Poetry

I’ve written poetry for as long as I can remember, and, like most poets, I’m part of a community that discusses and celebrates poetry. My poem Advice from the Ulverston Canal, written during the Covid-19 lockdown, was featured in a display of lockdown poems in Tullie House, Carlisle, as part of the BBC Contains Strong Language festival in September 2020. I hope it captures both the beauty and the sorrow of this extraordinary time. 


My poems have recently appeared in two anthologies: Reflected Light (Grey Hen Press), an anthology of poems that respond to works of art, and Bloody Amazing, 123 taboo smashing poems about menstruation and the menopause – a subject long overdue for poetic exploration.

I’ve published four poetry collections, most recently Poet in Boots, an illustrated poetry pamphlet about my walk along the Norfolk Coastal Path. My collection, Pepys (a poetic biography of the diarist Samuel Pepys) was published by Hawthorn Press in November 2012. My collection Yes, (Hawthorn Press, 2010), won the award for the best poetry book in the East Anglian Book Awards.  

To buy any of these books – my own or the anthologies – please email me at caroline.gilfillan@btinternet.com 


Like many poets, I enter competitions, partly because they bring recognition and prize money if you are placed, but also because they provide a strong incentive to polish individual poems. I’m delighted to say that my poem Reunion after a Long Pandemic was a runner-up in the 2021 Prole competition, and was published in their July issue. Here’s the poem:

Reunion after a Long Pandemic                                     

You know the flat on the Hills Estate

where we slept under a pink striped blanket?

Start there. The block will smell of lime tree blossom

and there’ll be no drum and bass rolling like thunder

round the blocks. You’ll find the Escorts and Beamers

have disappeared: all that’s left are metal skeletons

hunched over faint smears of oil

between the dandelions.

Keeping your hood over your hair, head for

the main road. Watch out for the ditch –

a girl could drown in its khaki sludge.

Pass the green-tin synagogue and the stables

from where the ponies used to trot out,

proud as paint, on a Saturday morning.

My street is next to the mini-mart that sold

sesame loaves perfumed with butter and honey.

I’ll make a chalk mark faint as hope on the kerb

in front of my house. Go down the steps –

careful, careful – don’t trip and break a leg –  

whistle the first line of Catch a Fire

and I’ll be there, and the dog with the honking bark,

and the ebony cat called Emily Pankhurst,

and the gas fire hissing its salmon-pink song.

You can kiss me, and I’ll kiss you back.

Our teeth will be snow. Take off your threads

and hob-nailed boots. I can summon up enough water

for a bath. Naked, you’ll know you’ve arrived.

You never know when you will be successful, but in 2019 I won the Yeovil Literary Prize for Poetry, and the judge, Philip Gross, commented: ‘This poem is so many things – colloquial and imagistic, private and public, snappy and sad and tough and ultimately – most startling – tender.’ Here’s my poem.  

Origins

I was hatched in an angry nest. Spiky it was,
with loss and bruised knuckles, the coarse cloth
of a nun’s habit. It smelled of sulphur tonic
that could rot a girl’s teeth. Yet it was softened
by a river of hair running below a waist,
the hands of a man who’d been lifted by love.
The feathers were gleaned from a plum tree
in Hertfordshire whose roots crawled beneath
the Great North Road. I came out sickly
and damp by the sea, by a tamarisk tree.
Kindness raised me, and fairness and people
who knew when to keep their mouths shut.
But the anger had got into me, had scoured me
into something shiny and cross. I wrote letters
to the newspaper, received kinky replies. I hung out
with dope-smoking darlings, and stewed up bile against
the National Front, whose head office was in our town.
My parents shook their heads in private, let me fly,
jesses trailing. And now I talk to them in the gentle tent
of night, and they nod and breathe life into me, as I
breathe into them, so we are reborn, reborn, day on day.