Tag Archives: Penelope Shuttle poet

Penelope Shuttle writes about Unsent: New and Selected Poems 1980–2012

© Image by Jemimah Kuhfeld

© Image by Jemimah Kuhfeld

Penelope Shuttle has lived in Cornwall since 1970, is the widow of the poet Peter Redgrove, and has a grown-up daughter Zoe, who works in the field of sustainable energy.

Her first collection of poems, The Orchard Upstairs (1981), was followed by six other books from Oxford University Press, The Child-Stealer (1983), The Lion from Rio (1986), Adventures with My Horse (1988), Taxing the Rain (1994), Building a City for Jamie (1996) and Selected Poems 1980–1996 (1998), then A Leaf Out of His Book (1999) from Oxford Poets/Carcanet, and Redgrove’s Wife (2006) and Sandgrain and Hourglass (2010) from Bloodaxe Books. Redgrove’s Wife was shortlisted for both the Forward Prize and the T S Eliot Prize in 2006. Sandgrain and Hourglass is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. Her latest book, Unsent: New & Selected Poems 1980–2012 (Bloodaxe Books, 2012), is drawn from ten collections published over three decades plus a new collection, Unsent.

First published as a novelist, her fiction includes All the Usual Hours of Sleeping (1969), Wailing Monkey Embracing a Tree (1973) and Rainsplitter in the Zodiac Garden (1977).

With Peter Redgrove, she is co-author of The Wise Wound: Menstruation and Everywoman (1978) and Alchemy for Women: Personal Transformation Through Dreams and the Female Cycle (1995), as well as a collection of poems, The Hermaphrodite Album (1973), and two novels, The Terrors of Dr Treviles: A Romance (1974) and The Glass Cottage: A Nautical Romance (1976).

Shuttle’s work is widely anthologised and can be heard on the Poetry Archive website. Her poetry has been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and 4, and her poem ‘Outgrown’ was used recently in a radio and television commercial. She has been a judge for many poetry competitions, is a Hawthornden Fellow, and a tutor for the Poetry School. She is current Chair of the Falmouth Poetry Group, one of the longest-running poetry workshops in the country.
“Adventurous, searching, interested in the luminous instant of reality that dwells in the perpetual now of the poem, Penelope Shuttle is a poet who clearly shares Picasso’s view that ‘If you know exactly what you’re going to do, what’s the point of doing it?

If a poet’s work is her personal experience of the universe then this book takes us deep into that Shuttle-verse …”
          ‘ … but I don’t really know how poetry gets to be written.
          There is a mystery and a surprise, and after that a
          great deal of hard work.’
          – Elizabeth Bishop, from Letter to Miss Pierson
Although my New and Selected Poems stretches over thirty two years I remain no wiser as to how poems get themselves written, as ruefully noted above by Elizabeth Bishop.

Since I began writing in my teens, nothing has so enthralled me as poetry; before my first attempts at writing, reading poetry had thrown a similar glamour over me, as it continues to do. Words are made of the breath of life, its essence, and they land on the page still breathing. That, I think, is the mystery and the surprise, for me, and then follows the hard work.

But what kind of hard work is involved? The whole process of editing and re-shaping and learning further meanings from that first draft is an addictive and deep pleasure for me. Seeking to keep the spontaneity alive is also an exciting challenge.

It takes a long time. Many of my poems are in various draft versions for years. Some poems prefer to develop at the speed of geological time, it seems! There is also the phenomenon of the now-and-again poem, as all poets know, which arrives as a free gift. It falls on to the open page through some kind magic and needs only the tiniest of tweaks. But these are rare and seldom occasions. I think perhaps that they only happen if the poet’s radar is switched on all the time.

Here’s some background. I published my first full collection of poems in 1980, when I was thirty three years old. The publisher was Oxford University Press, and my editor there, Jacqueline Simms, created a wonderful and unique stable of poets, including Jo Shapcott, David Harsent, Michael Donaghy, Hugo Williams and Fleur Adcock, to name but a few. By 1998 I had published six collections with OUP, and in that year my first Selected Poems appeared. In 1999 OUP’s superb poetry list was shut-down by The Press, in an act of unparalleled cultural vandalism. The poets dispersed, and continued to play highly-significant roles in the life of poetry in the United Kingdom and beyond, winning numerous prizes such as the Forward Prize, the T S Eliot Prize, and the Griffin Prize. But nothing to me in my publishing life has been sadder than that wilful destruction of a living poetry list.

My 1998 Selected Poems was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. In a review in the TSL, Gerard Woodward said: ‘Shuttle is a poet of immense reach, both in the range of her subject-matter and the breadth of her language. She is both an acute observer and an inventive fiction-maker. One senses that she has her life perfectly in tune with her poetry, so that it registers the slightest variation in her state of being. In this sense, the narratives of emotional, erotic and maternal love that can be traced through these poems collocate into the drama of a life lived in the full flood of being’.

I published a seventh collection in 1999, A Leaf Out Of His Book, with OxfordPoets/Carcanet. They also took over the distribution of my OUP books, including the Selected Poems, which went out of print a few years later.

There was a considerable gap before my eighth collection, Redgrove’s Wife, appeared from Bloodaxe Books in 2006. This was due to the death of my husband, poet Peter Redgrove, in 2003, after some years of ill-health. Redgrove’s Wife contained a number of elegies for Peter, and for my late father Jack Shuttle, who had also died in 2003. This collection was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Single Collection, and for the T S Eliot Prize. A ninth collection, Sandgrain and Hourglass, appeared (also from Bloodaxe, 2010, Poetry Book Society Recommendation), again containing elegies for Peter, Dad, and my friend, artist, musician and poet Linda Helen Smith who died in 2008.

I’m most grateful to Bloodaxe Books for their generous and sustaining support over the past six years, and for publishing in October 2012 Unsent, which contains all the poems from my OUP 1998 Selected Poems, with further selections from the three subsequent collections.

It also contains a volume of sixty-two new poems entitled Unsent. Whereas I had tempered my two previous volumes of elegies (Redgrove’s Wife and Sandgrain and Hourglass) with poems covering a wide range of other topics, Unsent is a book of elegies. I wished to include this volume in my New and Selected Poems to create a triptych of elegies. They seemed to fit naturally together. One theme which emerges in this third volume is the question – how long do you  continue writing and publishing elegies? And I try to find and suggest some answers. I felt that to publish Unsent as a stand-alone collection would be asking too much of a reader, an overwhelm. There comes a time (and this is delineated in these poems) when I must cease ‘to weep on the world’s shoulder’.
Cloud to Cloud
When I couldn’t
bear another day,

I cloud-watched
for dear life –
no two skies alike

Those skies
made plain to me
where my thoughts began
and where they ended

I saw the witch Kikimora
and her white Cat
scudding from cloud to cloud

          Stop weeping
          on the world’s shoulder!

          spat out her good advice
Your Three Hats
Your three woollen hats
found such pleasure in covering
your bald head.

King Solomon could have found
no more faithful servants.

Your retinue of Musto hats
that while two could be lost
somewhere in the house

one would always be available
          at the drop of a …
to take its rightful place
on your crown.
I hope that this new collection of elegies can be read, seen, experienced as part of my life story in poetry, a continuum where ‘the narratives of emotional, erotic and maternal love’ of my earlier poems are carried on into the narratives of loss, bereavement, and renewal of self.

Now I catch myself thinking of this book as a time machine. It travels me back to the poems of my first collection, when I was a young woman and a new mother, and it fast-forwards me through the rich and complex years with Peter, our shared life as poets, the ups and downs, the landscapes of Cornwall ever-present …. as in this poem about Mylor, a creekside village close to the town of Falmouth where we spent our years together and where I still live.
The Well at Mylor
At Mylor
the water of the well

bears the armour of the light,
it hides and escapes

and stays still
under its hood of rock

amid a galore of graves
and green leaves,

spring of fresh water
beside the sea,

a find, a treasure,
a pedigree,

no idyll
but the essential source,

now retired
from its work of sole sustenance,

living among memories
of former fame,

a saint’s hand dipping in
like a taper unquenched,

coins splashing down
for reverence, not luck,

from time to time,
a self-baptism,

secret and quick,
for some

prefer their ritual
out of doors,

water understands this,
and loves the brow

fanned with its body
for reasons the water easily guesses,

for it is the one who blesses,

freely it runs
its long unceremonious

through my fingers,

and on my lips
tastes ferriferous,

blood-hint at the periphery,
pell-mell mint at the heart.
I’m sure I’ll continue to write elegies, for they are a way of continuing to talk to Peter, to Dad, to Linda … but I don’t plan to publish any more elegies. (Though, as the old song has it, never say never!). The poems in Unsent have been a process of release and re-awakening to possibilities for me though language, rhythm and experience. They have liberated me into whatever new kinds of poems I’ll be writing next. Those poem-drafts are already beginning, taking me to new places and opening new doors. What else are poems for?
Order Unsent: New and Selected Poems 1980–2012 (Bloodaxe Books, 2012) here or here.

Visit Penelope’s Bloodaxe Books author page.

Penelope Shuttle: Five Poems

Penelope Shuttle

Penelope Shuttle has lived in Cornwall since 1970. She is the widow of the poet Peter Redgrove (1932-2003). Shuttle’s 2006 collection, Redgrove’s Wife (Bloodaxe Books), was short-listed for the Forward Prize for Best Single Collection, and for the T S Eliot Award.
“A wonderful book of poetry of love and loss by Penelope Shuttle about her late husband, poet Peter Redgrove. It spoke to me very strongly, having lost my own husband not so long ago”, said Maureen Lipman, in the Daily Express, and in The Times, Elaine Feinstein said, “Her poems of mourning … are among the best she has written”.
In the autumn of 2007 she was one of three poets on an Arts Council sponsored reading tour of Toronto and New York (Cornwall Poets in North America), and in the same year was awarded a Cholmondeley Award for Poetry.
Penelope Shuttle is a tutor for The Poetry School, The Arvon Foundation, and Second Light Network. She also runs residential courses at Almaserra Vella in Spain.
Her new collection, Sandgrain and Hourglass, appears from Bloodaxe Books in October 2010, and is a Recommendation of the Poetry Book Society for the Winter Quarter.
“A poem can remove the thorn from any lion’s paw – but by the same token a poet may have to ask the lion to tend her wound. Penelope Shuttle’s new collection, Sandgrain and Hourglass, charts a variety of transactions between poet-self and wound, between wound and beast. A major preoccupation is her continuing experience of loss, particularly the way time modulates and redefines grief.
Some aspects of human experience can be too painful or difficult to bear except through poetry. As Ted Hughes said, ‘poetry is a way of speaking to people we’ve lost when it is too late’. In these poems – as in her previous book Redgrove’s Wife – Shuttle continues such conversations with her husband Peter Redgrove, her father Jack Shuttle, and her close friend L.H.S., among others.
Her engagement with the world’s manifold possibilities is also strongly present in Sandgrain and Hourglass … A machine for grading kisses? Edward Thomas translated into Japanese? A stolen reindeer? Faust? Francis Bacon’s mirror? Bedtime? The possibilities are endless.”
A Bonfire for the Moon
Neither afternoon, nor evening –
bright sky and primrose path
coming to the brink of shadow-time
High-stepping waves
back the beach into a dusk corner
A yard of wet sand
loses the light as we make for the rocks
Breakers shove their stern grey shoulders at us,
stand bolt upright, smashing fists of spray
in the world’s face –
Grey drumming ocean,
and on its wild wave, far out,
a white bird riding, as halcyon as you please –
Far above, a net of cloud reveals
the moon rising inch by inch,
small and sure and full to the perfect –
grey-pink at first,
then, as an artist might dreamily try out her palette,
she gains cherry-blossom’s lustre,
as you’ve seen it in those old orchards around Kyoto,
till, at first soberly, then wildly,
she’s a shade of orange more kumquat than orange,
more orange than peach, more tulip than wild rose –
every shade showing clearly
the delicate continental smudges of moonscape –
Now the cliff bats are shaken into the air
like motes falling from god’s eye –
and the moon-watchers
still crouch silently on the rocks –
yes, the sea does all the talking, bragging
and wise-cracking –
but is the moon listening?
Then one of us sets the kindling,
lights a bonfire for the moon
Autumn Evening at Home
The road hushes
into another road
with its own moon, its own rain
From our bedroom window
I see the fig tree that isn’t there,
the gate that never shuts,
the road outside our house
repairing itself with rain,
a blurt of moon,
you vanishing again
from my quiet regard
The pilot falls
from the sky,
lands in front of me,
without warning,
like a legend
‘I should be at work right now’,
he says
scooping up his ready-made wings
‘Some people
hate us hang-gliders,
others love us, there’s
no in-between…’
We’re birds of a feather then,
I think,
poets and hang-gliders…
watching him run
along the shore,
nudge up
into the air again,
without fuss or fanfare,
guessing his way
through the thermals,
at ease above the cliff,
in a prospect of sky,
pilgrim of shadow,
pilgrim of sun
Memory is a Sort of Folklore
Memory is a sort of folklore
about love’s flying carpet
on which we took our domestic flights,
stayed airborne for years
Memory also gives our time together
the reality of a Dutch painting,
entire years the shade of gold
in Maerten van Honhorst’s Magdalen,
when she’s dressed up for a night on the town
Memory is like the earth,
always in two minds at once, light and dark,
or like very distant stars,
or an entire town taking a vow of silence,
or a country
whose sole wealth is its forests
Memory is where Love and Death meet in secret,
Death always rhyming with breath,
Love, with her birds white as winter,
always rhyming with dove
I’ve seen memory words like this
written in the primer of light and dark
Spare Self
I’m making a new version of me,
identical in every way,
same age, same memories,
same hopes, same fears.
She’ll work hard for me.
Why not, I am her Creatrix.
All those e-mails
and phonecalls,
rail and flight bookings,
getting tax stuff
ready for the accountant,
housework and shopping,
that’s her department now.
I’ll be free,
it’ll be me-time all the time,
writing, reading,
holidays, days out,
long lunches with friends.
I’m constructing my own Cinderella,
and as for a prince –
no chance, Cinders.
Visit the Sandgrain and Hourglass page on Bloodaxe’s website.
Pre-order Sandgrain and Hourglass.
Visit Penelope’s Poetry Archive page.
Visit Penelope’s Contemporary Writers page.
Read Penelope’s poems on the Poetry International Web.
Read more of Penelope’s poems on the poetry pf website.
Visit Penelope’s profile page at David Higham Associates.