By the Mark on His Hand

Dolly and Shirley in the Sussex DownsWhen the legendary Shirley Collins talks about folksong, it isn’t a conversation of historical information, musicological data sets, Roud or Child numbers. It is of the corner of a Sussex field – perhaps near Sweetmeadow Coppice or Old Woman’s Wood. It is a mother strolling through that field’s corner and becoming, for a moment, every young woman who’d ever strolled past it – some roving out on a May’s morning, some walking all the fields with Gilderoy, some “dragged through the field … to the deep river side”. To Shirley Collins, like many who came before her but almost none who’ve come since, each age-old song is that corner field – a magical locus in which the singer is no longer merely themselves, but becomes every man and woman who has ever sung that song. A place, a person, a song: These three elements are inseparable in the old and vanishing relationship between present and past – a relationship that inhabits Shirley at the level of blood and breath. The book she is currently working on, tentatively titled By the Mark on His Hand, will explore this relationship in a journey through traditional songs and Shirley’s life via the field corners, seaside graves, Saxon streets and haunted rings of Sussex. This project will be published by Strange Attractor Press (I'm acting as Shirley’s editor and student) and is available for pre-order for just a few more days – as a reward for donating £30 (around $50) to the Kickstarter campaign raising funds for a documentary film about Ms. Collins. It’s a film that needs to be made, to capture and honor the instrumental work and extraordinary life of this gentle, beloved, inspiring woman. And just as the film will capture her story, her book will illuminate the essential heartbeat of land and lyric that is Shirley Collins. The Kickstarter for The Ballad of Shirley Collins runs until 22nd of July – donate at the £30/$50 level to pre-order By the Mark on His Hand.

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