Sunday Poem – Alison Brackenbury

Evening all – I got back at about 8.30 from a brilliant weekend in Cardiff at the XX Women’s Writing Festival.  It didn’t get off to the best start as in my usual dramatic fashion, I felt so ill on Friday still when I got up to get the 6.30am train.  The only thing in fact that stopped me getting off the train at Lancaster and coming back was the thought of standing up and walking.

Anyway, it was a six hour journey and after about two hours I started to feel a bit better – so I stayed on the train.  At this point I was quite worried about reading on Saturday but I knew I was gradually getting better so I decided to risk it.

I was staying with Amy Wack (Editor at Seren) and her husband Kevin Brennan (Local MP).  They have a beautiful house with these amazing objects everywhere and lots of books.  In the room I was staying was a fantastic painting by their friend and a silver bird flying across the wall. Amy and Kevin were really kind to me – nothing was too much trouble.  They also have a very cute cat called Lizzie who I fell in love with.  They very generously put me up from Friday to Sunday because they were the cheapest rail tickets, which also meant that I got to go to the whole festival so that was nice.
One of the things I liked about this festival was that there were quite a few politicians there! Politicians are a novelty to me – in fact I realised that apart from Kevin, I hadn’t met one in real life before.  I was surprised to learn that they didn’t make me want to tear my hair out like Michael Gove does when he comes on the telly.  They were interesting, normal people.  It makes me realise how much public figures are made into cartoons by the media.   Or maybe Wales is just blessed with its politicians – they are being much more sensible about the badger issue I think… Anyway, there was an event where men were reading extracts from women’s writing that they admired and it was interesting to hear not only what the male writers picked (Philip Gross picked Elizabeth Bishop for example) but also to see what the politicians picked and their reasons for doing so.  I liked that the festival seemed to be bringing together two very disparate worlds – art and politics and letting them kind of stretch towards each other.

The other thing that I liked about this festival was that I learnt lots!  I think I am relatively ignorant about feminism and politics – I feel like I have come to it all so late and I’m catching up all the time – but there was a range of writers at the festival – the first event I went to was an event with Melissa Benn which I found so interesting I bought her book ‘What should we tell our daughters’ even though I don’t have a daughter and have no plans to have one!  But I do often despair at school when I am teaching  with how to respond when a girl or a boy trots out a generalisation that they are repeating like a parrot from some adult.  I’d better not give examples!

I met lots of lovely people as well – the fantastic Rhian Edwards, Suzie Wild, Carole Burns, Nia Davies (who is the new editor of Poetry Wales and is looking for submissions!) and the audience were very friendly and enthusiastic.

My book haul was quite excessive as usual- I bought Nia Davies’ pamphlet by Salt which is called ‘Then Spree’, ‘The Visitations’ by Kathryn Simmonds (already read this one on the train on the way home – it’s amazing.  You should buy it!), Cath Drake’s new pamphlet ‘Sleeping with Rivers’ (well actually, we swapped), ‘Witch’ by Damian Walford Davies (read this one on the way back too and really enjoyed it) and Melissa Benn’s ‘What should we tell our daughters’

I’m back home now and am beginning to flag so I will leave you with the Sunday Poem – I hope to feature some of the poets that I met at the festival on here in the coming weeks so there may be an influx of women writers coming up.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by Alison Brackenbury who was born in Lincolnshire in 1953.  She has published seven previous collections with Carcanet, as well as a Selected Poems.  Her latest collection ‘Then’ is beautifully quiet poetry.  I mean that in a complimentary way – the poetry doesn’t really shout for attention but it does get your attention in other ways.  I heard Alison read from this book at Torbay Poetry Festival and then a month or so later at Aldeburgh.  I enjoyed her readings, but by that time I still hadn’t read the whole book, so I don’t think I had really realised how skillful her poetry is – which is a good thing I think.  Her poetry is highly formal I think – there are often rhyme schemes that hold the poem together and give it a logic, but the rhymes are never clunky – she handles the line of the poems so deftly.  In fact if I I had to pick one word to describe Alison’s poetry I think it would be ‘deft’.  I think I also admire it because it is so different to the poetry I write because of its patterns and form.  However, after reading this book a couple of times – I did go and write my first rhyming sonnet! So maybe it rubbed off in a good way.Alison’s poems are full of horses and birds and water and family.  I decided to pick ‘Lapwings’ for the Sunday Poem because I think it illustrates a lot of what I’ve been talking about – her skill with rhyme, the quiet insistence of her poetry and beautiful last lines that ring like bells at the end of the poem.

If you would like to find out more information about Alison you can go to her blog which is in which she writes all kinds of interesting things – you can find more poems by Alison of course, but also wonderful critical essays and posts about other people’s poetry.  If you would like to order Alison’s book then have a look at the Carcanet website at

I hope you enjoy the poem

Lapwings – Alison Brackenbury

They were everywhere.  No.  Just God or smoke
is that.  They were the backdrop to the road,

my parent’s home, the heavy winter fields
from which they flashed and kindled and uprode

the air in dozens.  I ignored them all.
‘What are they?’ ‘Oh – peewits – ‘ Then a hare flowed,

bounded the furrows.  Marriage.  Child.  I roamed
round other farms.  I only knew them gone

when, out of a sad winter, one returned.
I heard the high mocked cry ‘Pee – wit’, so long

cut dead.  I watched it buckle from vast air
to lure hawks from its chicks.  That time had gone.

Gravely, the parents bobbed their strip of stubble.
How had I let this green and purple pass?

Fringed, plumed heads (full name, the crested plover)
fluttered.  So crowned cranes stalk Kenyan grass.

Then their one child, their anxious care, came running,
squeaked along each furrow, dauntless, daft.

Did I once know the story of their lives,
do they migrate from Spain? or coasts’ cold run?

And I forgot their massive arcs of wing.
When their raw cries swept over, my head spun

With all the brilliance of their black and white
As though you cracked the dark and found the sun.


3 comments on “Sunday Poem – Alison Brackenbury

  1. Thanks for taking me along on another one of your poetry travels. I learn along with you. I like the ‘deftness’ of these lines –
    Then their one child, their anxious care, came running,
    squeaked along each furrow, dauntless, daft.

  2. Right on time and right as usual. And dauntless. Lovely to wake up unnecessarily early on a Monday morning and find this waiting. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like these unrimed couplets organised in three riming sets. It sets up a lovely counterpointed music. I love the surprise and total rightness of ‘daft’, the accuracy, the precision, of the writer’s eye, and the great swelling expansion of the last two lines. Like Elgar.

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