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, is 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 will soon appear in two books: 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 email@example.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. 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 the poem that won.
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.
I’m a member of the A Poem and a Pint committee, that organises live readings in the South Lakeland area. Our programme has had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but a one-off reading featuring Rachel Long, will take place on Sunday 27 September in The Forum in Barrow-in-Furness, as part of the BBC Contains Strong Language festival.