Category Archives: poetry

In Memory of Titanic #4





This poem is taken from Jan Dean’s sequence Lullabies for the Dead. The sequence was part of a collaboration with artist Caroline Lea. I was very struck by this poem’s relevance to Titanic, and Jan was kind enough to allow me to post it here. I find it such a tender and gentle, sad poem.


the liner is berthed and streamers fly
into warp into weft    bind the ship to the port

long streamers bright streamers
from shipside to harbour
the pilotboat waiting            the pull of the sea

now they ease and shift
the woven sheet shreds     unlaces

and land lets her go
away from the ribbons and wreaths
rising on ripples that run from the wake

white petals drift in slow separation
soft as featherbreath

in a song that rows sweet as a wavetop
pebble and shingle and shellsong
gullcry and windcry

and bell

Jan Dean

Also featured today are three short poems from Alison Brackenbury. These remind me of Hardy’s poems ‘Life’s Little Ironies’. I am grateful to Alison for sending me these vignettes.


Titanic’s last tune

No, it was not ‘Nearer my God’-
that heavy guess, proved false.
But ‘Songe d’Automne,’ a pretty little number
which once touched lips with a waltz.

After the Titanic

I did not know about the cries
heard in the lifeboats, out of reach.
No one who heard forgot those cries,
sheer anger, fear and disbelief.

Clause 7 (b)

Now they update
succession laws.
The lawyers let
no errors through.
Titanic’s steps

Alison Brackenbury


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In Memory of The Titanic



As well as passengers, the crew and staff also lost their lives in the disaster. The courage of the musicians on the Titanic has been noted. There were two bands, but they formed together to keep passengers calm during the crisis. They were not employees of The White Star Line, and so had no rights. Not a single one survived. Their music probably saved many lives and kept up everyone’s spirits.

Poet and musician Kim Moore remembers how Wallace Hartley, band leader mentioned in my poem yesterday, was found with his violin strapped to his back. Many thanks to Kim, whose excellent blog you can find from the link to the right.

Wallace Hartley

And when he was found, still in his uniform,
his violin strapped to his back, people began
to remember the way he’d played each night,
not just the last, the dip and turn of his shoulders
as he led the orchestra through a waltz,
the way the ship was all lit up and smiling
like a brand new town, those nights before
the boats were counted, when the chink of cutlery
was louder than the band, how he played on
as boys kicked chunks of ice across the deck
and the ship was immense and black
against a sky full of flares and stars.

Kim Moore

I have been fascinated by The Titanic story for years. On a visit to a large exhibition at the O2 a few years ago, I was fascinated to learn that the bathwater was warmed sea water – very ingenious, and marketed as being very healthy, which is course it is, apart from when it is freezing cold. The irony of the sea water baths started this poem:

Bathing on the Titanic

Brass taps spurt a salty waterfall
drawn from the ocean below, piped
warm as blood, from heated tanks.

Health-giving baths with iodine and cobalt,
as boasted on posters, urged by doctors.
Rinse off with fresh water from a bucket

standing to attention behind the bath.
Such luxuries of scented soap and cloudy towels
while the valet lays out dinner clothes.

After brandy and cigars, a game of cards.
until it’s time to take another bath
in salt water, this time taken with ice.

Angela Topping (from Paper Patterns, published by Lapwing 2012)




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In Memory of The Titanic

305873_titanic_jpgb6dda7e099d12da901287e26c19035f2The sinking of The Titanic on her maiden voyage in 1912 continues to fascinate people. The story unfolds like a Greek tragedy and has been the subject of many poems, both at the time and since. The ship sank 104 years ago and laws were changed afterwards, such as enough lifeboats for everyone. The worst casualties were among third class passengers setting off for a new life in America, many of them Irish. Cruelly, women and children were split from husbands and fathers by the old rule ‘women and children first’, even where there was room in the lifeboats. Abigail Wyatt writes about the widows of the Titanic. 

Over the next few days, I will be featuring some contemporary poems and prose pieces about it. Thanks are due to their authors for allowing me to publish their work.

Atlantic Widows

We come to it in our different ways – just as we,
ourselves, in our lives before, were distinct
in this and that:  the fine arch of an eyebrow,
the sloping of a shoulder, the tilt or thrust of a chin.
We wear our losses awkwardly, like unfamiliar clothing,
our real clothes being not what they should be:
it is not what we expected: to be thus attired,
to be dishevelled and hemmed by this dark.

After the grab and bustle, there is the slow pull of the oars;
we are marooned in the grip of this grim spectacle;
our ears are filled with a thunderous roar
and this great, proud ship breaks its spine.
Then its lights go down: there are no more cries;
the weight of silence presses down on us.
Once the sun shone warm and the band played on;
now we shiver and we cannot take it in.

It is the little losses that torment our thoughts,
as if  to think such trifles might preserve us:
a glittering frock with a silver fringe is torn past all repair;
a matron weeps for a pin lost to the deep;
a hollow-eyed bride mourns her trousseau;
but, even as we draw our tatters close,
our splendour is the wealth of the grave.

So, the frost stills our tongues as the hours limp by
and we dare not give much credence to tomorrow;
to think of it defeats our strength as if we too
might lose our grip and slip into the deep;
and, while some of us, a few, may survive  our grief
and, one day, think to love again and marry,
for most of us, no matter how long,
our drowned hearts will forever be in weeds.

Abigail Wyatt


Sea Change

 Full fathom five thy father lies,
of his bones are coral made;
those are pearls that were his eyes;

The Tempest


What the sea does and does so well
is to embrace and change
all things to its cool element.

From the Titanic a suitcase is lifted,
like a drowned dog, its body leaking;
folded, laundered shirts are stained.

A pile of crumbling junk, that ship;
crunching bacteria fasten
nibbling mouths on its very steel;

the railings’ fur of barnacles
outlives the stoles of women.
The champagne may still be drinkable.

On the ocean floor in pliés
pairs of boots point outward toes.
Rusticles hang like crystallised tears.

Shoals of fish play small chase
in and out the rusty portholes.
Where is Hartley’s violin?

Angela Topping (from The Way We Came 2007)


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‘The Next Big Thing’ Blog Tour

The Next Big Thing, for those who don’t yet know, is a way to network with fellow writers and to find out a bit more about what they’re working on. The idea is fairly simple. The writer answers a set of questions on his or her blog one week, and then invites five other authors to answer the same questions the following week. They in turn invite five more.

I was invited by Geraldine Green

What is the title of your new book?

Paper Patterns


How did you choose the title?

I spent a long time deliberating this and then went back to my original idea. One of the poems is called Paper Patterns, and it came out of collaborating with a textile artist, Maria Walker. There are a few poems in the book which she has used on in her art work, and one of the sequences was written for a joint exhibition with her, all based on some family letters she had bought in a junk shop before she met me. After collaborating for a few months we met up, when we made the astonishing discovery that these letters she’d found so inspiring had been written by my father’s family. So the title reflects the work I had done with Maria.

The cover art is actually a piece of her work on which she embroidered words from the poem, Paper Patterns. I love that picture and she kindly gave me permission to have it as cover art. (Actually ALL my books have cover art by friends apart from my Salt books and my Rack Press pamphlet, because those publishers have a certain style and took charge of the covers for me.)

Also, the title resonates, because poems themselves are patterns on paper.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

As a poet, I tend to write the poems as I go along, and when I am putting a collection together, I think about which poems I want to include. Because this is a full length collection, it has several different themes and moods. It’s important to cut in some variety in poetry books. Although I know most readers will dip in and out, I have carefully arranged the poems so they speak to each other and take the reader on a journey throughout the book. For instance, the last few poems are about regrets and ageing, whereas near the start there are more light-hearted ones. The book also includes several sequences. One is The Lightfoot Letters which includes the poems written for the exhibition, another is Catching On, which brings together ten poems from the Rack Press pamphlet with 6 poems from my Salt collection I Sing of Bricks, about my friendship with poet Matt Simpson. There is also a new coda to that sequence, which charts the stages in our friendship and also the stages of coming to terms with his death. The third sequence is a small one of miniature poems in which wild plants speak their story.

Some of the poems were written on a course with Penelope Shuttle in France, and one was written after attending an inspirational reading by Pascale Petit. There are also some poems about birds, one of which was in Poetry Review, and several poems about fruit, written at a workshop by Jan Dean. Some were even written at my own workshops, where I tend to write as a way of timing the exercises and seeing whether they are good to work from. It’s not for me to track themes – I will leave that to the critics, who can be very perceptive.

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry. It’s not highly experimental. I write poems which are accessible but complex in terms of their layers and resonances. I think every poem is an experiment. I tend to write instinctively and then bring my intellect to bear at the redrafting stage, where I am quite a harsh self-critic. I like poems which both stimulate the intellect but ultimately move the reader, so that’s how I aim to write.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

That scenario is very unlikely in the case of a poetry collection. But sometimes poems are performed by actors. So actors I would most like to perform my work: David Tennant, Miriam Margoyles (who already did a splendid job with one of mine), Patrick Stewart, Frances Barber, Colin Firth, Dervla Kirwan, Sarah Lancashire.

Who has published your book?

My publisher is Lapwing, an independent press owned by Dennis Greig, who is based in Northern Ireland. He expressed an interest in my work when we were discussing, over email, a mutual friend, the late James Simmons. Dennis had published a few friends of mine including Janice Fitzpatrick, Ian Parks and Andrew Oldham. I felt that the house style would suit Maria Taylor’s artwork and Dennis and I very much see eye to eye on the current state of the poetry world, so I decided to send him my collection. I hope to do an Irish tour to promote the book, as soon as I have arrange some free time. I am of Irish descent and very proud of it. I’ve started to explore it more in my work.

What other books would you compare ‘The Other Side of the Bridge’ to, within the genre?

I think this one is best picked up by reviewers too. I hope I write in my own way and not leaning on the shoulders of others. My favourite poets include John Clare, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Edward Thomas, Elizabeth Bishop, Matt Simpson, John Agard, Pablo Neruda, Ian Parks, Martin Figura, so it’s possible that their work and mine has some similarity. Helen Ivory is another poet I admire, as is George Szirtes, but I wouldn’t say this particular collection is similar to their poetry.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I think this book is a development from my earlier collections, although family and friends are still inspiring poems. Myth and nature are strong themes and everywhere I go I am writing poetry, so this book includes poems set in Egypt, France, different parts of the UK including London and Scotland, Whitby and the North York Moors. I also wanted to bring the sixteen elegies for Matt Simpson, which appeared in two different publications, together so I could finally call the sequence complete. I have touched on some of the elements that went into the book in my previous replies, also.

What else about the book might pique a reader’s interest?

I love it when people say to me that my poems have helped them work through difficult or meaningful times, like bereavement and childbirth. Readers can emotionally connect with my work; it’s not about me showing off or being clever, but a genuine attempt to communicate with others.
Also, I use a variety of forms, sometimes sonnets and other strict forms do the job, and other poems feel more comfortable in free verse.
The moods of the poems range too, and there is an unfolding narrative if one reads the collection in order.
Although I do write personal poems, I also reach further, for example I explore personae and history, myth and story. I also write for children and sometimes my playful side shows in my work for the general adult reader. I live a fairly ordinary life and celebrate the little things that provide moments of piercing joy.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

The book’s blurb begins: Angela Topping unravels the threads that hold families and friends together, exposing the frailties, joys and tenacity of love, in these strong, spare poems.

I think that just about sums it up.

The following writers are contuining the tour. Do vist their blogs to see their responses to these questions:

Lindsey Holland

Adam Horowitz

Steve Ely

Catherine Edmunds

Fiona Sinclair

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Filed under poetry, Poetry Collections, The Inspirational Old Letters

The Monster Family: Riverside, Tadcaster

We had a really fun day at Riverside, and some of the pupils who were there now have their own poetry blog.

Collectively we decided to write our group poem about a strange family:

The Monster Family

When Medusa and Count Dracula were married,

he loved her sly dangerous elegance;

she couldn’t resist him:  so tall and manipulative.

So they made their vows and took up residence

in Dracula’s dark cobwebby castle.

Their first pet was Percy the purple hedgehog

in his cute kitchen cupboard, his feeding bowl

full of dead people’s noses. For a lawnmower

they had a two-headed ginger sheep called Spice.

At night-time he slept on the bed, always keeping

one head awake in case Dracula got thirsty.

Their first born son was the Bogeyman.

As a teen he was addicted to The Monster Book.

He loved playing pranks on everyone.

Next they had Cyclops, a spoilt brat

because of his one eye. His bed is a cot of bone.

The third child is the worst of all, a smelly

red troll who sucks all of her six thumbs.

She screams all day long and sprouts orange horns

when she’s angry.

Medusa’s brother turned people to statues

and he looked like a worm, so Aunti Gemma

acidentally ate him. Oh well.

Grandfather Time steals people’s youth

to keep himself young forever.

So when he comes to stay, Dracula

sends the kids outside to play.

Medusa is the breadwinner: she’s a natural assassin.

They all live happily together, just like your family.


Filed under Able Writers, Children's Poetry, Education, poetry

Angela Topping’s Poetry in Education

My poems are being used in the classroom:

‘After the Earthquake’ is included in a Geography textbook as an example of how it feels to be an earthquake victim.

‘The Butcher’s Shop’ is a set poem in the anthology Food Glorious Food set for English Language and Literature Advanced Level.

‘ How to Capture a Poem’ is included in a GCSE textbook.

‘The Athlete’s Dream’ was quoted on this year’s National Poetry Day poem cards.


Primary schools study my book The New Generation (Salt 2010) and a free teacher pack is available to any school which books me for readings or workshops.

I am on a ist of poets recommended by OCR for study practice for the Unseen poem, a feature of GCSE English Literature examinations.

My poems have also been used in connection with Oxfam, The Samaritans and by the Open University.

I have co-authored several GCSE textbooks for OUP, and written several focus books for Greenwich Exchange.

I am a Teachit key contributor and have uploaded many popular resources over the years.


Filed under Able Writers, Children's Poetry, Education, poetry, Poets in schools, Salt

Winthorpe Able Writers Day 18 October 2011

Over the last two months, I have been shuttling from one end of the country to another (staying in many travel lodges en route!) delivering Able Writers’days for Authors Abroad. As part of the day, which aims to develop pupils’ writing by teaching them techiques in a series of fun but increasingly challenging exercises, I write a poem with them based on their suggestions for a topic, splitting the peom down into stanzas to teach structure, then giving 10 minutes group work to come up with ideas and phrases, which we fit together as a class.

These group poems usually surprise me as well as the children! Over the next few posts I will be sharing some of them, partly so that the children can access them easily, but mostly because they are all good fun.

Here is one:

The Werewolf’s Year

In winter I don’t need a coat:
my teacher thinks I’m cool,
but if she knew what I could do…
When it snows I make a snow wolf
and my carol singing is a charm for the unwary.

In spring, I don’t like chocolate eggs.
I’d rather have a spring lamb, so juicy.
The forest is an inviting misty playground
with tasty little creatures all around.
The moon is a glittering crystal ball.

The long days of summer make me sleepy.
It’s my worst season. too hot for furry skin like mine.

In autumn, the harvest moon is a giant pumpkin.
For Hallowe’en, no-one notices my costume’s real.
That is until they start to scream when I howl.
The bonfires show my silhouette, so beautiful am I.
Brown leaves of autumn make me a cosy bed.

In all seasons I try to keep
what I am a secret from my friends.

Group Poem written by Able Writers at Winthorpe Primary School, Newark, Nottingham on 18 October 2011, led by Angela Topping

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Filed under Able Writers, Children's Poetry, Education, poetry, Writing challenges

National Poetry Day 2011

I realise I am a little late in posting about National Poetry DayI have been exceptionally busy doing poets in schools, mostly for Able Writers, in the last three weeks.

I was delighted to have my words chosen for one of the National Poetry Day postcards this year. My poem ‘A Modern Myth: An Athlete’s Dream’, which can be read on this blog, does fit in well with this year’s theme of Games.  Watch this space for other news about this poem in 2012.

National Poetry Day itself saw me in London, in the wonderful Southbank International School, where I was giving readings encompassing every pupil in the school. I was made extremely welcome and enjoyed performing across the age range to attentive audiences who asked some very pertinent questions. Two of the schools’  s own students read poems also, before one of them was whisked off to the Foyle Young Poets event, because he was commended, something which happened to Holly Green when she was my mentee at Upton Hall School, and which greatly encouraged her. Later I gave a short workshop for the school’s writing group and met some very talented writers in the process.

National Poetry Day is a wonderful institution which helps the nation remember the importance of poetry and allows many people to participate. Once again I was part of Andy Jackson’s Patchwork poem, assembled from poems which the various contributors sent to him. National Poetry Day is directed by Jo Bell – well done once again Jo for another great celebration! Jo is already working on 2012’s events!


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Fancy a Riddle Poem? Here’s a sequence of them.

Batterie de Cuisine


Use me before you use anything.

Someone’s got to sort the good from bad.

Lumps in the sugar, grit in the lentils-

those are my tasks, I’m Cinderella.

I sift flour, create clouds of finery.


My hands hold plenty, weigh it up,

inform you of all its statistics.

Numerals are my gods, I adore them,

reel off their names in my own private litany.

I would like to speak my facts aloud.

Pointer or iron cakes, it’s all the same to me.

I know all, am confident with decisions,

my head teems with instructions.


I build with air to make castles of light,

an airy cage to lift your life.

Don’t think I’m an air-head –

I batter lumps, crash their privacy,

rescue the love life of sauces.

I’m your girl in shining armour.


I came from a large and venerable family,

though not quite silver myself, I am stainless.

Some of us are royal, some religious,

we have our apostles, our servers,

runcibles are our literary sisters.

You scoop and measure with us,

we are the first implements your baby meets

and we are loved in palm or mouth.


Sharp enough to cut myself, that’s me,

kept well honed, ready for action.

I cannot bear stickiness; keep me polished.

Honest smells cling lovingly, pungent onion-

I score and square its tingling moons.

How powerful I am, the Lord of the board.

I make mincemeat. Give me fingers, lives.

Feel the weight of me, serious,

my wooden handle snug inside your palm.

Use me well or I will turn on you.

This sequence appeared in my 1999 collection (Stride). Although it is officially out of print, I still have some copies here, from the publisher’s stock cupboard.

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Artist’s Impression

Here it is! The artist’s impression of my workshop at Much Wenlock, in my children’s poetry workshop at Wenlock Books as part of the Poetry Festival.

Many men have asked to paint me, and I always refused, especially to the one who said ‘it would be so interesting to depict all those curves’. In this case the artist was female. I don’t know her name -she hadn’t brought her business cards with her, but this is very good indeed, in my view, even though it doesn’t really look that much like me. I was moving around, so it was hard for her to get me down.

She tiptoed in and sat on the stairs with her sketchbook and paints, and I think she did this in under an hour as she had to go on to another event. This artist’s visit was a wonderful surprise and is typical of the magic of this wonderful festival, set in a little gem of a town. Do go next year!


Filed under Festivals, poetry, The New Generation