‘Geoffrey Grigson, who gave his approval to very few new poets, greeted A Stranger Here, Freda Downie’s first collection, as “a better book of new poems than any I have read for years… She writes as if she had been – intermittently – working away for ages, getting it better and better”.
‘Although Freda Downie was to publish only one more full book before her death in 1993, the equally well received Plainsong, she continued, as Grigson said, to get it better and better. Because she was shy of publishing she received less of the limelight than she might have had, but nevertheless, her work in anthologies has always drawn admiring critical attention. Her readers would certainly agree that she wrote no bad poems. Furthermore, they would propose, few contemporary poets have written with such sad luminosity.
‘Indeed, her poetry is one of sharp distillations: single figures in social landscapes moving between yearning and disappointment, between fear and the desire of oblivion, listening and watching everything intently with a witty, even humorous attention. These figures know their manners but are conscious of their eccentricity and of the mire and fury of human veins implicit in manners; they also know that the clearer, sharper and suddener the danger of oblivion, the sharper, clearer and intenser the poem that sense of danger animates.
‘With something of Stevie Smith’s melancholy, an element of Jane Austen’s precision and the clarity of Grigson himself at his best, Freda Downie remains all the time inimitably herself. More than that, this volume of her collected poems will show her to have been one of the most poignant and memorable poets of our time – George Szirtes.