Penelope Shuttle

Katrina Naomi

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the poet

Penelope Shuttle lives in Cornwall, and recently published her 13th collection Lyonessean Observer Poetry Book of the Month – and her pamphlet Covid/Corvid, a collaboration with Alyson Hallett. Recipient of an Eric Gregory Award and a Cholmondeley Award, Penelope was shortlisted for both the T S Eliot Prize and The Forward Prizes for Redgrove’s Wife. She is president of the Falmouth Poetry Group, founded in 1972 by her late husband, the poet Peter Redgrove. Her radio poem set in Falmouth, Conversations on a Bench, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in March 2020. Penelope is a contributor to BBC Radio 3’s The Verb, and is currently at work on a new collection, History of the Child.

the poems

one day you said you felt
unable to bear even little
things of this life

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            but mild clouds hold you

            drawn water settling in the pail holds you


            the old walnut’s

            cracked and serviceable trunk


            these parched purple and white autumn cyclamen

            circling its gnarly foot hold you


            the sapling at breast height

            the wing that’s folded in

            mild clouds drawn water


            they bear everything for you

Noah’s notes
(preliminary)

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            there’s meaning in the various colours of doves

            the blood of a he-goat is so hot it can dissolve diamonds


            the spider is an aerial worm that feeds on air

            a drink made from the tears of a stag cures heartache


            bees are the very smallest of birds, born from the bodies of oxen

            the cat is a shadow animal, the Bible has never believed in cats


            the eagle will not converse with falconers

            but a she-wolf will take communion from a priest


            the blue-eyed phoenix lives on a diet of dragons

            hunting dogs are just as beautiful as the tallest medieval horses, the destriers,


            or the soul when it is first spied as some tiny thing, a maggot or a grub

            when the starling speaks in French, you must listen


            the hare may not always be a Christian

            the moth found on a young boy’s kimono sleeve brings sorrow


            hawks stare at one another without moving their eyes,

            this is how their young are conceived


            the dragonfly never stops working on the twelve volumes of his memoirs

            the pig takes mercy on the vineyard, and is the world’s best wet-nurse


            the he-wolf must be tricked into sleep, then bound

            with a rope made from the sound of an ant’s footfall,


            the breath of a fish and the spittle of a bird

            the snake is the best dollmaker you could ever wish for


            the elephant! he takes up so much room, he won’t tolerate the crocodile

            he’s so wise, how can I forbid him?


            the three-toed sloth is nothing but a bundle of leaves,

            and so is the brown-throated sloth


            with her iron jaw and massive clitoris

            the beauteous hyena is no more and no less than a Queen


            The lion is the strangest of messengers, with his Tsar’s face,

                                                                                  the chakra of his tail

            give him your full compliance


            the swan bids the rain leave off with a swirl of her meekly-shaped wings

            the oriole is an unimportant bird but proud as a hornet


            the winter-sleeper ignores the moon, and the two little toads

            only the mouse comes in with the blessing of God

reforming the calendar

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            january turns the other cheek

            february pulls the moon through the hole in its heart

            march blows such fine fanfares

            he’s crowned Trumpet-Major of the Trees

            april’s a dark horse

            in may the roses are great with child

            june wears a hairshirt of gorse

            july considers the lilies

            or glides in the longboat of light

            august has the gift of tongues

            september blames no one but herself

            october paints doors to war rooms red

            november sucks blood from the world’s wrist

            and december? he hides his light under a bushel

Publishing credits

one day you said you felt unable to bear

  even little things of this life / reforming the calendar:

  exclusive first publication by iamb

Noah's notes (Preliminary): The Poetry Review (Vol. 106, No. 4)