“And woven loops of silence circle you; Though none may know The secret of your devastating woe” – Deaf Poet Annie Charlotte Dalton O.B.E.
By Hugh Dominic W Stiles, on 12 June 2015
A while ago I came across a book of poetry in our collection, and for a long time wondered why we have it. It is from a small print run, numbered 220 on nice paper with black and white prints to illustrate it. The author, Annie Dalton O.B.E. (1865-1938) was born Annie Charlotte Armitage in Birkby, Huddersfield. Annie was brought up by her grandparents. Her grandfather, James Stoney, was a cloth dresser. Perhaps the family considered it a stigma that she was deaf – it would not be the first time, but any rate, it is only in the 1901 census that she was first described as ‘Deaf from childhood’, a decade after she had married Willie Dalton (1891). This shows that we should use the information on census returns with an element of caution. In 1903 they emigrated with their daughter Edith Evelyn, to Vancouver.
It seems that Annie was privately educated, and lost her hearing through illness when aged seven, and this was her stimulus to begin writing poetry (Campbell).
Compared with great poets in her lifetime, she has not fared well since, being seemingly forgotten. Simon Armitage, the modern poet and translator came across her while ‘ego surfing’. He says “it might fairly be said that she is no undiscovered genius.” Wanda Campbell writes that, “Though honoured in her own lifetime as a member of the Order of the British Empire, the only woman poet then included, Dalton has not fared well at the hands of critics, in part because they have tended to assess her poetic achievement in the light of her disability.” She also says “Her work is uneven but she is nonetheless intriguing in her efforts to make science and anthropology acceptable themes in poetry, and in her efforts to voice the challenges faced by the deaf.” (ibid)
The quotation in the title comes from stanza III of The Silent Zone.
You can read more of her poetry here and decide for yourself – Canadian Poetry.
There is a photograph of her here – Photograph.
1871 census Class: RG10; Piece: 4371; Folio: 42; Page: 29; GSU roll: 848086
1881 census Class: RG11; Piece: 4385; Folio: 158; Page: 27; GSU roll: 1342047
1891 census Class: RG12; Piece: 3571; Folio: 110; Page: 18; GSU roll: 6098681
1901 census Class: RG13; Piece: 4105; Folio: 161; Page: 4
Annie Charlotte Dalton, by Wanda Campbell [Accessed 12/6/2014]
Annie Charlotte Dalton, illustrated by J.W. Galloway MacDonald, The Neighing North (1935)