Tag Archives: grief

Sunday Poem – Penelope Shuttle


Today I’ve been finishing off the final touches for the workshops that I’ll be running on the residential at Abbot Hall, starting tomorrow!

There are now 14 people booked on – I hope they are all as excited as I’ve been.

Today I’ve been working on the ‘Journeys’ workshop and finding poems that write about travel and the sea.  One interesting thing that I’ve noticed is that the poets who write about the sea write about it a lot. The sea weaves its way through a collection – and it is a constant preoccupation.  Perhaps the easiest example of this is the brilliant Kathleen Jamie.  I have two of her collections – ‘The Tree House’ and the new one ‘Overhaul’.  In ‘The Tree House’ there are eight poems that the sea features in – I hesitate to say theme – because often the sea is the setting, more than a them – and there are eight in ‘Overhaul’ as well.

And some poets just don’t write about the sea at all – it seems to be one or the other – I searched through some of my favourite poets for sea-themed poetry and couldn’t find any – I won’t name them, because I know someone will pipe up and say ‘Yes, here’s one’ and thus blow my theory right out of the water.

It’s been really interesting to see how the sea is used to explore the inner psyche – maybe this has something to do with the fact that not only can you travel across the sea, but you can also travel downwards…but I don’t want to preempt my workshop, so I’ll shut up!

Today’s Sunday poem is by one of my favourite poets Penelope Shuttle.  I got to know Penelope’s work because in the first ever competition that I entered, the Kent and Sussex, a good four or five years ago now, Penelope was the judge, and she gave my poem a Fourth Place.  I went down to Kent to get my £75 prize money and was so dumbstruck by being amongst famous poets, that I squeaked at Penny when she came over to congratulate me, and then I scuttled away.

After that, I started reading Penelope’s work and she is a poet that I often come back to when I’ve had a busy time that has meant that I’ve moved far away from poetry, or feel like I’ve moved far away.  Like January for example – when I didn’t write any poetry because my energies were somewhere else – but as soon as I had a bit of breathing space, without thinking about it really, I went and re-read ‘Sandgrain and Hourglass’ – Penelope’s 2010 collection from Bloodaxe and I had the feeling that I have had in the past from this book – of my brain slowly being cleared of the mundane, the trivial and the unimportant things, leaving a lovely empty space in my head in which I can start to write and think again about poetry.  I don’t know why Penelope’s poetry has this effect on me.  There are other poets too who do this to me – Kathleen Jamie is another one – it’s like a feeling of calmness that comes over me – and we all need a little calmness right?

Penelope Shuttle’s most recent collection is ‘Unsent: New and Selected Poems 1980-2012 and you can get hold of this and ‘Sandgrain and Hourglass’ through her publisher’s website http://www.bloodaxebooks.com

The poem I’ve chosen is called ‘You’ and comes from ‘Sandgrain and Hourglass’.  Sandgrain and Hourglass is a book of elegies, for both Penelope’s husband and her father – but it is also much more than this.  It is an exploration of grief and how it changes and how the human spirit can recover from pain – but some of the poems are also very funny – ‘Miss Child’s Owl’ about two sisters, one of whom owns a wooden owl called Ruth and a poem about a machine that grades kisses…

Here is the poem – tomorrow I’m off to the dizzy heights of Grange Over Sands.  Wish me luck!

You – Penelope Shuttle

Now there’s no trace of you anywhere,
and you’re no longer interested in me
or that equally private creature, the moon,

I’m like someone so far behind with the rent
not even her great grandchildren
will be able to settle the debt –

But sometimes your absence hovers
close to me in the form of a hummingbird

whose bright wings beat the rain into so many rainbows
I’m like the river drinking from her own cupped hands…