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‘Will You Walk a Little Faster?’ - review by the London Grip Poetry, June 2017

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Penelope Shuttle need not walk any faster – as this, her 14th collection, demonstrates. It is the gentle pace that

captivates in her poems. And what a phenomenal poet she is (she has recently celebrated her 70th birthday). She

has an unbossy, contemplative, unmistakable voice. She leads you quietly and helps you see things – London

especially – afresh. There is nothing stale about the way she writes, although she is thinking about what it means

to be older. She reflects on the city, its present moment and history – its bones. The past is there, almost palpable,

and the dead, too – only just beyond touch and sight. She salutes London while resisting its metropolitan speed.

Once part of a celebrated working duo with her late husband, the poet Peter Redgrove, his absence is strong

enough to be a presence here. This is a volume that combines sorrow with an oddball wryness – an unusual mix.

Shuttle implausibly casts herself as a relic, and in a comically sympathetic poem set in Waitrose, Balham,

measures her time against the nonstop pace of the supermarket. There is scarcely time to complete a sentence:


“In Waitrose Balham

I’m sure I’m bust

and broke

past my sell-by”


There is no need to labour what the supermarket’s checkout might signify. No need to labour anything in these

poems. Shuttle’s London is dominated by the Shard. There is more than one poem in praise of it. The most

enjoyable is Shardology, complete with new verb – she suggests it “tease‑floats the eye”. I love the description

of the Shard in bad weather as a “Cinderella of the rain” and the invention of a new sort of connoisseur, a “true

Shardologist”, who loves the urban icon in all weathers.


I am not sure whether a Quiet Street exists in London (there is one in Bath), but this is a beautiful poem that

carries itself lightly, in which she remembers Redgrove. Shuttle understands when not to overwork a thought.

Her idea of all days contained in a single day is moving in its simplicity.


External cityscapes alternate with poems about the heart. Her heart is a character: changeable, attention-

seeking, inescapable. Sometimes it becomes plural. She insists people “don’t know a thing/ about this heart/of

ours/do they”. If there is melancholy here, it is of a bracing sort. And there are sprightly poems, too, such as the

title poem describing a brisk walk through Oxford towards the Physic Garden and the “help-yourself” of nature

(attractive phrase).


Sometimes images echo one another: she seems to be in charge of a metaphorical cloakroom. The dead wear

“the same coat”, nature is in a “green coat”, London at night in a “cloak of dark”. There is a harmony to this

intercommunication between poems. And yet this is a collection with a solitary feel. More than one poem is

about sleeplessness, vigil, night thoughts. Sleeping the Sleep is a brilliant poem about an insomniac’s random

occupations – watching al-Jazeera, thinking of old films and of how many Shuttles there are in the phone book.

The poem mixes the mundane – making toast and tea – with an emotional ambush of the sort that can arrive in

the small hours:


“But sometimes

on a night like this

there’s so much silence in the silence

my childhood flings its arms around me”


Shuttle is mistress of the minor key; many poems end with their heads slightly bowed. And yet she can also be

relied upon, when necessary, to respond to Lewis Carroll’s question – and her title – and join the dance.


Kate Kellaway is a feature writer and deputy theatre critic for The Observer

REVIEWS

Will You Walk a Little Faster? by Penelope Shuttle review – an ode to London

Will You Walk a Little Faster? - review by Kate Kellaway, The Observer, 2 July 2017

REVIEWS

The eponymous title poem of Penelope Shuttle’s latest collection, Will you walk a little faster?, keen ‘Alice’ fans

will know, is a line from ‘The Mock Turtle Song’ in Lewis Carroll’s, Alice in Wonderland. The minimalist simplicity

of Shuttle’s form here, is not a homage to ‘The Mock Turtle’, which is mostly rhyming couplets, but shares a style

of a slightly bewildered and bewildering, child-like, nonsensical voice, ‘looking’ askance at the world. Shuttle

equates her mature poet’s view (this collection is published to celebrate her 70th birthday) with the small girl’s

vision, as the poet, also through peripatetic wandering, walks the cityscapes of London and Bristol, and considers

what lies beneath through the ‘rabbit-holes’ of her own vision.


‘Will you walk a little faster? said a whiting to a snail, There’s a

porpoise close behind us, and he’s treading on my tail.

…Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?’

– Lewis Carroll


The Mock Turtle schooling happens under the sea, apposite given Shuttle’s Cornish connections, sea-water and

light and shore rarely far from these poems. ‘Mock Turtle Soup’ was made from the head and brains of ‘calves’. It

may be Shuttle refers here to the celebrated love of her life, the poet Peter Redgrove, with whom she lived in the

South-West, who to some extent ‘schooled,’ grew and nurtured her own poetic ‘brains,’ in what seems a symbiotic,

relationship, until his death in 2003, aged 71. Though a lifetime’s passion, there are intriguing, small admissions,

as in ‘My Life,’ the opening poem in the collection, of the long shadow cast by love lost:


‘I know you so well,

My life, not at all’


It can’t always have been easy, being co-habiting poets. There are hints of a predatory, compulsive element to it,

as in, ‘Down-time/along this quiet London street, time to remember/his eagle’s grip on happiness.’ (‘Quiet Street’)

That eagle grips pulls the reader up smartly, something altogether darker in a bird of prey’s grip, employed to kill,

and lord-over. But Shuttle has a very English stoicism that prevents these glimpses being lingered over.


Shuttle’s poems are reflective, lyrical – her ‘Dwell-times’. Two poems start with ‘Quiet’ in their titles, and ‘Quiet

Street’, begins with this phrase, ‘Dwell-time’ and additionally, has the word ‘quiet’ three times in twenty-two

lines. There is a strong sense of her living as an outsider-looking-in on life, at the home they once shared, as in

‘As I fell’ where – ‘my life / folded into silly solemn minutes / of years’ and where, ‘I’m getting closer / and closer /

to you.’ Though haunted, there is an under-cutting, sardonic voice in the poems that cuts through: ‘The dead are

writing on the ceiling/as if their deaths depend on it’ (‘On the Ceiling’)


Shuttle’s style is spare, employing short-syllabled words, often only five or six to a line. She writes mostly in

continuous, single stanzas, with little punctuation, and no end-stops at the final-line, suggesting a literal and

metaphoric open-endedness, or irresolution, mimicking the ‘will you, won’t you’ indecision of the ‘The Mock

Turtle Song.’


All these concerns coalesce in the title poem. The poet, (‘like Alice / I look both ways’), is walking in Oxford,

(‘the brainbox city’). But she is not, ‘hurrying off…to see the remains of a dodo / I plan to read / not one / of the

six million books / in the Bodleian.’ She eschews the ‘dreamy spires’ for her own ‘Looking-Glass’ dreams – often

grotesque – where the heretics Latimer and Ridley are roasted alive there on ‘god’s turnspit’ and the history that

lies behind ‘this leather-bound city’ (wrapped in the dead-skins of animals) is violent.


Until she finds ‘The Physic Garden’, with Nature’s curative powers and solace, where ‘like the porpoise not the

snail / I’m walking faster / waltzing…’, but the bucolic morphs into a vision of an asylum, ‘the wards and waiting

rooms…an earthy source of tincture and tisane, / the help-yourself of nature’…‘wears a green coat / not white

/ don’t you agree?’ Oxford, the home of the intellect, is also the site of insanity, which only nature, which provides

the ‘affordable art / of clouds and rain’ (‘Knowledge’) can cure. The questioning of ‘Don’t you agree?’ as the end

line sounds a conversational, but also anxious conclusion.


Ken Evans from The Manchester Review

Penelope Shuttle, Will You Walk a Little Faster? reviewed by Ken Evans

Will You Walk a Little Faster? - review by The Manchester Review, July 2017

# Book Reviews - Page 2 | Penelope Shuttle

Prominent in Penelope Shuttle’s new collection are poems about Bristol, London (with particular reference to

the Shard), and the human heart. For those who know Bristol and its transport system the reference to buses

that “change their route numbers / as often as you change your mind” will need no explanation. References to

the Henleaze area of Bristol will to most readers be more opaque: she refers inter alia to the (now defunct) 54

bus, the Henleaze Waitrose, and the Orpheus Cinema. To those who like myself have travelled on the first,

shopped in the second, and watched movies in the third the names inevitably bring with them highly particular

associations. What, however, of those readers – presumably the majority – who haven’t? What does somebody

not familiar with the city at all make of a poem like ‘Girls in Bristol’ which manically lists names of places which

pass by in a rapid blur as if seen from the window of a car or a bus – such as Cabot Circus, Cribb’s Causeway,

Bread Street, Gloucester Road, not to mention “that old pet shop in Bedminster”? The answer surely is, quite a

lot, given that names in Shuttle’s poetry tend to substitute for places rather than simply refer us to them: it is the

magic of the names themselves that gives this poem its impetus as much as the realities that those names signify.

Further, despite her insistence on the familiar particulars of contemporary life – she refers to “my Kindle / my

password / and my shopping” and mentions in passing Al Jazeera, faith schools and Waitrose check-outs – her

poems are more about creating a new sort of reality in poetry than in any straightforward fashion representing

that which already exists.


In her poems about London she is aware of the past as well as the present, not only her own past but the history

of London itself, half-concealed in its changing street names, buried in layers of stone under one’s feet, hidden

in the routes of its underground streams. The London that Shuttle gives us is often not one so much one of or in

the streets as much as it is deep below or high above them. In ‘Walking the Walbrook’ she invokes the


rivery ditch  long-gone

by Rivington Street


choked to death

 under Scalding Alley

  Three Needle Street


and Number One Poultry,


the river that “no one will ever / restore to the light”. London’s great new towers such as “The Pinnacle // The

Walkie-Talkie / The Cheese-Grater” never dream that “a river lies under their feet.” This is a poem that (before

it unfortunately fizzles out) has great energy in its characteristic short lines and incantatory concatenations of

names. The Shard is seen (among a good many other things) as


glass mast of tallest sailing-ship

steeple-singer

jumped-up one

vertical thinker

multi-use Shangri-la

moon’s bitch.


She also sees it as “like god’s ever-lit bulldog-breed cigar”, one of her more whimsical coinages. Her London is

also the visionary city that Blake saw. In the long poem (or poem-sequence) ‘Passages’ her hermetic references

left me cold – for example, I have no idea what “Icy hell is a pink rose” is intended to convey – but there are also

lines that convey a sense of urgency and excitement:

 

a city not lubberly, sea-dog city,

 mermaid city, Sabrina fair,

 her watery tresses wrapped round Wapping

 and Highgate,

 Seven Sisters and the Caledonian Road,

 roadmaps of rain,

 queenly wet city in her green rags

 of wrecked June.


Elsewhere we have in ‘Quiet City’ in more meditative vein the memory of “trees in Richmond Park, / the sky’s

lovely struggle with light, / a day full of too many days.”


She has previously told us that “poets shouldn’t be troubled with hearts / especially their own”. For all that in

the present collection there are no less than six poems which are so troubled, including the poet’s address to her

“Arthurian” heart which – impossibly – “worries me / from one end / of the Round Table / to the other”. It is not

a matter of deciding between head or heart: the question becomes insoluble when the heart is doubled as in ‘Both

Hearts’, one of which likes things that the other does not, though in the end there appears to be a bemused

blurring between the two: “This heart liked bread and butter / but so did that one,” the narrator tells us: “Often /

I couldn’t tell them apart.” Typically, Shuttle’s poetry operates on the verge of meaning, or moves in and out of

sense, and sometimes gloriously defies any settled reference. When she offers us what looks like a lesson on logic

it is on her own terms. ‘Opposite’ begins, unexceptionally, with the statement “The opposite of night / is day”. In

the next stanza we are told that “The opposite of water / is beer” which makes a kind of sense, given the reference

to Siberia. When, however, we are then told that the “The opposite of food / is sleep / and also dreaming” we see

that Shuttle’s apparently wonky logic is an oblique way of telling evident truths. The poem ends with a vision of

the stars as being “the opposite of telling lies” though they sparkle “with never a word of thanks / from god or

man”.


In this new collection – the appearance of which marks Shuttle’s seventieth birthday – there are no signs of

flagging energy. Here are poems characterized by short lines, a simple direct syntax, minimal use of punctuation,

a vernacular language marked by such words as ‘grunty’, ‘blingy’, and ‘loony’ – poems that have an irresistible

sort of mad humour: they take off like rockets and we never know quite where they are going to land. We are

taken to places that clearly do exist in the real world, such as Oxford and Siberia, Lidls and Asdas, along with

places that might exist (I couldn’t find Hvallator on the map and Google wouldn’t tell me what “voes” are), and

also places that don’t, but should, exist, such as Easy Street, where no one lies fretting at night, but there are

never any houses for sale. Besides the outrageous punning and linguistic high jinks that are so characteristic of

her work, however, there are more straightforward passages, reflecting on the passing of time, and the sheer

weirdness of being alive. “Strange to be the same person / after all these years”, she muses. She suddenly recalls

an old film she saw many years ago, Clare’s Knee, and thinks of how much of experience just falls away: “lots of

old films I’ve seen / and forgotten.” More poignantly, she finds that, as she gets older “Alone comes along / like

no lover I’ve ever known”. In these moods what she looks for is a “quiet moment / found at the back / of

everything”. Shuttle’s poetry is typically vivid, fast-moving, linguistically vital, and has an immediate impact on

the reader (or listener: most of these poems simply cry out to be read aloud); but, for all the directness and

simplicity of language, it is not simple-minded. Indeed, it falls often into aporias or self-contradictions, endings

that are not quite endings, as with the very first poem in the book, simply titled ‘My Life’, which closes with the lines


I know you so well,  

My life, not at all


There is no full stop – few of her poems end with a full stop – and rightly so given the inconclusiveness of their

conclusions. She is a more tentative, more vulnerable poet than at first appears. ‘Maybe’ is full of calls to action –

“let’s go into this café / shall we / let’s do something”, but is finally irresolute: there may be signs that are

favourable “but I’m not sure / I’m not sure”. This is a richly various volume, one which will delight her many

admirers, and deserves to make new converts of those previously unfamiliar with the world (or worlds) that

Penelope Shuttle opens up to us. She has elsewhere spoken of the well-kept secret that poetry can be fun, and

her poems do indeed convey a sense of fun, broaching as they do serious themes without relinquishing a lively

gift of wild and often sardonic humour.


London Grip Poetry review by Richard Caldwell

Penelope Shuttle’s new collection ‘Will You

Walk a Little Faster?’ published to celebrate

her 70th birthday on 12 May 2017.

Penelope Shuttle has made her home in Cornwall

since 1970 and the county’s mercurial weather and

rich history are continuing sources of inspiration.

About Penelope | Penelope Shuttle
Will You Walk a Little Faster? | Penelope Shuttle
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