“In my poetry I give primacy to the breath. For me it is the way the poem breathes that gives it form.”
Penelope Shuttle lives in Falmouth on the south coast of Cornwall not far from Land’s End, the toe of England. She was married to the poet Peter Redgrove, who died in 2003, and has a grown-up daughter, Zoe.
Shuttle has published seven volumes of poetry, with a Selected Poems chosen by herself. A new collection, Redgrove’s Wife, will appear in 2006 from Bloodaxe Books; her previous volumes were published by Oxford/Carcanet.
Along with Peter Redgrove Shuttle wrote a prose work, The Wise Wound, also published in America and translated into German, Dutch and Croat. She writes radio drama and gives readings throughout the UK, performs at various festivals, and wins many awards and prizes. She is a well-known adjudicator and tutor and a founder member of the Falmouth Poetry Group (1972 -).
Immensely generous to other poets, she receives acclaim from numerous critics and fellow writers, who have variously described her work as “heady, audacious, sustained and coherent, compellingly sensuous, mysterious, erotic, fluid, slippery and refreshing as a spring, buoyant and graceful, intuitive.” A post-modernist, original but never overloaded with obscurity, she shows a sympathy and respect for life that expresses itself in bewitching humour and playfulness.
Hers is a poetry that appeals to both readers and the fellow writers who award unstinting praise, summarised by Anne Stevenson’s description of her as “one of the finest writers living in Britain today”.
It follows that a poet of such strength will have a deep understanding of human nature in all its facets, and Shuttle frequently proves this in her writing, in the personae of “the wise world of the child” and on to “gold so thin/only an old woman/would notice its weight.” Her subjects are love, lifelong love for a partner, sensuous, wild and tender, the making of a new human being out of that love, maternal love for the baby-child-girl and woman who eventually leaves her, and descriptions of the everyday and the extraordinary.
This discernment extends to her comprehension of the art and technique of poetry writing. I recall her saying, as the judge at a prize-giving, “To get to know your poem you must read it 20 times.” Not only was this good advice to other poets, it also demonstrates how much care goes into Shuttle’s own debonair creations.
The Orchard Upstairs Oxford University Press, Oxford 1980
Child-Stealer Oxford University Press, Oxford 1983
The Lion from Rio Oxford University Press, Oxford 1986
Adventures with my Horse Oxford University Press, Oxford 1988
Taxing the Rain Oxford University Press, Oxford 1992
Building a City for Jamie Oxford University Press, Oxford 1996
Selected Poems Oxford University Press, Oxford 1998
A Leaf out of his Book Carcanet, Manchester 1999
The Wise Wound (with Peter Redgrove) Gollancz, London 1978
Penelope Shuttle reading her work on the Poetry Archive
Review of A Leaf out of his Book