Places of Poetry: Evensong by Jen Hadfield

Places of Poetry is a project which aims to use creative writing to prompt reflection about national and cultural identities by inviting contributions to the website, until 4 October. The project is open to all writers. This summer Places of Poetry will hold events across England and Wales, each site hosting a poet-in-residence with each poet contributing a poem from their residency to The Clearing. Jen Hadfield’s poem, Evensong, was inspired by Ely, in the Fenland of East Anglia.


‘When the river’s full, don’t trust anyone’ W.H.Barrett’s grandfather, in How to Speak Fen, Michael Rouse, Ely History Publications, rev. 2018

‘Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee O Lord and defend us from all perils and dangers of this night’ The Third Collect, Book of Common Prayer, 1662

‘The number of insects is falling at such a perilous rate that if nothing is done to halt the decline, our own future could be at risk.’ Natural History Museum,, Feb 2019


Child, whatever

weather is our hellish hand-me-down to you,

if you can forgive us, it’ll be a miracle.

But when I imagine the tide coming in: the way it

comes in and comes in, and stays

in like a bolt shot home, fen

filling up like a

waterbed, I pray,


pray, here at Evensong, this:

that at least the last of the fenfolk might

creep back at nightfall through the shining

fields, volty with damselflies: barbubblers and

buttleebumps, pale grey Tiddy-mun,

Hod-me-dod, the pilgrim snail –

the patched bundle of his shell wagging on

his patient back – and gentle giant

Tom Hickathrift –

all led by Lantern-Man

like refugees

across an abandoned border –

Old Sally to what’s left of the high ground,

Jack to the flood. And until the spalt vanes of the

windpump snap like celery in a shuft

of wind, may it bail

eel-thick water in stelches,

and when storms turn fen-blows

to brown paint, make for the

Isle, for that cobweb spun

of soft white stone where anyone

may light

a candle; with

whatever rope ladder you can spin

from what you could salvage –

eelskin and psalm

caul and song –




Bar bubblers – featherless birds

Buttleebumps – bitterns

Tiddy-mun – a little grey man, dressed in white. Fen people would ask for his help when the cottages flooded. His answer was like the call of a peewit

Hod-me-dod – snail-like creature

Lantern Man – like the Will O’The’Wisp, Lantern Man would lead the unwary to their doom

Owd Sally – a hare

Jack – a small pike

spalt – brittle, easy to snap

shuft – a sudden gust of wind

stelches – to talk in short phrases with long pauses between

fen-blows – dust-storms


All from How to Speak Fen, Michael Rouse, Ely History Publications, revised 2018.



Jen Hadfield is a Shetland based poet. Her first collection, Almanacs, won an Eric Gregory Award in 2003. Her second collection, Nigh-No Place (Bloodaxe 2008) won the T. S. Eliot Prize and was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Collection, and her most recent volume was Byssus (Picador 2014).

The illustration is by Benjamin Bowen of Union Studio.

Places of Poetry is led by the poet Paul Farley and the academic Andrew McRae. It is based at the universities of Exeter and Lancaster, and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England. It is underpinned by national partnerships with the Ordnance Survey, The Poetry Society, and National Poetry Day.

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