A tribute to Clare Crossman

Clare McPhee, who wrote under her maiden name, Crossman.

The Poetry Society was very sad to hear of the recent death of the poet and former Stanza representative for South Cambridgeshire Clare McPhee, who wrote under her maiden name, Clare Crossman.

Iain McPhee writes: Clare died peacefully on Wednesday 7 April. She was born in Kent, moving to Cumbria with her family at age 14, where she lived into adulthood. We met and married there before moving to Meldreth, South Cambridgeshire, in 2000.

Clare gained a degree in English from Bristol University and an MA in Theatre Studies from Lancaster University. Early writing was for The Dukes Playhouse in Lancaster and for youth groups. She won the Northwest Playwrights Competition and had work performed at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Clare wrote poetry for many years before publishing at the age of 30. In 1996, her pamphlet Landscapes won the Redbeck poetry competition. A Hawthornden Fellowship followed in 2002, where she wrote a sequence of poems on her Irish heritage. This was included in the anthology Take 5 (2004), published by Shoestring Press. In 2002, Firewater Press published a second collection, and subsequently Clare published four more collections with Shoestring. The poems in The Blue Hour (2017) have been described as “full of glittering beauty, darkness, loss and warmth. With humble and heart-stopping lines.” Clare had just completed a book of poems, The Mulberry Tree, currently in the process of publication. Clare also published poems in numerous anthologies, including A Room To Live In, poems inspired by Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge.

For ten years Clare was employed by Lifelong Learning, Newcastle University, teaching creative writing to adults. Since moving to Cambridgeshire, Clare worked outside academia for South Cambridgeshire District Council Arts Service, for charities, in primary schools and with community groups. Clare was writer in residence for the village of Weston Colville and festival poet for Fulbourn Arts Festival for the Darwin centenary. Working with primary schools, she wrote a poem for three voices, ‘What Lies Underneath’, for the South Cambridgeshire Arts Service – and in 2009 she was given a local government arts award for this work. She was involved in workshops and readings for the Cambridge Art Salon’s festival and ran a number of poetry and writing events at Meldreth Primary School. Clare was instrumental in organising many local events including poetry readings held when the Tavern Gallery was an arts venue.

Clare enjoyed collaborations, and in 2005 she worked with the musicians Penni McLaren Walker and Bryan Causton on an acoustic song cycle called Fen Song: A Ballad of the Fen, which toured literary festivals and was published as a CD in 2006. In the past few years, Clare became interested in writing about the natural world in Cambridgeshire due to an interest in climate change and her involvement in conserving Melwood Nature Reserve. This produced a sequence of poems about the river Mel, which became a community film, Waterlight: portrait of a chalk stream, for which stories about the river were developed with the film-makers Nigel Kinnings and James Murray White, with the support of conservationist Bruce Huett, among others. As a member of the Melwood conservation group, Clare organised annual artistic events in the wood including, memorably, a folk music concert in Miss Hunter’s meadow. The artist Victor Ibanez illustrated some of Clare’s poems about climate change. Clare also recently published a biography of the Cumbrian artist Lorna Graves, called Winter Flowers.

Clare was interested in enabling people to access their imaginations and giving them, as the poet Andrew Salkey wrote, “Freedom to dream”, to use and experiment with language and imagery. Before her illness, she ran a local poetry workshop and was convener of the South Cambridgeshire Poetry Society Stanza, which included some villagers.

Clare will be remembered for her generosity, encouragement and determination, she showed unswerving loyalty to her friends, undertaking her activities with a keen sense of humour. She will be sadly missed by those many residents who knew her.

18 June 2021