Poems from our Claire Crowther, Sue Rose and Hannah Lowe workshops

Hannah Lowe at her workshop
Hannah Lowe presenting her workshop

Following on from the success of our walking / writing / street photography workshop in October, we held three more sessions led by our brilliant Hercules authors. The venue was the lovely Travelling Through Bookshop, one of our favourite places on Lower Marsh: an engaged and talented group of poets gathered in the downstairs café to exchange ideas and images.

We will celebrate the work created in these sessions on the 18th of March, when the participating poets and workshop leaders will gather again at Travelling Through for a public reading of their poems. The event begins at 6:30, and entry is £5, which includes a free drink. More details here:


At our December workshop, Claire Crowther guided us through the spooky world of the horror poem, showing us examples of the genre from DS Mariott to Sylvia Plath to Stephanie Whytowych. We thought about horror as an emotion, as an overwhelming terror that needs the containment that poetry can give. We watched The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, a film that still has the power to send chills down the spine. Claire inspired us to write on themes which were new to us – and we were suitably impressed (and frightened!) by the results. Here are two poems from the session.

by Steve Perfect

Fixed to your chair
in my narcotic stare
you’re my boy
my toy in darkness.

Your shivering lip
shows that you know
what’s on the tip of my mind
why my heart skips
when you’re in my grasp.

But it’s time for a trip
I won’t be too long
and I know that you know
that you’ll stay
while I’m gone.

I’ll walk through the woods
teasing evil from goodness
and when clouds cross the moon
I’ll come back to you
in our appointed basement.

I know that you know
that you’ll let me in.
Then I’ll begin.

by Derek Harper

My departure: the approaching needle
takes me through a subway to the sea.
An unknown sea, drone of waves,
last song – the lamb groans.
I plumb down into the purple valley, deep,
deep, a steep finale. The surgeons
sheathed in red, leeching blood
grids the walls. Body opened, flesh hauled out
and I’m dispatched to mourn the rout.

Purple drifts to orange, yellow, all colours
then diminish. I hook up to rise, outside
in the innocent plastic, surgeons all hung in white,
lights lunge, grab and punch me to the surface.
My arrival: I’m shrunk in fright.

* * * * * * * * * *


In January, Sue Rose gave us a session on elegies and homages. She started with the idea that an elegy is simply a praise poem in a minor key, and discussed the three elements of elegy: lament, praise and consolation. We looked at poems of celebration and lament by a diverse group of poets, including Norman MacCaig, Lucille Clifton and Ben Jonson. She talked about her love of the sonnet as the perfect form for tribute, and got us writing acrostics, ‘beau presents’, and even poems in praise to a part of our bodies! Here are some of the results.

Attendees hard at work in Sue Rose's workshop
Attendees hard at work in Sue Rose’s workshop

Bud Flanagan’s Hat
by Greg Freeman

Ragamuffin urchin of a hat,
with a cheeky, kids’ comic grin.
Bud Flanagan’s titfer
wasn’t really one at all;
‘battered’ doesn’t really do;
only ‘blitzed’ perhaps covers it.
His head surrounded
by the fraying brim;
the rest, a gaping hole
where a hat should be.

This hat was a bombsite
levelled by the Luftwaffe.
Fur coat kept him warm
as he kept smiling through,
mumbling underneath
the arches – even if it sounded
like his dying breath –
that dear old music hall,
and England, wasn’t done.
No, not yet.

by Diana Shelley

For Phil Jeffries

Perhaps I’ll put that photo of you here,
High on the study wall so it looks out
Into the garden I am making,
Like the one we always planned.

Just there I’ll plant two silver birches,
Emblems of the trees I had to leave behind.
First I must dig and drag the rubble out
For not much flourishes without hard work.
Roots will spread as our trees start to grow
Into this ground which you have never seen,
Enabling them to thrive and live on after me.
So I will make my own memorial, as well as yours.

by Carol Misch

Amongst the craning heads
she is there, bobbing blue felt hat,
cerise lips puckered in suspended refrain.
A waft of Yardley from this sparrow frame,
as I surrender to corset embrace,
clasping, unclasping my jetlagged body.
Then, scanning for changes,
diamond eyes
trace the terrain of face, shoulders, torso.
Let me look at you! Too long!
Parchment hands hold on,
the skin stretched just enough to cover,
cloth cut to fit, a life
measured and restrained.
And in this tailoring an economy of joy, unleashed now on me
in an outpouring of such unbridled abundance,
my teenage mind wonders that such excess
is appropriate in one so old.
I think of her now in neat tweed,
still behatted in blue
(sun kills darling!)
waging war on ants in the kitchen,
(their order displacing her order),
as she bakes a celebratory cake
in honor of my arrival.

Homage to my feet
by Andrea Robinson

These feet are broad feet
high-arched, wide toed
fine-tuned to step and turn.
They have learned to travel far
without complaint.
These feet prefer sand to pavement
they search for the beach
beneath the stones.
These feet take to water
and always start the stroke.
These feet fling off high-heeled shoes
these feet dance all night
they are restless feet, itchy feet
but still they stand firm.
These feet swell
at the slightest constraint,
they will never come to heel
they refuse to toe the line.
These feet won’t kick you
when you’re down.
These feet grow spurs of bone.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


In February, Hannah Lowe led a workshop on reconstructing history, inviting us to bring a family photograph, as well as a significant object: the café filled with sepia-tinted grandmothers and precious heirlooms. Hannah brought along some lovely examples of poets mining their past, including Sharon Olds, Tess Gallagher and CD Wright. It was an extraordinary day of sharing family legends and legacies, and we were inspired by Hannah’s own stories of her father’s ancestry, which have framed many of her poems.

Creativity abounding in Hannah Lowe's workshop
Creativity abounding in Hannah Lowe’s workshop

Here are a couple of great poems from the session.

Imaging my grandmother when young
by Roger Huddle

Work was the way of life
My dear grandson
I was barely eight when I became a scarecrow, long
spring and summer days in a Suffolk field.
Then a stone gatherer, bending was
good practice for gleaning after harvest, all women and children
in those early days of Autumn.
Sometimes I had time. I would play with your grandfather
my scuffed knees his unkempt hair
hiding in barns chasing butterflies before sleep
or work triumphed. Joy can be short lived, but at dusk
laughter could echo across the twilight
before swallows came amongst swarms of insects
rising like smoke above the trees.
Fourteen I was when I left Birdbrook
in service for a few pennies to keep the downstairs
at the solicitors by the church in Haverhill.
Polished mahogany and pine, waxed and washed floors
see my face in copper and glass, large boiling kettles for soaking
sheets and towels red skinned peeling sores aching back.
But on Tuesday’s half day
in my own time, walking the lanes
wheat dust pinching my nose, constant
hum of bees in hedgerows of Blackthorn and Cotoneaster
Walter would find me saying: ‘Jane we be away soon to the city’
My future was dragged off the land.

Reisepass, Deutsches Reich 1939
by Veronica Zundel

Who is that dark young woman in the photo
with the face of L’Inconnu de la Seine, her death mask
that my father sent you on a postcard when courting?

I wasn’t your mother then, but someone’s daughter,
about to leave home, city, language
to marry a goy, in a foreign place
and never be anyone’s daughter again.

Which comes first after Horoschowska – Weber or Kammermann?
– in your first mother’s name, who fled from Cossacks
in an earlier war, and left you in strangers’ hands?

I don’t remember, it was so long ago,
that little girl with the big white bow is gone,
I’m fast asleep in the forgiving earth,
all memories dissolving, February snow.

What else did you hide from me, take to the dark?

Don’t ask, I couldn’t speak it:
my tongue stopped with soil,
eyes blank white paper,
ears dead to all your questions.

What would I lose if I lost this?

A stamped red J, proof of evil, record of loss,
a young dark woman I never knew.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


To recap what was said at the top, we  will celebrate the work created in these sessions on the 18th of March, when the participating poets and workshop leaders will gather again at Travelling Through for a public reading of their poems. The event begins at 6:30, and entry is £5, which includes a free drink. More details here: