Jean Atkin

the poet

Jean Atkin's latest collection is How Time is in Fields, in which there’s a lot of walking and witnessing of place and the natural world. Her work has featured on BBC Radio 4’s Ramblings with Claire Balding, and appeared recently in The Rialto, The Moth, Agenda, Lighthouse and Magma. In 2019, Jean was Troubadour of the Hills for Ledbury Poetry Festival, as well as BBC National Poetry Day Poet for Shropshire. She works as a poet in education and the community.

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the poems

The not seen sea

00:00 / 01:54

Under cliff, under white chalk, Under Hooken 
we walk down the throat of the harts tongue 
and talk. Our boots are glossed with clever ivy.

Overgrown, overhead and soft under old man’s beard, 
bosomy June leans down on us, up close 
to cyclical drift, centimetre shift of earth.

While, sunk in its cage of feathers, a blackbird rots, 
deflates into the flint step down to the beach. 
Shingle rumbles in our ears. It hisses, passes, as we

wind the path between the cliffs, and only now 
and then we catch the hill-high lurch of chalk in mist. 
Keen in the nose, the salt and fret of sea.

All the while we twist a flint descent by rungs 
of ivy root, and all the while a thrush repeats 
repeats its song to coil to coil inside our ears.

And another blackbird sings, so blackbird answers it 
in audible waves. By our feet a chasm of ash and fog. 
Low in our bones, not visible, churrs the sea.

The tattoo'd man

00:00 / 01:26

has had a skinful, to go only by what shows. 
His bull neck’s chained, a padlock swings 
above its own hatched shadow. 
In scrolling calligraphic script, his knife arm 
pledges faith in love, and brags 
his unsurrendered soul.

His other arm is tidal. On the backswell 
of a bicep lolls a mermaid, tits 
like limpets, eyes like stones. 
An anchor lodges in the flesh above 
his wrist: its taut rope twists 
across his sturdy, sandy bones.

But much of him’s of land, for deep 
in the humus of his cheek 
a splitting acorn roots. 
An oak leaf grows towards 
his mouth on sappy, pliant shoots.

With men, it’s never easy to be sure, but 
here’s one who’s tried to take the outside in. 
He’s shifty as gulls and bitter as bark. 
Every night he reads that skin: 
his library of pain 
and virtue, bright and thin.

The snow moon

00:00 / 01:18

On the night the snowfields above the cottage 
became bright maps of somewhere else, we 
climbed up in the crump of each others’ boots.

Capstones of walls charcoaled the white. 
The hawthorns prickled it. And a leaping trace below a dyke was slots of ghost deer gone into the fells.

There were rags of sheep’s wool freezing on the barbs 
and lean clouds dragged the roundness of the moon. 
Jupiter shone steady to the south. It was so cold.

And the children threw snowballs, all the time. My old coat took the muffled thump of them.

Night snow shirred our mittens with silk. We turned 
for home, left our shouts hung out in the glittery dark.

Publishing credits

All poems: How Time is in Fields (Indigo Dreams Press)

© original authors 2020

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