray, 2007), A Luminous Man - Muir Hunter, recalled with love (Palewell Press, 2013) and in Starters, the publications of Kick Start Poets of Salisbury from 1998 onwards. Her debut collection, Metamorphosis, was published by Palewell Press in May 2018. And her pamphlet collection, Painting the Sea, followed it in July 2020.

Poem celebrating launch of Metamorphosis

 Most other people have arrived already
when someone says excitedly, Gill is here,
and we glimpse through the glass doors in her wheelchair
a familiar, well-loved figure, with white hair,
and a face aquiline, distinguished, questing,
and in she comes, and here are Rod and Ingrid
with her, and here are greetings, Camilla
and her daughters, and Gill’s writing friends,
fellow poets, other family members,
and there is conversation and rejoicing
till the time comes for us to take our places.
We listen to the succinct introductions
by Camilla and Gill, witty and gracious.
And then the readings begin, shared by Gill,
Cam, and her daughter Sasha, every poem
showing a different aspect of Gill’s life
and talents, and sometimes emotion
makes it quite difficult for Gill to speak,
so that we aren’t quite sure she has finished
reading her poem about the arrival
of her first-born, who is sitting beaming
with Ingrid in the audience, till she says,
I remember it as if it were yesterday.

There is an interval, and more conversation,
and then more readings, shared by Gill and me,
and it has been a well-balanced programme,
not too long, but long enough, able to give
a real sense of Gill’s book, and her life’s work
on and off the page, and all the loving
and giving that had filled it, with the presence
in absence of the people gone before us,
one in particular, so that almost
Gill and Muir are as they used to be again,
together, sharing now between them one
portion of incarnation, Gill willing
to make her presence here half-disembodied,
so that her fusilier can be beside her.

John Freeman, 26/5/2018

Camilla Reeve, Senior Editor

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