Marie Marshall

Author. Poet. Editor.

Tag: poems

‘I am not a fish’

My T.S. Eliot Prize-nominated collection of poetry I am not a fish is still available direct from the publisher, though I suspect that they might be about to take it out of stock. So if you don’t have a copy right now might be your last opportunity to get one!

I have to say that I’m proud of the collection, written specially for the publisher after their having selected me from a competitive field and published nowhere else. None of the poems are online, none are blogged, tweeted, Facebooked, whatever. If you want to read them, you’re going to have to get them in print.

Let a few reviewers and readers blow a trumpet for me:

“A highly unusual book, with a rich collection of characters…”

“Marie Marshall is a poet of substance. Relatively speaking, I would place her at the level of the late Sylvia Plath…”

“… her poetry is poignant and of a rare beauty.”

“… I am smitten…”

“… a great read…”

“…Marie uses words that intrigue, make you want to know more and draw you into a world of surprising thoughts…”

I am not a fish

Poetics: Difficulty 2

When I posted a short article on ‘difficult poetry’ a while back – and here I jump in and admit that I tend to shy away from explaining my own poetics – I didn’t realise that another poet, one whose work I admire, was going to pick up the ball and run with it. Daniel Paul Marshall (no relation) has thought long and hard about the subject, gone deeper into the issues, and written more on the subject than I could hope to. I commend his article to you.

Dylan Thomas

Daniel mentions Dylan Thomas. Thomas is a poet who had a great influence on my writing at one time. I didn’t try to write like him, but rather I felt myself drifted along on the flotsam of his words, his transferred epithets, his god-knows-what. So I thought I would celebrate him today with one of my ‘easy’ poems from the past. This is a straight-down-the-line sonnet I wrote in 2008, and it uses some of Thomas’s words, as quoted by Daniel.

Closing time at Laugharne

I miss you – yes I do, you boozy Celt!
I’ve half a mind to hear you spin a yarn
While you, with pints of stout beneath your belt,
Traipse homewards through the rainy streets of Laugharne,
From Brown’s Hotel, where we propped up the bar
Till closing time. What’s closing time to me
Or you? Come on – the Boathouse isn’t far –
Down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack sea!
There’s pen and paper ready for your muse,
A bottle, and some glasses for a toast,
We’ll sit, and laugh, and rhyme a while, and booze –
But, Duw, dear lad, you’re nothing but a ghost!
Can such as you go, gentle, into night,
Or did you rage against that dying light?

The Two Magicians (Child 44)

12I have returned, once again, to the Child Ballads. This is my reworking of the song we know in Scotland as ‘The Twa Magicians’; it concerns a woman whose virginity is tried by a persistent suitor, the magical lengths to which she will go to preserve it, and the magical lengths to which he will go to take it. It exists in many versions, but in most the woman is a high-born lady and the suitor is a blacksmith. With this one I can ‘hear’ a tune not dissimilar to Ralph Stanley’s version of ‘Matty Groves’, but paced up and with a picked banjo accompaniment. I love the phrasing of folk songs, I love the patterning and balance, I love the peculiar syntax and the way that narrative connections often get lost in the transmission from singer to singer, and this is what I try to capture in my adaptations.

It’s of a lady highly born
and silken soft her skin,
And to her door a blacksmith came
to beg her let him in.

You lusty, dusty, coal-black smith,
sing me no lying song.
You’ll never have my maidenhead
that I have kept so long
No lusty, dusty, coal-black smith
will share my marriage bed,
I’d rather lose my young life
than lose my maidenhead.

It’s she with skin as white as silk,
and he with coal-black hair
Says marry me my darling one
and be my lady fair.

It’s she’s become an old oak tree
all standing in the wood,
And he’s become a woodman bold
to fell her where she stood.

It’s she’s become a salmon grey
all swimming in the book,
And he’s become a fisherman
to catch her with his hook.

It’s she’s become a silver star
all shining in the night,
And he’s become a thundercloud
to hide her out of sight.

It’s she’s become a tiny fly
all buzzing in the air,
And he’s become a spider bug
to catch her to his lair.

It’s she’s become a corpse so grey
all in her coffin bound,
And he’s become the cold, cold clay
to cover her around.

It’s she’s become a hare so swift
all running on the plain,
And he’s become a greyhound tall
to fetch her back again.

It’s she’s become a praying nun
all dressed in grey and white,
And he’s become a canting priest
to preach to her all night.

It’s she’s become a barquentine
all mizzen, main, and fore,
And he’s become a captain bold
to steer her back to shore.

It’s every step that she has took
there’s he took two as well,
And where they both have vanished to
no tongue can ever tell.

You lusty, dusty, coal-black smith,
sing me no lying song.
You’ll never have my maidenhead
that I have kept so long
No lusty, dusty, coal-black smith
will share my marriage bed,
I’d rather lose my young life
than lose my maidenhead.

How they brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix, or not, as the case may be.

“An attempt has recently been made on the life of Robert Browning.”


I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris, and he;
I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three;
We galloped and galloped, oh Lord how we galloped,
We galloped like billy-oh over the lea.

My steed gave a whinny, Dirck’s ass gave a bray,
As Joris, who rode in the van, cried “I say,
Three riders are galloping – My, how they gallop! –
They gallop like anything, heading this way!”

We held up our gauntlets and shouted halloo,
Demanded “Whence from, lads, and whither go you
Flat out at a gallop? Good grief how you gallop!
Oh please stop your galloping, good gallants, do!”

They reined to a halt and exclaimed, “Mercy sakes!
We’re three men of Ghent, all redoubtable rakes,
Who’ve galloped and galloped and jolly-well galloped,
a-bringing good news to the burghers of Aix!”

We cried, “We’re from Aachen – that’s Aix-la-Chapelle –
And we have glad tidings a-plenty as well.
We’ve galloped and galloped, right manfully galloped –
Supposed to reach Ghent by the Angelus bell!”

One rider from Ghent, with a beard like a Turk,
Said, “Though I’m not known as the fellow to shirk
A jolly good gallop – I love a good gallop –
It seems all this galloping’s double the work!”

I wanted to answer, but Joris said, “We
Could all turn around and be back home for tea.
Oh why don’t we gallop – a rattling gallop –
Let’s all gallop back and have several hours free!

We’ll take up each other’s work; nothing will daunt
The six jolly gallopers out on a jaunt.
Let’s gallop and gallop, mon dieu how we’ll gallop,
We three back to Aachen and you lot to Gaunt.”

I sprang to the stirrup; with whip-cracks and kicks
I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all six!
We galloped and galloped, oh Lord how we galloped,
Past such rustic nonsense as hen-coops and ricks.

We galloped to Aix as the rush hour was near,
No thoughts in our minds save for pork pies and beer.
We galloped and slavered – my word how we slavered –
For pork pies and barmaids and lots of good cheer.

We reached a fine inn, and Dirck could not refuse
To galumph right in for a tray-load of booze.
He galumphed for wallop, for gallons of wallop,
And Joris said, “Hey! What about the good news?”

I muttered to Dirck, and then Joris conferred –
The subject? The substance? And so we concurred
We’d galloped and galloped, all bloody day galloped,
But of the good news had forgot every word!

I spoke to the subject: “We’ll gallop to Ghent
The very same way that the other chaps went.
We’ll gallop and gallop, bejabers we’ll gallop!”
But Dirck said, “You’re barmy – our horses are spent!”

I raised my pint Bierstein, and Joris said, “We
Can do that tomorrow. The evening’s still free
To swallow our wallop. Tomorrow we’ll gallop…
…to whatsitsname… billy-oh… over the lea!”


I thought we could do with a reprise of the above piece of nonsense I wrote a few years ago. It will, of course, be lost on anyone who was never forced to read Robert Browning at School, and most of the population of America, who, if they have heard of Ghent, probably think it’s in Columbia County NY.

What have I been up to lately? Not a lot. My poetry blog ticks over, and I have recently written a couple of pieces for my satirical blog. One of the latter is yet another Keats and Chapman story, and the other a short but serious piece about Holocaust denial.

It will soon be 2017. I have no idea what next year will bring. I’m hoping to provide another macabre short story for the ‘Fearie Tales’ event at Pitlochry’s Winter Words Festival, but we’ll have to see. I can’t make any other writing promises, but I will say I’m hoping that my teen-vampire novel KWIREBOY vs VAMPIRE will be published. It was finished some time ago and, as I understand it, lacks only a cover design. If you missed the first novel to which KvsV is the sequel – From My Cold, Undead Hand – then now would be an excellent opportunity to read it, or even to buy someone the e-book as a Christmas present.

The Autumn 2015 Showcase at ‘the zen space’ is now published.

The Autumn 2015 Showcase at the zen space is now published, and this time it’s all to do with fridge magnets! Have a look here or click the pic.


Veronica’s Rosary

veronica-francoVisit Poetry Life & Times to read ‘Veronica’s Rosary’, a new poem by myself.

Mr. Coelacanth considers Uppsala


Uppsala, broad-axed, bearded, Nordic kings
take thrones of state, mead and ale flow
from foamed hartshorns, suns sear a midnight sky,
or so it goes in my idle dreams.

Behind the harbour wall at Norrtalje, bobbing in ripples,
the finn-sold, fin-sailed, flying-fish galleys nod,
talk in the undertones of the halyards’ slap on masts,
of the Baltic swells they tacked and snake-hulled
a year ago as they rounded Åland lodestone-bound
for Riga, the amber city, and for the broad rivers of Rus
where their berserkers leapt ashore to found kingdoms
to the glory of Uppsala.

Here in Uppsala every fourth man is mailed,
every fourth woman is green-gowned,
gold-kirtled with runes, every corner rings
with the sound of lur, of stråkharpa, of fele, and of psaltery,
wheat-shirted children run the blond street
singing the Trettondagsmarchen, begging for bezants.
Here sits their solemn All-Thing, to decide the right
to barley and to wives, to monopolies in akkavit,
to axe and holm, to dour theology, to clinker-hulls,
to the wearing of fox-fur and elk-hide, to the franchise
of the Saami of Laponia, to red-gold, to weaving,
to patterns in knitted wool, to the bourns of charity,
to the meanings of stage-plays, to the enmity of peoples,
to the grey of suits and ties, to the served time of doctors.

Mr Coelacanth 1

And in the bleak, birched, lake-banded hinterland
dour detectives rake for bones, wooden houses
sting the air with pine-resin, the fishbone arrowheads
that hunters use are traded in the market-villages
for barter-goods to change for Uppsala silver –
the beaten silver of the holy plates hidden
in the reliquaries of sitka-spired churches.
Across the sea marshes and inlets comes the mist,
the breath of the great Dragon of the Baltic,
cold monster that tells of ice, migrating bears,
and the clangour of strange, brazen bells.
She reminds the burghers of Uppsala
that the balance of their simmer-dim is
the death-in-life of winter night, the sightless days
chased by old, lancing stars and northern lights.

The stride of beard-brave champions on pitching boards
or flagged thoroughfare, the ringing fall of boots,
the wending of men who measure time in leagues travelled,
all these come to Uppsala in the end; all the salt-fish
come here by net, by lure, or of their own seeking,
all the following, hungry glutton-seals and seagulls,
all the scuttling crabs too; every adventuring clan
of Lett, of Rus, of Tatar, and of Gael gravitate to kneel
by Queen Uppsala, each chieftain swearing by his pagan-ness
to be her man-at-weapons, each chieftain’s daughter
to be her maid-at-linen, each thrall to be hers
to use as she will. Each oarsman dedicates his blisters,
and the trip-trap of horses from the longship’s slender gangway,
to the quays and godowns on the Fyris-side,
over cobbles, to the smooth mountain-stone
of the chateau-courtyard, sounds for the Queen.

Mr Coelacanth 2

Ah, Uppsala, a Queen to whom bow lesser
and bend the knee – Osthammar, Hallstavik, Nacka,
Vaasa, Turku, Mariehamn, humble embassies –
your scepter and your bow, your altars to the Æsir
and to the Lutheran God, your awesome Majesty,
how happy must your burghers be in their guilds
and free assemblies, their crafts and churches,
their marching bands, their fire-watches,
their coteries and snug brains-trusts!

I am not a Finn, says Mr Coelacanth to himself.
Otherwise I would hale a dragon-boat through
the fogbanks of Dogger and trace the fractal fjords
to my heart’s content
. And he settles back, shutters his eyes,
and wanders the dreaming, cobbled, castled, long-halled,
long, hauled, old-strawed, old-strewn alleys of Uppsala,
his sense of geography untainted by the truth.

He is unaware of the halo-flight of bismuth beetles
japanning around his head – so many spies
looking for a landing-place.


From I am not a fish

© 2013 Marie Marshall

And while we’re on about Jane Austen…


Mr Collins is my name

Mr Collins is my name,
I’m a man of modest fame,
Just a member of the clergy – in the Anglican Liturgy –
And I’m really not to blame,
For enrichment’s not my aim,
And if Longbourn I inherit – ‘twill be Providence, not merit –
I’ll bow to it, all the same!

Lady Catherine de Bourgh,
Lady Catherine de Bourgh,
How I always will defer –
Lady Catherine de Bourgh!

Oh my patroness is great
In her wealth and her estate,
And I’m grateful for her giving me a satisfactory living –
Though I feel the need, of late,
Of a helpmeet and a mate,
But you cannot say I cozen the fair daughters of my cousin
I would be a base ingrate!

Lady Catherine de Bourgh,
Lady Catherine de Bourgh,
Ah, I owe it all to her –
Lady Catherine de Bourgh!

Sweet Elizabeth (or Jane*)
Can a clergyman attain
Such a pinnacle in marriage. Oh, a man of humble carriage
Might a celibate remain,
And renounce all thought of gain.
But such piety I’m shedding to pursue a modest wedding
(Better marry than abstain!)

Lady Catherine de Bourgh,
Lady Catherine de Bourgh,
I, with admiration, purr –
Lady Catherine de Bourgh!

Now sweet Charlotte has my heart
(She’s the daughter of a ‘Bart’)**
And she thinks it is no larceny to wed a humble parson,
We will ride in my dogcart
From our nuptials, and start
Our conjugal bliss together – richer, poorer, blind to weather –
As the good Lord doth impart…

Lady Catherine de Bourgh,
Lady Catherine de Bourgh,
I, a moon around thee, whirr –
Lady Catherine de Bourgh!

(*Yes, I know. I claim artistic license at that point. **And that one.)

More Veronica Franco

Click here, or click the image below, to be taken to Sappho’s Torque, the blog of Angélique Jamail, who this month is featuring a different poet every day. This particular link will take you to a brand new poem of mine, not published anywhere else, from my ‘Veronica Franco’ series.