“Sandgrain and Hourglass” Penelope Shuttle (Bloodaxe) – Poetry Review

Sandgrain and Hourglass poetry by Penelope Shuttle

“Sandgrain and Hourglass” starts with Penelope Shuttle still grieving for her late husband, Peter Redgrove, eg in “The Keening”

“Your bones, the fallen mast of your spine,
yes, those also I see –
I’m forbidden to touch you,
for we’re no longer one flesh;

I may not give you a kiss of life,
nor by westerly bring joy of rain
to your parchlands,
but I am allowed this second sight of grief.
Day and night I look –

your head, your heel, your heart –
for love blindfolded is love still.
This looking is what is called mourning,
and this is how I had learned to mourn.”

Her tenderness, compassion and skill make these poems easy to read and offer both recognition and inclusiveness to anyone who has been through something similar.   They lack self-pity and Penelope Shuttle is still able to laugh at herself too. 

However, not all the poems are about grief.  There’s playfulness too, a poem on translating Edward Thomas into Japanese, a machine for grading kisses, stolen reindeer and the “Royal Society for the Promotion of Loneliness”.  These are fun and maintain their internal logic throughout.

Penelope Shuttle also looks back on her marriage.  In “Your Portrait”, a friend who more usually sketches cathedrals in charcoals,

“…depicted you in fire colours,
                  a furnace palette, your face half-turned to us,
                                              uneasy in a godsend of red and gold

your brow’s fierce tranquillity
                      a swelter of brushwork
                                          when you sat for him,

he saw the fire of poetry in you,
              missed the fire of a first-time adulterer’s glee
                                                         who but this fellow artist

showed you
            how to slip through the cracks in a marriage,
                                                    lost you wife and children,

brought you, all unknowing, to me?”

It looks easy, but note the use of fire-like words, “fire”, “furnace”, “fierce”, “swelter”, “fire” and deliberate use of “first-time”.  The juxtaposition of “fierce” and “tranquillity” is thoughtfully done too, containing the idea that someone with that deep a passion can also be still whilst his mind is working overtime.  Her skill at portraits in words is also explored in a sequence for her later father, Jack Shuttle, eg through “Colours”, on return from a prison of war camp: 

“Yet you brought colours back,
even from Wun Lun,
Wampo South and Kanburi,

plus you give me
a moment of suddenly noticing autumn,
a way of mourning you

with the palette of grief,
all the earthly colours at my disposal.”

The assonance of the longer vowels, particularly “u”, echo the sense of this being a quietly reflective poem.  “Sandgrain and Hourglass” contains poems that that work through mourning with a healing wisdom and poems that play with language and ideas.  Warmly recommended.

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