Tag Archives: Penelope Shuttle

In Memory of The Titanic #3

This first poem is by the marvellous Penelope Shuttle, who tells me a distant cousin of hers, Pearl Shuttle, failed to survive the sinking of Titanic. She was on her way to America to start a career in the vaudeville.

Mighty Ship of Pride


I built this ship

from the iron of my father’s eyes

the steel of my mother’s heart


Three million rivets


I built this ship

from the bones and the skin

the hours and the days


I built it by hand

on a 49 hour week

for pay of  two pound


I built it from tongues

of the wise and the foolish


I hammered

I wrought


How fast she grew

my ship of woe


I built this ship

from the nettles

in the yard

by the nuns’ parlour


from streets

of a stricken city

torn between pride

and grief



I built this ship

from leftover rivers

and broken glass from all walks of life


from 655 black teddy bears

and the last 37 seconds


the old canoe

from white stars

and black moons


water-tight opulence


I built this ship

by force of habit

and from one hundred songs


I built it

from the remains

of all that beauty

the Grand Staircase

the chandeliers


I built this ship

from the death throes

of a spinning coin


from all who sail in her



italicized quotations and adapted quotations in the above poem are taken from various writings on The Titanic including phrases from an anonymous poem about the workforce who built the ship in Belfast.


Penelope Shuttle


The second poem is by Rosie Topping, who was moved by the grave of the unknown baby, whose identity has since been discovered.

Probably Third Class

 The Mackay-Bennett sways, churning,
as the sea casts away its victims
Dour sailors haul bodies onto tarpaulin,
the fourth a shock: a baby.

A moment, heads bowed,
as they lift him aboard,
cradle his unblemished body
in tattooed sailor arms.

A reluctant hand pencils in his details,
their duty; it must be done.
He must be catalogued,
even as they hold him.

 No 4 – Male –Estimated age 2 – hair, fair
Clothing – Grey coat with fur on collar and cuffs;
brown serge frock, petticoat; flannel garment;
pink woollen singlet; brown shoes and stockings.
No marks whatsoever. Probably third class.

 They smooth down his fair hair;
vow to scrimp wages for a service.
Only two carry his white coffin,
a pendant at his neck, imprinted copper our babe.

Visitors place flowers, teddy bears
at the polished granite monument.
The years wash away in floods
but the memory is held.

to the memory
of an
unknown child

A camera watches as
scientists exhume the grave.
His secret hides in three baby teeth
preserved by his copper necklace.

Crowds invaded Southampton’s dock,
loud with the promise of adventure
Families wove through the throng,
expecting new lives.

A woman cradled her baby
whispered ‘hush babe’.
Chubby face beaming a smile,
Sidney Leslie Goodwin clung to his mother.

Rosie Toppingunknown_child_index_card


Filed under Uncategorized

Horses, Falling

This poem is taken from my recent collection, Paper Patterns (Lapwing 2012). I wrote it as a response to seeing the Bayeux Tapestrey, when I was on Penelope Shuttle’s course in Normandy in 2011. The falling horses in the battle, ambushed and falling into a pit, in contorted shapes, reminded me of The Grand National and the horses who are killed in that race every year. Image


Horses, Falling


Bayeux 2011


Each steed is different, needle-drawn,

couched in muted shades, their noble heads

shackled with bridles, chain-stitched threads.

On cotton track, they canter like horses at races

until they come to Saxon ‘Beecher’s Brook’,

when, pulled up short, they tumble to the ground,

heads down, rears up: colliding, knotting, twisting,

while needlewomen sew each snort and whinny,

catching the details of their falling in unlikely

curves.  The dying horses claim their place

in history, through this tapestry, as though

their hoof beats rang through yards of cloth.


Filed under Uncategorized

‘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 http://catherineedmunds.blogspot.co.uk/

Fiona Sinclair

Comments Off on ‘The Next Big Thing’ Blog Tour

Filed under poetry, Poetry Collections, The Inspirational Old Letters