Posts Tagged ‘women’s poetry’
Second Light – Poem of the Month
Round 9, Month 6: This month’s judge is Ruth O’Callaghan. Her winning poet is Angela Croft with her poem Dancing with Chagall. Her 4 commended poems are by Shirley Bell, Jill Munro, Marg Roberts and Sue Wood.

I was also very pleased to receive five copies of this – my poem The Clones of Tithonus  is included.
And Gemma Baker,  who is a fellow member of Lincoln Creative Writers, and very active in the poetry scene in Lincoln through Mouth Piece Poets, is also one of the finalists and has a poem in the book!

poetry rivals 15

I have had a positive time just lately as my news for the next Second Light newsletter shows! You can also tell there is a very very strict word count allowed! Actually I have not got all of the poems in yet – but there will be a Word doc soon with all my published poetry from 1982 to 2016. I wanted to finish it in time for my operation on Monday as I do not know how I will be afterwards, but I don’t know if I can manage it. (Well I can’t!)

“All of Shirley Bell’s poetry is now in the Special Collection Archive, University of Lincoln. A poem is in Poetry Rivals 2015 The Finalists. She is in the final of the Stamford Poet Laureate competition. Her poem, Igloo, made the shortlist in the Five Words competition and will be published in Five Words Vol IX.  She also reached the shortlist of 2016 Blackwater Poetry Group Competition.”





This marks the end, I hope, of the worst case of writer’s block imaginable. It coincided with lots of family and work problems, and the longer it went on for the worse it became.

I did not stop writing, because I  was commissioned to write and illustrate gardening books. My husband and I have had a plant nursery since 1977, and the books came out of this. Those were happy times, including  lots of travel to exotic places to photograph plants and gardens together.

Then our lovely daughter, Imogen, suggested that I take an MA in Creative Writing.  And  I wondered why, when I  was a writer with every fibre of me,  I wasn’t writing. So I took her advice. And, during the inspirational year of my MA at the University of Lincoln, with great tutors and great fellow students, I somehow gave myself permission to write again.

bandaging hurt_edited-1


 Dieffenbachia or Dumb Cane

A bold foliage plant, though biting any part prevents speech –

I ate something I shouldn’t and gagged
on it.  Turned my language to a
stutter and my tongue lay still.
Then my head was bound and blind,
bandaging some hurt so tightly
that it died and tied me in.

So the years have been my clinic.
Somewhere to shut the world up
in a hushed place, where  nurses’ feet
shush on the vinyl. A womb, as quiet as
velour, and me in its dark plush,
paralysed. Until something pushed me

out to this space where my sounds
are new and awkward in my mouth.
And yet my story’s begging to be told.
My tongue – untied – begins to shape it
syllable by syllable. How I’d have
died, had words not called me back.

I wrote this after our son emigrated to the USA to marry his fiancee; he got his visa on Thursday and the plane on Sunday.   We drove to the airport through the dawn on the summer solstice, 21st June, 2009,  but it was too overcast to see the sun rise.

Today is 21st June, 2014 so I am posting this poem:


That was a dandelion year, their faces turning with the light,
illuminating every roadside verge with their yellow countenances
on midsummer’s day as we drove you away from us.

From Thursday’s visa to Sunday’s plane you were unloosening your grip,
at such a speed, I never quite caught up with you. But your face was filled
with happiness, like the flowers’. How strange to see you loping to the gate
without a backward glance into a future in a new world we’d never seen.

Dent de lion. Those flowers have teeth; they bite me now whenever
I think of that hectic flight. I love your happiness, I love your wife,
but I still recall the years you flourished here with us.
And there’s still that morsel of me left that was sad to see you go.

We’ve visited. It’s alien to us. The flowers are different there,
the squirrels big and black; chipmunks don’t come in cages,
we can taste the dead skunk’s odour as the wheels roll over it.
Chickadees and hairy woodpeckers populate the trees that we don’t have.

Everything was like a dream I half remembered from all the films,
where I didn’t see those wooden houses. She always talked to us,
of our buildings made of brick and stone, the narrow roads which hug the
old boundaries, meandering through years of ownership. It came to life.

Hers is such a big country with so much space for you to stretch and grow.
Wildernesses press up against the highways, so many roads to cross
and cross again a continent. This is not a small world,

I often think there is nothing to do with anxiety apart from containing it within words; I wrote this as my mother was waiting for an endoscopy. The results were good, but from then forwards her life has been a slow slippage. A staircase. You can go down it and pause for a while, but you can never climb back up.


I think you are moving forwards now,
slowly into the quietest place,
where it is always dark and you
will be newly dark to me.

But – for today – you carry on, beetling
in your little car, your face a crumple
of perplexity. In the supermarket
you hum a soft nonsense.

I track you by that lullaby and hunt you
down. You are lifting the packs of food
and turning them this way that way
as if they have become suddenly exquisite.

We always go for lunch. After a trembling hour,
the gravy and potatoes are a still suspension
floating on your plate. It is sticking in your throat.
And I too can’t swallow it.

“Why not let this be a weekend of healing” says Gene Barry at the Elbow Lane Poems group.

We all get wounded by life but what is worse is letting wounds fester, hanging on to our slights and hurts. The last time this happened I was lying in bed brooding and unable to sleep.  So I told myself I had to let this go, and in my head I walked through a beautiful garden carrying  a box of fish – like a picnic box, full of water, sloshing.  (I have always been good at creative visualisation! ) And at the river bank I threw the fish in,  one by one, and let them swim away. One was a great fat dark puffer fish with a hideous  face,  and another looked back  at me over its shoulder as it swam away. Really disturbing!

I looked up “ugly fish” on the internet and found a list on chicago now. com as I am inordinately fond of lists of names  – paint colours, wild flowers, butterfly species – and I love to add them to poems.

So here is my – genuine – healing poem. It works for me.


So: This is a poem
for recovery.
From the thoughts that
contaminate days and nights.
They swim about in heads
like hurt and sorrow,
darkest resentment.

Now: Close your eyes. Here is a gate.
Here is a garden sealed with hedges,
Italianate, with a pool at its centre
where a fountain scintillates.
But not for you.
You have another destination.

Next: At the other end the hedges
part to a river groaning past
with a blurred momentum.

And: Those fish go in,
thought fish, one by one, arcing,
taking the sickness with them.

What: A puffer fish,
inflated with spiny malice,
swims away deflated.
with the ugly list in tow*.
Goblin Shark
Angler Fish
the  tiny Oreo Dory
and of course
the Grouper.

Then: You can go back.
Then you can look at the fountain.
A thousand rainbows, splintering.

*10 Ugliest Species of Fish: Ugly Week Continues

This grew out of struggling into the local Methodist Chapel with my less than able mother.

I felt very much an outsider, a watcher, and yet I would have loved a numinous moment.

I am not a believer or a disbeliever, I am just moving on through life with a vague Pascallian* (there is probably no such word)  sense that I have nothing to lose by hoping that there is more than this. So, religious thoughts, doubts are always hovering on the edge of sight and seem to creep into my poetry almost without my noticing.

The Scarecrow Christ


The fields are flat and brown, it’s hard to think
they’ll ever stand high with corn, flare with rape
again this summer. For now the scarecrows lurch
at crazy angles. They trail old coats and rags.
Polythene bags flap around the suggestions of
their shoulders. And yet the wind lifts
their shoddy clothes and they are touched with
magic; they always seem about to fly.

It’s Sunday and I’ve taken you to Chapel.
Everything is grey and earnest. There’s no
incense here, though  a sense of well-meaning
sifts gently through the air. I don’t think I belong.
It’s Lent and the sermon is all about temptation.
I feel I would not pass those tests. Now I see
distraction in the corner of my eyes; a painting.
When I can, I take a picture on my phone.

It shows me strips of cloth, snarled around
an empty cross, a tenuous fabric
lifting in air currents, tangled with light.
Something. Nothing. Faith, elusive as a sigh.
A scarecrow pinned to a stick.
Leaning forwards, with the wind stirring its tatters.
And always on the point of alteration,
by some sudden unexpected angle of the sun.

Taken from my pamphlet, behind the glass

“Belief is a wise wager. Granted that faith cannot be proved, what harm will come to you if you gamble on its truth and it proves false? If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists.” Pascal


We are always told to carry the little notebook around in case ideas suddenly arrive, but also so we can act as vampires on our fellows and use overheard fragments.

This was a repeated theme in the MA Creative Writing so here are two examples, one overheard in a hospital waiting room and another written after a conversation during the course, thanks Tina!


I’ve got to wait until the scabs drop
off then send them to

They’re not ready yet.
If I pull them off
they’ll leave a hole.


Eavesdropping at the Almeida for Tina


I’ve started raiding people’s lives for inspiration;
it’s a shameless way of building up a poem.
You like the way I write my overheards but wish
they could be lighter. The hospital would be dark,

of course, but even in the library the talk was of
a funeral after which ‘she can move on’, which
I doubt. Now I’m eavesdropping at the Almeida,
hoping for some light-hearted piece of chatter,

polished to an anecdote.  It’s my daughter’s birthday.
We’ve come to see James’s Turn of the Screw
and have already upset someone at the bar by
queue jumping by mistake. ‘Perhaps next time

you’ll serve your customers in order’. We run away
with wine in plastic cups and prop them on the balcony.
It takes an age for us to see the steward in the stalls
is telling us to move them in case they fall and we feel

a bit embarrassed. While we wait for the first act
Im talks about her year in France. I used to go to stay
and she’d come to Lille to see me off. ‘Did I ever tell you
how a guy came up to me after you left? He asked me

to go back to his to make a sex film with him? I said
in French I don’t understand because I can’t speak French,
and ‘Mais….’ he said. ‘But…. ‘’ We laugh a lot at this
and I think I’ll write this down for Tina as it’s still a kind of

exploitation, no? The play’s had bad reviews, all the
nuances are gone. But it doesn’t matter; obediently I jump
on cue at every scare. Though I do suspect
the audience should not be laughing quite as much as this.