Penelope Shuttle
Father Lear
15 August 2020. 37 pp. ISBN 978-3-901993-79-4 (= PSPS 37)
£7.00 (+ 2.00 p&p), €7.00 (+ 2.00 p&p), US$ 10.00 (+ 3.50 p&p)

"When a poet has a long publication history, a reader can sometimes feel that earlier ma-terial is being re-written. There is no such fear with Penelope Shuttle. As I turn the pages of Father Lear, poems surprise and delight me. Time and time again, I am caught, frozen, as a poem continues to unfold. The language sparkles. In the title poem, he “shaped his bairns / […] from milk horses and the birds of sighed mercy / and the tongue undone”. In “Osterley Park, Summertide Trees”, the trees are “green wolf-lords leaf-thanes ruling over crows and parakeets”. “Verbs” is addressed to “Dad”: “but you are smaller than a tear / now/ and / I’m your sorcerer’s apprentice”. This is no apprentice work."
Angela France

"Penelope Shuttle is a fully-charged poet of the night, one who never stops delighting in the modern and the ancient, whose connectivity doesn’t tire whether she writes of Assyrian graffiti or swan slang. As readers we are questioned: “What means most to you, / the Kama Sutra or the Magna Carta?” Come on, the poem wants an answer. But hurry, for here be kings and queens, saints and animals (heraldic and otherwise) forming a (disorderly) queue. Here is a poet who puts herself in the way of language, trusts to alchemy, to truth and to lie, knows miracles “are best avoided”. Here is a pamphlet, Father Lear, whose words glitter like so many stars, each offering their own jazzy illumination of our fierce little world."
Katrina Naomi

"Prepare yourself for this wildly controlled, emotionally charged, image-driven adventure where the poem inhabits its own mysterious territory somewhere between litany, spell and lived experience. Leaping great distances with surefooted abandon and a spiritually defiant assurance, these poems negotiate time, mortality, love, language, and the complications and condition of Being Here with death-defying ferocity. A mature, elegiac work that cannot fail to leave you feeling shaken, cleansed, and changed."
Jacqueline Saphra

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Table of Contents

Excerpts from Father Lear

The Lucidity (or Otherwise) of a Swan

The swan in the dream assumes the role of silence,
the swan is also the beauty of things,
white wings folded back like a restaurant napkin,
but the dream isn’t clear about the details or the meaning,
the swan meanwhile having his own interpretations,
white eggs in the snug of a nest or one feather
stuck in a signpost on Hounslow Heath?
The possibility of ballet? He hopes not.
The swan is the same as the moon,
but wait, can that be right? It seems unlikely,
but the dream won’t wait, has already pushed on,
now the swan is a white dog tall as a house,
or is it a white tent without a dog?
And who makes a cup of tea in a white toilet bowl?
The swan writes his own Act of Swans,
the north wind glimmers over the nesting marshes.

Gardens where there’s no need for a garden

For me, it begins with a grandfather consciousness of Russia
and a difficulty of surnames,
smiles in a local kitchen from my alien gold neighbours
and the gladness of their horses

It begins in the dark regions
of vodka and childhood
where the staircase birds share the flight of the child
and a windowsill mother counts
a thousand years
on her exact tongue of black-blood grief

Or it begins, for me, with a master sleep
with the dog who understands the breast that wears black,
and the hour when a strange
but better than usual guest
comes to call

For me, it begins when I step aside
from my own concerns and the dead look at me,
quiet as thimbles,
they look at me from the hushing handheld sky,
its subdued palaces,
the doors all blue and in the wrong places

For me, it begins there

Reviews of Father Lear

"Penelope Shuttle is a poet’s poet and, my goodness, this collection is a veritable treasure house of amazing poetry. From line to line there is constant surprise, while her words run smoothly through, making perfect sense of the unexpected. [...] All of the poems, from "Father Lear" to the concluding "197", make us care, make us want to care. The collection finishes with "language as a gleaming shield" which is not a poem but a "behind the poem" article, also a threnody for her late husband Peter Redgrove. She ponders 'Perhaps a poem is a spell spelt out to test how much reality we can bear. Not much, as we know.'"

Peter Ualrig Kennedy, "Poetry Review". (15 September 2020)
Click here to read the full review.

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