The Shadow Factory


The arrival and ritual opening of a box of newly published books is always an exciting moment. And this time we were especially pleased to see that the printers had padded the cargo with paper rather than bubble wrap.

The Shadow Factory is our Deb’s fourth poetry collection from Indigo Dreams Publishing, and its evocative title is straight out of her childhood in 1960s Bristol. ‘As a young girl I was fascinated by the rollsign of the 98 bus that gave its destination as The Shadow Factory,’ she explains, ‘but as the stop we had to get off at came before the terminus, I never got to see it, and an intimation of certain disappointment prevented me from asking what was made there. As a result, The Shadow Factory became a warehouse of wishes and unrealised dreams, a metaphor for life and death, and eventually this collection of poems that explore childhood, memory and the twilight of those household gods we call parents.’

Other poets have had complimentary things to say about our new addition.

Pascale Petit, who awarded the poem Oystercatchers 1st prize in the 2018 Plough Prize Short Poem competition says: Every word is weighted. Although nothing is explicit, something important is being enacted, and the epigraph by Camus adds an anchor, so that we guess his are the words being taken to the sea and released from the heart. I kept coming back to this and getting more from it.’

And in her sensitive review, poetry film maker and novelist Lucy English says ‘The desire to find a place which is ‘not a leisurely stroll from the ice cream van,’ is a strong theme in this collection. [Harvey] comments on the natural world as if this, and not human life is the greater force … Landscape, animals and birds have an intrinsic beauty which she describes with care.’

To read a selection of the poems from The Shadow Factory, please click here.


The new venue for Silver Street Poetry

With just ten days to go before the first meeting of Silver Street Poetry in its new home, it feels timely to share our photos of our visit there today and remind our poets of its location.


We parked in the Galleries – although Trenchard Street car park is nearer, of course – and took the scenic route to get there, via Christmas Steps. (Other, less precipitous approaches – for instance, walking up Colston Street from the Centre – are available.)


Hours is at 10 Colston Yard, which is reached from Colston Street. What fascinates me about it is that although the entrance is at ground level and therefore fully accessible, it is built into the side of the hill, and the views are amazing. I’d only been there in the dark before, so I was quite excited to get a new perspective on a familiar area.

We checked and it’s fine for poets to bring their own refreshments from nearby cafes, of which there are many.

We returned to Broadmead via Johnny Ball Lane, which passes below Hours and the other buildings of Colson Yard. Here they are, perched atop this magnificent Victorian wall.


Just time for a quick coffee in Revive Cafe at the top of Corn Street.


See you on Friday 7th June at our original time of midday and at our new venue of Hours, for hours – well, an hour and a half – of poems shared with friends.


Silver Street is on the move


Big changes down Silver Street this month, with the news that we are on the move!

Unfortunately the dance studio we’ve been using at the Station is no longer available, so from next month, Friday 7th June, we’ll be holding our popular open mic in the attractive, modern space that is Hours, situated in Colston Yard, off Colston Street. The room we are using is on the ground floor and fully accessible, as is the WC.

The full address is 10 Colston Yard, Bristol, BS1 5BD, and the nearest affordable car parks are at Trenchard Street (0.2 miles) and the Galleries in Broadmead (0.5 miles). It is 0.4 miles from the bus station.

Please note also that we are reverting to our original, earlier time of 12 to 1.30pm.


If you aren’t sure of the exact location of Colston’s Yard is, fear not: here is a map.

Hours space map

The entrance to the Yard is pictured below.

Colston Yard

June’s guest poet at Hours will be Ross Cogan, the Creative Director of Cheltenham Poetry Festival, whose third collection, Bragr, is published by Seren. Don’t forget to bring a poem of your own or someone else’s to share. Entry fee is £3.


What you don’t see

Someone in our Friday morning group recently wrote a poem about going on an expedition to see long-eared owls on a common outside Blackpool.  The poem was a journey in itself, and engaged the reader so successfully that it really felt as if we were with her, tramping across scrubby ground at twilight, prey to group dynamics, shifting cloud cover and flights of fancy.  However, when we got to the final stanza and encountered the birds, it was almost an anti-climax. Although their appearance was captured precisely and well, the poem seemed to have peaked at the slightly earlier moment of is-that-them-or-not.


Searching for something, with all its attendant hope, dashed or otherwise, its triumphs and frustrations, is a playground for the imagination. I’ve spent several mornings this spring with an hour or so to kill in an old and fairly neglected part of the city, and I’ve been wandering along wooded river banks to a park with a former boating lake, all within a stone’s throw of the motorway. There have been lots of things I haven’t seen.


In particular, the number of times I’ve nearly spotted a kingfisher have far outnumbered actual sightings.


It strikes me that the poet has to be like the hunter – or rather, wildlife watcher. Idle yet alert. Focused yet open to imaginative possibility. And with the added requirement of knowing when to step back and let the reader make that final capture.

Here’s a sonogram from my 2014 collection, Map Reading for Beginners.


Listening For Nightingales



a cobweb



our heads

tilted to hear strands



the sky

dark as the bark of a dog-fox

over the valley



by whitethorn

the infant river trickles rumour

in our ears


this is

dishevelled willows murmur

a perfect place for




a robin declares itself,

a weary song thrush pegs clean notes out

on a tree



in dandelions and vetch

we lean upon a gate and hold our



Postscript:   I heard a nightingale singing last night (Saturday 11th May 2019) at Bushey Coombe in Glastonbury, and it was beautiful. And I’m not planning to write a poem about it.


listening for nightingales

Photo © Dru Marland, 2012


Books that made me a poet

I’ve been thinking a lot about this subject lately, in order to contribute to a panel discussion with several other poets, put on as part of the campaign to save Redland Library in Bristol. Trawling through my childhood for influences was an interesting and useful process, and I was particularly pleased that the story attached to one of the books I settled on centres on another local library. Moreover, I recommend the exercise. I think it’s important to explore where you come from as a writer, as it helps to establish a route map for future writing. It might even inspire you.


Hymns and Psalms

My grandmother, who raised eleven children between the wars and who always kept a pencil and a scrap of paper in her apron pocket to write down lines of poetry as they occured to her, taught me my nursery rhymes, and these were my first poems, but the first book of poetry I encountered was Hymns and Psalms, the hymn book of the Methodist Church. Methodism influenced my relationship with language throughout my formative years, and has had a huge, if mainly subconscious, effect on how I use it in my writing.

I attended Sunday School every Sunday afternoon from the age of two until I was about 12, and every Sunday morning I sat through the regular church service. Having the attention span of a gnat, I spent years dreaming my way through sermons and prayers. I also found that if I stared very hard at the minister without blinking, I could make a halo appear right around his body, a bit like a Ready Brek kid (only less orange).

The bible stories back then were read from the King James Bible with its strange language and beautiful rhythms, as were the psalms, which Methodists render in a call and response format, between the minister and members of the congregation. The minister reads the first part of the verse, and the congregation the part that answers and augments the original statement. This meant that as soon as I could read, I was speaking poetry aloud, and something about these ritual readings seeped into my bloodstream.

Then there were the hymns. These required serious, getting-to-your-feet attention, and because I was so short, I was allowed to stand on the pew.  And the words! … the dark paths on the wings of the storm, the fiery cloudy pillars, the death of death and death’s destruction … and that’s without tackling the magnificent hymns of Charles Wesley, co-founder of Methodism with his brother, John. I really didn’t have a clue what we were singing about, and for that reason, I’m sure these mysterious outpourings had a far greater effect on me than they would have done. I was a five-year-old child soaking up mysticism, metaphor, and the language of poetry. I was a rhythm Methodist.


‘The Red Pony’ by John Steinbeck

Like the Methodist hymn book, this is another case of not fully understanding what I was reading at the time, and the impact that had on my developing imagination. It also involves the second most important place in my childhood, after my grandmother’s house, and that was the old library on the big roundabout in Filton, where I grew up. Even now, if I close my eyes, I can smell floor polish, and picture the 1960s formica reception desk, which wouldn’t have disgraced the Tardis or Starship Enterprise.

My father would take my sister and me to the library every fortnight, but it was when I could read for myself that it really came into its own. Those brown card tickets we had back then were as precious to me as an EU passport, and served much the same purpose, in that you could travel anywhere with them, albeit in your imagination. I soon secured double the number under 12s were permitted to have, and it was a point of honour always to have read all eight books by the time the two weeks were up – unless the book was a particular favourite, in which case I would renew it and renew it until another customer demanded its return.

Neither of my parents had any interest in literature themselves, so my choice of reading matter was largely unguided. For a long time, I was addicted to Enid Blyton; then I moved on to pony books, revelling in stories of gymkhanas, shows and rosettes.

Then one day, when I was about seven or eight, I took out ‘The Red Pony’, thinking it would be more of the same: fictional heroines living my pony dream. If you’ve read it, you’ll know how far off the mark this expectation was. I got as far as this episode:

‘Billy Buck stood up from the box and surrendered the cotton swab. The pony still lay on his side and the wound in his throat bellowsed in and out. When Jody saw how dry and dead the hair looked, he knew at last that there was no hope for the pony. He had seen the dead hair before on dogs and on cows, and it was a sure sign. He sat heavily on the box and let down the barrier of the box stall. For a long time he kept his eyes on the moving wound, and at last he dozed, and the afternoon passed quickly. Just before dark his mother brought a deep dish of stew and left it for him and went away. Jody ate a little of it, and, when it was dark, he set the lantern on the floor the pony’s head so he could watch the wound and keep it open. And he dozed again until the night chill awakened him. The wind was blowing fiercely, bringing the north cold with it. Jody brought a blanket from his bed in the hay and wrapped himself in it. Gabilan’s breathing was quiet at last; the hoIe in his throat moved gently. The owls flew through the hayloft, shrieking and looking for mice. Jody put his hands down on his head and slept … ‘

In the morning Jody awakes and the pony is gone. He runs up over the ridge after it.

‘He looked up and saw a high circle of black blizzards, and the slowly revolving circle dropped lower and lower. The solemn birds soon disappeared over the ridge. Jody ran faster then, forced on by panic and rage. The trail entered the brush at last and followed a winding route among the tall sage bushes.

At the top of the ridge Jody was winded. He paused, puffing noisily. The blood pounded in his ears. Then he saw what he was looking for. Below, in one of the little clearings in the brush, lay the red pony. In the distance, Jody could see the legs moving slowly and convulsively. And in a circle around him stood the buzzards, waiting for the moment of death they know so well.

Jody leaped forward, and plunged down the hill. The wet ground muffled his steps and the brush hid him. When he arrived it was all over. The first buzzard sat on the pony’s head and its beak had just risen dripping with dark eye fluid. Jody plunged into the circle like a cat. The black brotherhood arose in a cloud, but the big one on the pony’s head was too late. As it hopped along to take off, Jody caught its wing tip and pulled it down. It was nearly as big as he was. The free wing crashed into his face with the force of a club, but he hung on. The claws fastened on his leg and the wing elbows battered his head on either side. Jody groped blindly with his free hand. His fingers found the neck of the struggling bird. The red eyes looked into his face, calm and fearless and fierce; the naked head turned from side to side. Then the beak opened and vomited a stream of putrifled fluid. Jody brought up his knee and fell on the great bird. He held the neck to the ground with one hand while his other found a piece of sharp white quartz. The first blow broke the beak sideways and black blood spurted from the twisted, leathery mouth comers. He struck again and missed. The red fearless eyes still looked at him, impersonal and unafraid and detached. He struck again and again, until the buzzard lay dead, until its head was a red pulp. He was still, beating the dead bird when Billy Buck pulled him off, and held him tightly to calm his shaking.’

I got no further. I slammed the book shut and marched straight back to the library with it, outraged. It was the only book I ever recall not finishing – and I never forgot its invocation of death, even during all the years when I no longer remembered the title and the name of the heartless bastard who’d written it.

Later, when I came of age, I read the major Steinbeck novels and short stories, but never glanced right to the bottom of the list of published works – or if I did, I didn’t twig.  I was in my mid-thirties before the penny dropped, and I finally read it to the end, and cried for the boy, and the pony, and the old stable hand … and for the child whose imagination was to be so marked by a half-read book.


Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes

When I was 16, the door to my future was slammed shut by my teacher, who insisted I wasn’t good enough to study English at A-level (despite getting two As at O-level). As a working-class girl on an assisted place in a posh private school, I suspect my accent was all wrong, and my face probably didn’t fit either. To make matters worse, my parents, who were firm believers in deferring to one’s elders and betters, sided with my teacher and agreed I should study something else.

I took it to heart. I took it deep. I took A-levels and a degree in subjects that were interesting but weren’t what I longed to study. And since I could no longer be an English teacher, I married the first man who asked me and had four children in six years, two of whom were diagnosed with autism at the ages of four and three respectively. By my thirties I was stuck in a damaging marriage with no career, kids I loved fiercely but who needed all my energy, and no self-esteem. Moreover, I was estranged from literature, and everything it had represented for me, for decades.

Then, the Christmas after Ted Hughes died in 1998, something happened. One evening – by some random miracle – I found myself in the front room when a programme about ‘Birthday Letters’ came on the telly. Somehow my husband and all the kids were elsewhere, and none of them interrupted me. I poured myself a glass of Shiraz, and watched and wept as the story of another destructive love unravelled through poetry.

If you’re familiar with the poetry of Hughes, you’ll know that the fox is a totemic animal for him; a guiding spirit.


London. The grimy lilac softness
Of an April evening. Me
Walking over Chalk Farm Bridge
On my way to the tube station.
A new father – slightly light-headed
With the lack of sleep and the novelty.
Next, this young fellow coming towards me.

I glanced at him for the first time as I passed him
Because I noticed (I couldn’t believe it)
What I’d been ignoring.

Not the bulge of a small animal
Buttoned into the top of his jacket
The way colliers used to wear their whippets –
But its actual face. Eyes reaching out
Trying to catch my eyes – so familiar!
The huge ears, the pinched, urchin expression –
The wild confronting stare, pushed through fear,

Between the jacket lapels.
    ’It’s a fox-cub!’
I heard my own surprise as I stopped.
He stopped. ‘Where did you get it? What
Are you going to do with it?’
    A fox-cub
On the hump of Chalk Farm Bridge!

‘You can have him for a pound.’ ‘But
Where did you find it? What will you do with it?’
‘Oh, somebody’ll buy him. Cheap enough
At a pound.’ And a grin.
    What I was thinking
Was – what would you think? How would we fit it
Into our crate of space? With the baby?
What would you make of its old smell
And its mannerless energy?
And as it grew up and began to enjoy itself
What would we do with an unpredictable, 
Powerful, bounding fox?
The long-mouthed, flashing temperament?
That necessary nightly twenty miles
And that vast hunger for everything beyond us?
How would we cope with its cosmic derangements
Whenever we moved?

The little fox peered past me at other folks,
At this one and at that one, then at me.
Good luck was all it needed.
Already past the kittenish
But the eyes still small,
Round, orphaned-looking, woebegone
As if with weeping. Bereft
Of the blue milk, the toys of feather and fur,
The den life’s happy dark. And the huge whisper
Of the constellations
Out of which Mother had always returned.
My thoughts felt like big, ignorant hounds
Circling and sniffing around him.
   Then I walked on
As if out of my own life.
I let that fox-cub go. I tossed it back
Into the future
Of a fox-cub in London and I hurried
Straight on and dived as if escaping
Into the Underground. If I had paid,
If I had paid that pound and turned back
To you, with that armful of fox –

If I had grasped that whatever comes with a fox
Is what tests a marriage and proves it a marriage –
I would not have failed the test. Would you have failed it?
But I failed. Our marriage had failed.

I bought the book and read it. I bought Plath’s Collected Poems and read them. Then, three months later, I dreamt of dead Ted Hughes sitting on the steps of Filton swimming pool with his head in his hands. He was all grief, and physically too huge for me to comfort, and I knew immediately that he represented me, and that I needed to attend to this part of me that was dying before it was too late.

My confidence was so shattered I was no longer entirely sure what a poem was, but I started to write. Finding each word was agony; even worse was finishing a poem in the certainty I’d never write another. Then an abrupt and untimely death occurred in my extended family, and poetry felt too dangerous a place to go, so I wrote a novel, one day a week for seven years. But I kept reading poetry, and during the final year of my marriage, I started to write it again.

My ex-husband once claimed these poems broke up our marriage. At the time I blamed his rages and constant affairs, but ten years on, I find I agree with him. Faltering as they were, they represented something that was beyond his control … and beyond mine too. Within six months of our divorce, my first collection, Communion, was published, and I wonder now if all the setbacks and the chance encounters that could just as easily have not happened, had to occur for me to be here now.