Poems from Heath by Penelope Shuttle and John Greening

These poems by Penelope Shuttle and John Greening respond to Hounslow Heath. From seventeenth-century paper mills and Chamberlain’s more recent ‘Munich Agreement’, to the Ordnance Survey map of 1921 and Southall’s cultural diversity, these poems from Heath (forthcoming this summer) traverse ideas of landscape and time and, in doing so, tread new paths across the urban environment.




The unhappy man laughs,
tells me about his hobby
of making stained-glass lamps
as we walk the trackway
skirting Heston or Hounslow,
stepping over ghost-sleepers
of a long-disused branch –
not the Feltham Curve
but along those lines –
then he says,
you can make wine from gorse,
he has done it –
A sharp wine that would be,
I say, made from startles
of yellow prickly furze
no champagne for sure –
wine of the humble heathland
says the unhappy man
who has added his pain
to its thorny bouquet,
taking my hand
as we tramp the old track
near where the old-time travellers
rode their slowcoach huffing train.

– Penelope Shuttle



Waist-high mist, the White Lady of the moor is rising to a roar
as he descends, the man in black, on the far side of the Heath.

And here is the paper... She knows too well what led her to this haunting,
her sole flight path once she’d stumbled home from Bushee’s mill

while he, with his black necktie like a noose, and his scowling moustache,
smiling, smiling, will never admit a misjudgment but goes on waving

his foolscap to the future … settlement … prelude … symbolic …The crowd cheers,
but here on blind Staines Moor she can see the other side

of that same precious sheet. She knows it is made from rags, rags
brought like refugees to the moorland mill by their tyrant owner

to be ground and pulped … Some of you here perhaps have already heard
what it contains … A plane’s wing hangs above the head

of the talking man. It brings the plague. From the White Lady’s page
back in the story, a wind (clearing her infected mist) reaches Heston

and – in front of buttons, peaked caps, marching uniforms, behind
ranked microphones, the silent camera – flutters his flimsy piece.

– John Greening



Sparrow Farm
Look-Blank Farm
Lockglenk Farm

Viola House
The River Crane
Valve House

Sand and Ballast Pit
Football Ground

Chemical Works
Tile Works

Air Shaft

Miniature Rifle Range
Brazil Wood
Mortuary Chapel (C of E)

Mortuary Chapel
Greyhound Racing Stadium

Railway Cottages
Yew Tree Walk
Munster Avenue

Feltham Curve
Heathfield Farm
Isolation Hospital

Pigeon Lofts
Circular Earthwork (site of)
Allotment Garden

Bishopsgate Candle Factory
Wagon Repair Shed
Powder Mill Lane

Engine Repair Shed
Inverness Works

Baber Bridge
Norfolk Gardens

Donkey Wood
Hounslow Junction

Guide Post

– Penelope Shuttle



No genesis without destruction; no order without confusion.
Shiva is gliding above West Middlesex. No rebirth without death.
The shattering groan of power reversing. In a landfill site
near Hayes, the single groove of every obsolete record
breathes a sigh of release. The Lord of the Dance plays on
across Norwood Green. In Southall, a great White Elephant
stalks the high street, ridden by Indra. In the windows, seated
on lotus flowers, the many gods. Cross legged. Hands clasped.
The thunderbolt strikes on either side. Serpents and demons cower.
Converted Baptist chapels don’t even bother to shut their eyes.
It rains and rains and Indra relishes what he slurps from the gutter.

Behind the last May bush in North Hyde a Jainist sits
counting the five thorns, ensuring no stray creature ever
tries to pass. Only truth from the insects round his azzy-tree.
A condom, a tampon, fleshpots, and chicken skin but never a woman.
His detachment is complete. Ignoring him to approach and cross the approach
road to the perimeter, I see what I know at once to be my Shakti
coming directly towards me, a mirror image, clutching her carry-out
PG Tips as she steps on to the zebra crossing, reducing me
to fingers and thumbs until I spot, mid-step in a red
grove of willow by a bookmaker’s shop, Kali, like a lollipop lady
holding in one hand the head of a giant, and blessing me with the others.

– John Greening


Little silences
of the Heath
lasting so short a time
the ear thinks
it dreamed the silence
that left its blessing
in the tender labyrinth
of hearing


Then out of the sky
noise grinds back
a million travelling voices
cussing through Security
a million
police sirens
and a million fuck-you’s


Then again
a little silence from the Heath
breaks the evil spell
and now the ear
thinks this quiet
is an olive branch
offered to the rage
and roar of everything
but who will take it?

– Penelope Shuttle


Penelope Shuttle has lived in Cornwall since 1970, and is a founder member of The Falmouth Poetry Group, set up by Peter Redgrove in 1972. She is a tutor and mentor for a number of organisations, including The Poetry School, and is reading this summer/autumn from Heath, with John Greening, at The Ledbury Poetry Festival The South Downs Festival, and at The Bristol Poetry Festival. A pamphlet, Four Portions Of Everything On The Menu For M’sieur Monet, appears from Indigo Dreams Publications in August 2016. Her twelfth collection, Will You Walk A Little Faster? is published in May 2017, from Bloodaxe Books.

John Greening was brought up under the main flightpath to Heathrow, but now he and his wife live in Cambridgeshire.Two years with VSO in Upper Egypt resulted in Westerners. The Tutankhamun Variations (Bloodaxe) and a dozen further collections followed, notably To the War Poets (Carcanet, 2013). There have also been plays and several books about poetry. His edition of Edmund Blunden’s Undertones of War (OUP) appeared in 2015, along with Accompanied Voices, an anthology of composer poems. TLS reviewer and Eric Gregory judge, John Greening’s awards include the Bridport Prize and a Cholmondeley. He is RLF Writing Fellow at Newnham College. www.johngreening.co.uk

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