Margaret Beston’s shed


For Sale

I’ll take the garden ornaments – the stone
lantern, bird bath – and I’ll plant up the terracotta
pots with snowdrops, bluebells from the border,
bring them with me for the spring. I’ll strike
cuttings from the philadelphus and the bay
my mother grew – too rooted now to move.
But I’ll leave the shed, its rough wood saturated
with the heat of thirty-seven summers, the fungal
smells of autumn. Hormone powder, plant feed
will be ditched – they’ve served their purpose.
All trace of toxin will be swept away – the field
mice will have full rein. I’ll strip abandoned
cobwebs, stretched like hanks of grey wool across
the windows – wash them down, clear the view.


Margaret is the founder member of Roundel, a Poetry Society Stanza based in Tonbridge where she lives. Her work has appeared in several magazines including,The Frogmore Papers, Obsessed with Pipework, South, The New Writer, South Bank Magazine and Orbis.

Her poems have been selected for anthologies including Did I Tell You and Not only the Dark published by WordAid, and Heartshoots published by Indigo Dreams Publishing. Her first collection, Long Reach River, was published in October 2013.

She recently won First Prize in the short poem category of the 2014 Second Light poetry competition and was shortlisted in the Buzzwords 2014 competition.

A member of the Kent and Sussex Poetry Society in Tunbridge Wells, Margaret has read there as well as at other venues in Kent, and at the Poetry Cafe, London.

Roundel Poetry Tonbridge
Poetry pf 



Margaret Beston

Long Reach River reviewed by Angela France

longLong Reach River   Margaret Beston (Indigo Dreams Publishing, £7.99)

Reviewed by Angela France

The final poem in Margaret Beston’s debut collection is in the form of instructions for making a papier mâché bowl. The poem ends

from births, deaths, marriages –
fragments of other people’s lives

which sums up the book rather well, for this is primarily a book of lives; lives which have touched Margaret Beston’s life in passing, lives of those who have been loved, lives of those who are long gone, who are fading, who have moved far away, who are still here. There are risks inherent in writing about those we have loved but Beston neatly sidesteps them; she avoids sentimentality and doesn’t feel the need to editorialise or scatter clues to let the reader know who the subjects of the poems are, but avoids the traps through following the language and concentrating on craft.

These are not showy poems; there is a quiet assurance about them which makes me, as a reader, feel the poet knows what she is doing. Beston has a good eye for the memorable image and talent in finding the startlingly apt metaphor or simile: in the poem ‘Feeling for Words’, a book-loving woman – elderly, perhaps with dementia –

traces her hand across the covers
like faces of old friends
whose name she has forgotten,
grasps at words
as they drift across the page –
dust motes
slipping through her fingers.

And in ‘On the Wing’, a delicately handled sestina written in the voice of a prisoner renovating wheelchairs for Africa, the prisoner imagines

… Africa’s colours spin in her wheels,
catch the malachite glint of kingfisher wing,
rich red earth of the tracks, clattering steel

Anyone who writes poetry will acknowledge how difficult it can be to find the right title. Both of the above titles, and a number of others in the collection, are deceptively simple; they revealed layers and ambiguities as I read the poems as, I believe, the best titles must. The care Beston has clearly taken in finding the right title is indicative of the care and attention to detail shown throughout the collection.

Some of the poems in Long Reach River are ekphrastic; a category of poem I am often ambivalent about. The best examples take the reader outside the frame in unexpected ways while also being able to stand alone, while the merely adequate do little more than explicate the artwork. I have no such concerns about these poems; they all move beyond the artwork in different ways and I was particularly taken with ‘Installation’ with its wonderful ending ‘phalanges fanned, mantling/ their kill’ and ‘Objects of War’ in which the pantoum form builds on the bleakness of

glass cabinets crammed with artefacts,
snatched from a house of cards,
where windows are stained with shadows.

Margaret Beston is well travelled and a number of poems are set in other countries. She evokes the settings through tone and form, ranging from the irony of ‘Pashmina and Pearls in Rural Romania’, in which a tourist complains that the ‘charming’ village without electricity or made roads will be spoiled by updating, to the delicate haiku-like stanzas of ‘Tabidachi’. I have sometimes seen critics question whether poets can, or should, write about great disasters or tragedies (whether natural or man-made) if they were not involved. It is certainly a human impulse to mark such things, even if we have only witnessed them on a screen or read about them; and it is an impulse which has often caused swathes of mediocre to dreadful poetry to appear – online and in print. If a poet is going to tackle such events as the Holocaust or the Haitian earthquake then attention to craft, and seeing slant, is essential and I think Beston has pulled it off in two poems in particular. ‘Like Any Day’, about Haiti, uses the specular form to good effect as it reflects the wave of the earthquake as it builds and wanes. The form, together with plain language and domestic detail such as ‘dominoes scattered’ also evokes the way horror rips into an ordinary day. The poem ‘Stonemason’ comes from, a note tells us, a plaque commemorating the deportation of 165 Jewish children from Paris and the poem works because it only concentrates on the mason cutting the plaque; allowing allusion and metaphor to carry the mood:

Crystal fragments spill like tears
around his bench, as tungsten
chips the keening marble

A second poem about ‘La Grande Rafle’ (the Great Roundup) of Jews in Paris is a villanelle focusing on the annual laying of flowers and is not as successful for this reader; I found it rather expected and the villanelle is a form I find hard to like; they have to be very, very, good for me to warm to them. However, this is a rare miss-step in this book. With an editor’s eye, there are odd words I might cut, occasional places I might ask the poet to tighten but that is true of any poetry collection. Overall, this is an assured and enjoyable debut which will reward re-reading and contains some poems I know I will return to as they unfold and reveal themselves over time.

Long Reach River can be bought here.

Angela France

AngelaAngela France works for a youth charity and lectures creative writing at the University of Gloucestershire. She has an MA from the University of Gloucestershire and is studying for a PhD. Her publications include ‘Occupation’ (Ragged Raven Press, 2009), ‘Lessons in Mallemaroking’ (Nine Arches Press, 2011) and her latest collection, ‘Hide’ (Nine Arches Press, 2013). Angela is features editor of Iota and runs a monthly poetry cafe, ‘Buzzwords’.


December poems part 3: Jo Hemmant, Penelope Shuttle, Margaret Beston



Artwork: Jenny Meilihove

The winter I understand

The long trudge across slaked fields,
soil weights on our feet, wind at our hats

and hoods, drenching us with sidelong rain
and already night has leached into the cloud

so by the time we turn into the lane,
the white house is the last of the light.

You help the boys shake off their boots, hang up
wet coats, I put the kettle on, stoke the damped stove

then we pull up chairs
and as the apple-wood smokes and spits,

the first wicks of flame take hold,
we wait like held breath

for it to burn through the week behind us,
the path it clears a salve.

Jo Hemmant      

Jo Hemmant is a poet and director of Pindrop Press. Her poems have been widely published in magazines and anthologies, won prizes in various competitions and the opening poem from her first collection The Light Knows Tricks (Doire Press, 2013) was highly commended by this year’s Forward judges. She lives in the Kent countryside with her husband and two sons.


Artwork: Sandy Dooley


Winter Journeywater lane snow1sm


Valleys full of mist,
hard at work
five minutes past dawn

Fields dip and tilt
towards a
low bright sun

Bare hedges
pluck strings of light
on a day
not quite
the shortest


Carry the misty forest
in your eye
all the way to the city

across wide grey rivers
and iron bridges

a misty multitude
of tall evergreens

so that the forest comes to the city
but the city
doesn’t suspect a thing

Penelope Shuttle


Penelope Shuttle has lived in Cornwall since 1970. She is the widow of the poet Peter Redgrove (1932-2003). Shuttle’s 2006 collection, Redgrove’s Wife (Bloodaxe Books), was short-listed for the Forward Prize for Best Single Collection, and for the T S Eliot Award. Her latest book, Unsent: New & Selected Poems 1980-2012 (Bloodaxe Books, 2012), is drawn from ten collections published over three decades plus a new collection, Unsent.

Landscape Winter


Artwork: Lena Kurovska

Locked in with Dylan Thomas
I lift the open book from your lap.  You point at pictures –
boys pelting cats with snowballs, the smoke filling
Mrs Prothero’s kitchen. I read, you nod at familiar
phrases: the carol-singing sea, the harp-shaped hills.
We flick the pages to Uncles snoozing after lunch,
Auntie Hannah lacing tea with rum.

But you’re keen to turn back to Mrs Prothero’s fire,
as if you’d like to capture that heat, pack it inside your head,
defrost the words from the fish-freezing waves in your brain
until ice melts and the first few letters emerge, shuffle
into groups, build sentences to circulate the room.

As more flood out, swell at our feet, we’re ankle deep
in nouns and adjectives, dictionaries spilling their contents
for us to catch, cram in our mouths, roll on our tongues,
sound out loud, like Dylan’s bombilating gong –
revelling, like children in Christmas snow.

Margaret Beston

Margaret Beston has run poetry workshops and is the founder of Roundel, a Poetry Society Stanza, based in Tonbridge, Kent, where she lives. Her collection, Long Reach River was published earlier this year: “Delicate and echoing in its imagery, and above all humane, Margaret Beston’s poetry is as fluid and graceful as it is searching” Jane Draycott.