Eleanor Hooker reviews your poems

Back in May, we set you a challenge: to write a poem and send it to us. We asked Lough Derg Lifeboat Helm and Poet Eleanor Hooker to be the judge and it was no easy feat for her – so many of you sent us beautifully crafted verses. They were all extraordinarily well-received, Eleanor told us. 
Here are her five favourites: 
Eleanor Hooker - Poet, Writer and Lough Derg lifeboat Helm and Press Officer

Photo: Eleanor’s son, George Hooker

Eleanor Hooker - Poet, Writer and Lough Derg lifeboat Helm and Press Officer 

Rip by Kate Compston

For a friend grieving her daughter

Just as you think calm 
after first thrash of storm –
whose through-the-body roar
and chill within the bone 
has almost finished you –
just as you feel done with it,
back to some semblance 
of the blest Before,
you’re in the grip of something
worse for the surprise of it
which drags you out from shore
to unsure seas; you can’t
touch base, all grounding
quite undone.  

Your limbs are saturated paper, 
soon to disintegrate unless 
you stop, surrender, float, 
although you might drift
further out …     Wait 
till a little strength returns
when you can swim 
across the shore
out of the clasp of rip, 
be carried inward
to the next embrace of calm, 
can rest – with her – in peace, 
her voice no longer calling out.
Until, again, you’re caught 
so many times, so mercilessly
in the grip of it.

All you can cling to is
how you came through before. 

Eleanor says: ‘There is so much to admire in this poem. Using a rip tide as a repeating metaphor for grief, its groundless terror and disorientation, is masterful. And in addition, two other meanings implied in the word ‘rip’ suggest the wrench and rupture in the life of the person to whom the poem is dedicated, and the acronym R.I.P. – to rest in peace, a prayer for the child who has died.

‘The narrator’s imperative that the person grieving should ‘swim/across the shore/out of the clasp of the rip/be carried inward/to the next embrace of calm/can rest – with her – in peace/her voice no longer calling out’, is a loving, tender lesson on survival and also on letting go. I found this unsentimental poem deeply moving. This poem is a beautiful example of metaphorical analogy - poem as parable.’

After the Wreck by Susan Morris

There was no news. When light came, searchers patrolled the shore.
Ripples relaxed, peaceably on the smoothed sand.
At high tide mark the rubbery bones of rotted kelp lay like charnel
And the mass of wrenched wrack released a miasma of flies.
There was a huddled heap turning in the tide's edge -
Only lost lines and knotted nets- helpless at the sea's behest.
Goose barnacles, like a celebratory festoon dangled, dying,
From their unanchored moor-lines.

The rocky reef beyond the bay stood as ready gravestones
Though millennia of sea and sand scratching had etched on them nothing readable.
Men will quarry, carve and smooth stones and write the names of the lost
Which will stay legible a while when the flesh and blood fathers and sons
Are forgotten.

‘This poem is exquisite,’ says Eleanor. ‘It deals with the loss of three crewmen from the lifeboat Janet as it attempted to return to harbour in storm force conditions, December 1916. Ten crewmen survived adrift for 22 hours in thunderous seas and freezing conditions. None of this detail is in the poem, what is in the poem is deft and outstanding allusion to the tragedy. 

‘Susan’s description of one thing, powerfully suggests another, for example "the rubbery bones of rotted kelp […] a huddled heap turning in the tide’s edge […] lost lines and knotted nets- helpless ..." I love how the poet pictures the erosive power of the sea on itself and on memory, and in its own forgetting, how the sea continues to present persistent peril. The poet chooses not to offer easy resolutions in the final verse, so whilst we can read the names of those lost, carved in stone, after a century we cannot know the flesh and blood people who owned the names.’

Expecting Rain by Stephen Dalton

If it rains today I'll go for a walk.
I won't see the fell's rise,
Obscured. Crouching now.
to return. Reliable.
Great grey canvas
anticipating elemental strokes and hues
that will pool in hollows and becks.
Limestone sponging as if to stretch,
Haw blossom, flirting with the clouds' bounty,
Consentingly succumbs.
Westerly draughts
driving, dancing, 
Pause to hide in sheep's clothing.
 
Words drenched
I'll head back

Eleanor says: ‘Everything about the pandemic and lockdown is exceptional, including the weather. And in longing for a return to what is familiar, “reliable” rain, the narrator in Expecting Rain says: “if it rains today I’ll go for a walk”. As it describes the vast outdoors, the driving rain and the usual Cumbrian character, the language in this short poem is sumptuous – “Great grey canvas/anticipating elemental strokes and hue/that will pool in hollows and becks”. I have huge admiration for poets who can fit the whole wide world into a 15-line poem.’

Future Nostalgia by Anne Stevenson

Rain thrummed
Lashed against the window
Blurred rooftops across the way
Urban skyline    
The wind, sometimes there
Sometimes not
Sometimes roared
Felt like an Orkney day
But in Edinburgh
Memories of windswept holidays 
Fighting my way along the shore
At Skaill, or Birsay
Open skies
Distant horizons
Freedom
Hopeful future realities
Of other islands 
Other beaches
Other freedoms  
New memories are waiting

Eleanor says: ‘Anne Stevenson’s beautiful short poem Future Nostalgia uses a description of rain falling on a cityscape to evoke memories of the open uncluttered beaches of Orkney. This poem is brim-full with hope. The narrator anticipates “other islands/Other beaches/Other freedoms” will provide an opportunity to create more happy memories and a future nostalgia. And while the poem describes the personal, its appeal is universal, as we all, in these strange times, long for “Open skies/Distant horizons/Freedom”. The short staccato lines pulse down the poem like rain. Gorgeous.’

Lessons I’ve learnt in lockdown by Sally Spiers

2 metres is the distance from my front door to the pavement,
Zoom, Zoom, Zoom isn’t going to the Moon,
PPE is not a subject on the school curriculum,
Furlough is not an archaic measure of distance 
And “Happy Birthday to you” (twice through) is an act of hygiene

It is a mistake to invest in a stocks and shares ISA 2 weeks before a pandemic - 
I won’t be doing that again!

The National Theatre is an essential missing component from the National Theatre’s Jane Eyre. 

5G caused Coronavirus. IT’S TRUE. I read it on Facebook
5G is why they cut the trees on the High Road. IT’S TRUE. I learnt it from a woman in the supermarket queue.

There is no vaccination for stupidity, although intravenous cleaning fluid is a probable cure.

SAGE is sage; Science is wise. 

There’s a new band in town. 
Hurrah for Chris Whitty and the Profs!

Absence makes the heart grow fonder. 
(Hypothesis as yet, but clinical trials are eagerly awaited at the end of confinement with my nearest and dearest)

I love my hairdresser. I must do. I miss her more than my own child.

I am vain.
(I WILL NOT, as others do,
go shopping in a full face swimming mask and snorkel; 
Or a unicorn head;
Or even a mask improvised from Union Jack panties. 
Not even for my own safety and protection)

And I’m learning to live with Google Hang-ups!

‘This deeply ironic and satirical poem made me laugh. Like the fool in a Shakespearian play, one can imagine a clever, seemingly belligerent narrator, ranting against the ills of the world, in an attempt to point up its absurdity,’ says Eleanor. 

‘“There is no vaccination for stupidity, although intravenous cleaning fluid is a probable cure” is as close to the political bone as one would dare get. The poem doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is - upending, comical verse. I so enjoyed reading it.’

Inspired to write your own? Take a look at Eleanor’s advice on writing poetry. And if poems aren’t your thing, try our tips on writing your own flash fiction.