Patricia Debney

Patricia Debney: Featured Poet

Littoral image

Patricia Debney, Littoral, Shearsman Books, £8.95

“Littoral is a sustained and sparkling piece of sea watching, chiefly through a cut down prose that concentrates on much the same things as verse would. So it looks to understand, to note and to register phenomenon as meaning. In doing so it speaks of patience, precision and the way one reads one’s life into nature: gingerly, with due courtesy and humility. The process is an essential part of the domain of prose poetry, combining the sobriety of reportage with the transformations of poetry.” —George Szirtes
“Memorable and moving without excess or strain, Debney’s prose poems are brilliant in themselves and important contributions to the genre. The prose is unfussy, confident while subtle; the command of rhythm and use of imagery, expertly crafted. A refreshing and original collection.” — Jane MonsonPatriciaDebney


Patricia Debney was born in Texas and moved to the UK in 1988, soon after graduating from Oberlin College. Her first collection of prose poemsHow to Be a Dragonfly (Smith Doorstop Books, 2005), was the overall winner of the 2004 Poetry Business Book & Pamphlet Competition. She has also published a novel, Losing You (bluechrome, 2007). Her second collection of prose poems, Littoral, was written while on a residency in a beach hut, becoming a response to her young son’s diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes.


Author photo: Nancy Wilson Fulton


Her poems and short stories have appeared in anthologies and journals as well as online. Some of her poems have been set for solo voice and she has also translated and adapted texts to create libretti for chamber opera and small ensembles. She is a founding member of the publishing collective WordAid, and in 2007/08 she was the first Canterbury Laureate.


Since then she has delivered readings and led numerous interdisciplinary writing projects, mainly in collaboration with city and local councils, universities, the Canterbury Festival and the Sounds New Contemporary Music Festival. She has taught creative writing for over 20 years across all levels and stages: for Arvon, adult education, in prisons and in schools. She is currently Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Kent, where she particularly relishes teaching prose poetry and translation. She lives in Canterbury with her composer partner and their two teenage children.


Onshore Wind

In your own back garden, the sun bakes. New leaves unfold as you
watch and tulips flood with high colour. The earth greens.

Here the seasons have different signals, and the tides repeat their
complex but regular patterns regardless of temperature: diurnal, neap,
equatorial, perigean. Algae bloom and fade, and barnacles cling and
release, wash up in all weathers.

This is not about you. Or you. Or anything we might think responds to
sun or shower, heat or cold, tenderness or neglect.

This blows a wind past you that was going to blow anyway. This sweeps
sediment according to size and weight and deposits it further down the
shore. This shapes whatever you do and have

You thought you had got to grips with the turning and tilting, and your
place in it. The vegetable pattern of growth and death, the length of the
arcs of parts of this life.

But here there is more grey. And no beginning, no end.


Florida, 1970-1982

Half a world away in length and width, and yet today unearths rare
footage, muddies waters. Gulls as big as turkeys fight over what’s been

a wide sky
rotting fish
empty shells

Is this all you remember? The low capillary waves look uniform, stretch
across the shore in military fashion. You wait for them to deepen and
rush at last to dry land.

You watch for half an hour, for the suffocating advance. But at this time
of day and in this terrain, no progress can be made. These silent waves
sift forward just short of their falling back.


[These poems should be in block text – sorry Patricia it just wouldn’t work]


Buy the book


Shearsman Books is a very active publisher of new poetry, mostly from Britain and the USA, but also with an active translation list. Founded in 1981 as a magazine, with some occasional chapbooks, the press has grown rapidly in recent years. 2011 marked the 30th anniversary of the magazine’s first issue, but it will keep going for some years yet, along with the press.

2 thoughts on “Patricia Debney: Featured Poet”

  1. I especially like the last two paragraphs of the Florida prose-poem, and the way you’ve caught the tide-business. Along with the excellent descriptions you’ve used, I am left pondering what the speaker would have seen if she’d stayed for more than half an hour – and how that sort of dilemma is faced by all of us, constantly. And I’ve been involved with one of the Word Aid projects. You folks do great work.

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