Gallop: Selected Poems

Gallop: Selected Poems

by Alison Brackenbury


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Alison Brackenbury’s poems are haunted by horses, unseasonable love, history, hares, and unreasonable hope. Brackenbury’s Gallop begins in the almost Victorian villages of remote Lincolnshire, where her father tramped, as a ploughboy, behind great Shires and Percherons. Her acclaimed early poem, “Dreams of Power,” gives voice to a little-known woman from the past, Arbella Stuart, and her still-contemporary choices: safe solitude, fashionable London, dangerous love. Her song-like poems draw on years of experience of bookkeeping and manual work in industry, of VAT, of trichloroethylene on “a thrumming lorry.”

After nine books, major prizes and national broadcasts, the rush of Brackenbury’s poems are a work in wonderful progress, full of surprises and renewals.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781784106959
Publisher: Carcanet Press, Limited
Publication date: 04/28/2019
Edition description: None
Pages: 216
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Alison Brackenbury studied at Oxford. Her poems have been included on BBC Radio 3 and 4, and 1829 was produced by Julian May for Radio 3. Her work recently won a Cholmondeley Award.

Read an Excerpt



My Old

My old are gone; or quietly remain Thinking me a cousin from West Ham,
Or kiss me, shyly, in my mother's name.
(My parents seem to dwindle too; forget Neat ending to a sentence they began,
Beginning of a journey; if not yet.)

Cards from village shops were sent to me With postal orders they could not afford.
They pushed in roots of flowers, carelessly,
And yet they grew; they said a message came To say the Queen was dead, that bells were heard.
My old are gone into the wastes of dream.

The snow froze hard, tramped down. Old footprints pit Its smoothness, blackened footprints that I tread That save me falling, though they do not fit Exactly, stretching out beyond my sight.
My old are gone from name. They flare instead Candles: that I do not have to light.


An unholy conspiracy of girls and horses, I admit,
as never being part of it but riding late and anxiously.
On Sunday when the horses climb the hill scrambling the dried watercourse to reach the open field to gallop: all my breath swells hot inside me as the horses bunch and pull for mad speed, even my old horse –

'gently!' the leader calls – but they are gone,
hunters, young horses, surging hard ahead,
I rock across the saddle, the wet soil flung shining past me, and the raking feet shaking me from saddle as I speak breathless, kind names to the tossing neck haul back the reins, watching the widening gap between my foundered horse and the fast pack,

wondering if I can keep on, why I do this;
and as he falters, my legs tired as his,
I faintly understand this rage for speed:
careless and hard, what do they see ahead,
galloping down spring's white light, but a gate a neat house, a small lawn, a cage of sunlight?

And pounding slow behind, I wish that I rode surely as they do but wish I could tell them what I see in sudden space –
Two flashing magpies rising from the trees,
two birds: good omen; how the massive cloud gleams and shadows over as they wait,
the horses blown and steaming at shut gates:
disclosing, past their bright heads, my dark wood.

The House

was the house of childhood, the house of the dark wood,
four-square and safe. It was the second house at least, to bear its name. The first was burnt: was charred foundations, hidden by a timber yard.

I knew this in my dream: the house was same and solid. All its yews, church trees, were strong red wood of generations. As we came out in the dusk sight heaved, house, orchard, gone.
Cold in the trembling grass we shivered there.
On open hillside, to the first stars' stare

I watched dark, unsurprised. I could remember the bombers roaring low above the trees to reach their high drome, though the war was done.
The house had strained and crumbled.
    There is only
  the old magic, forced out in new ways.
Hard through the dream's cold spring I raised My house again. My bones and my heart ache In every joist. The altered rooms are filled With lovely light: the only house Which kills in falling, which you must rebuild –

  In new wood boxes, apples there All winter breathe out sweetness, in cold air.

The Divers' Death

The two dead divers hauled up in their bell died not from lack of air but the great cold.
The linking cable severed and they fell fathoms of dark, away from tides that rolled,
from gulls that rode the storm, from sun that warmed down where the wind dropped; and the hands that cried,
used to much, not this. No breath deserved the line to break, the spasm, black to death.

And so the dead child, taken quickly out from white walls, the emptied woman. Or brain-damaged babies, who can roll about like small sea-creatures on the padded floor.
Someone washes them and listens for their cries; they turned their heads when we went near.
But someone might have wished for them a knife to exorcise the darkness of that life.

Deeper than the bright, fast fishes go are the great depths that divers cannot kill –
what knife could cut so bitterly? And so we are love's strange seabirds. We dive there, still.


  you dazzled me with cleverness,
mocked the magician, 'Stripped of cheats he can do no more than you, or anyone.
The doves are tame. He is a shrunken man.
Sleeves of silk handkerchiefs, like crumpled wings a shiny card hid in his sweating palm,
bright saws which do not cut are all his art.
It is your dull belief which does you harm.'

Your eyes fixed on me. But I climbed the stage to help his act. Was it the final trick,
because I was so frightened of your rage?
Because I disobeyed you or because all my art was gone in loving you icy and true silver ran my tears,
dazzled, by the light we vanished through.

Derby Day: An Exhibition

The great Stubbs' picture of the great Eclipse Hangs in the corner it defies,
Effortless. The great are luminous.
Orbed flanks shine solid, amber, having won.
A gold-red horse called Hermit won, and broke The wild Earl of Hastings, who had flung Woods and fields against. How can Eclipse Comfort those eclipsed, who never won?

The young Fred Archer, with a boy's sad face,
Shot himself, sick dizzy on the edge.
He won six flaring Derbys. Not that one In which a woman sprang beneath the rail.
In thudding dark, pain tore all colours; died.

And yet a brilliant day. Do not mistake:
That which we do best kills us. Horse and man Amber in the mist of downs, sea-shore,
The spring of wave, glow greatly. They survive.

These Are the Colours

These are the colours. New, cold blue which glints between the drifting packs,
the wasted dark of the long day,

pure snow, which fills and freezes in our tracks.

This is the region where the ships are caught where gold-billed swans die heaving in the ice to which the lode-stone sings with human voice

this song I sail into your northern eyes.


Gold, edged with green, the peacock's eyes ducked and shimmered past my head to see the young Athenians who could not leap the bull, lie dead.
Their ended screams still twist my sleep become the staircase where I run,
of alabaster pale as milk in courtyards where the black bull shone his high horns lashed with reddening silk.

Black, pierced with grey, pricks morning's leaves,
where all the headdresses lie dark crushed now in rough volcano ash;
where now we sleep in shelters, cracks in painted stones: in fear I brush for morning's sticks through the deep wood.

A young black bull they would have found with net, gold rope for sacrifice stirs through the thicket: I am caught only in his drowsing eyes:
a smudge of mist. He rubs the grey smooth trunk; blinks sleep, walks slow away.

For pomp and cold, twigs crackle: fade.
In a still space I am drawn.
Fire, be moth-wing, grey and gold,
bull and dancer: ash and dawn.

'Yesterday Vivaldi visited me, and sold me some very expensive concertos.'

He had only one tune.
And that a thin finger on pulses:
of spring and the frost,
  the quick turn of girls' eyes a tune

to hold against darkness,
to fret for trumpet, for lute for flutes; violins to silver the shabbiness of many towns the fool's bowl, the court coat,
a tune he would give without sorrow or freedom again, again

  there is only one tune.

Sell it dearly to live.

The Wood at Semmering

This is a dismal wood. We missed our train.
Leaning on a bench, and happy while The express, green, like a Personenzug Slid past us as we sat there with a smile.
Tree draughts blow smells of earth to us and tug A memory: a sadness, found again.

For in this place the nervous women meet Summer, summer; watch their fingers shake To splash a tonic water round the glass.
Where the widow, thin, brown-haired, will take Her daily walk between the pines; will pass Small cones and drifting flowers, with numb feet.

Past pale yellow foxgloves, small to ours,
Where harebells darken purple, she steps slow.
The toad-flax opens deeper mouths of gold,
The tiny eye-bright, high white daisies blow.
Rose of chill lips, small cyclamen unfold,
And touch her feet.

  For earth has many flowers.

The Two

do not fear the golden wings

sun lit their tips before they fell

all lips meet the shadowed sea love pity no such ends

your pity fits the careful man who joined soft wax with feathers well

who fell alone: on a grey shore:
on whom all love depends.


You lived too near the ghosts. For they were kind dry, warm as snakes you never feared.
Speak now of love to men whose eyes are moist and cold,
unkind as the true world.

For you are woken now by evening's rain
(a snake would shiver, slip into the dark)
are startled as it smashes on hot land.
The sky-light leaks. Rain pricks against your wrist –
Strange fingers slip the gold ring from your hand.

Two Gardeners

Too far: I cannot reach them: only gardens.
And stories of the roughness of their lives.
The first, an archaeologist, had lost Her husband to the Great War; never married Again, but shared her fierce father's house;
Lit oil lamps and humped bright jugs of water Until he died. We went there selling flags Stopped at the drive's turn: silenced by her garden.

White water-lilies smoked across her pools.
The trees were hung with musk-roses Pale as Himalayas; in darker space Gleamed plants as tall as children, crowned with yellow,
Their name I never learnt. Her friends had found Smuggled her seeds and lush stalks, from abroad;
While she walked with her father's snapping dog Or drew the Saxon fields of Lincolnshire.

The other lived in the cold Northern side Of a farmhouse, split for the farm's workers,
(Where we lived then). Once she had been a maid,
Had two children for love before she married A quiet man. Away from her dark kitchen She built a bank, her husband carried soil.
There she grew monkey flowers, red and yellow,
Brilliant as parrots, but more richly soft.
She said I could help plant them, but I dare Not touch the trembling petals – would not now.
I have sown some. I do not look to see Such generous gold and scarlet, on dark air.

Both live; I call them gardeners. And I grow Angry for them, that they might be called Typically English. They were no more that Than sun or wind, were wild and of no place.
The roots of light plants touched them for a while But could not hold them: when they moved They left all plants to strangers

  in whose dust The suburbs' wind sucks up white petals round me To look and see them in their earth-dark shoes Skirts stained by water, longer yet than ours.

Dazzled by dry streets I touch their hands,
Parted by the sunlight, no man's flowers.

Summer in the Country

'Strawberries', 'raspberries', whisper the letters Until July is a taste, to hide In reddened mouths, in fields which feet Can't flatten, tall, soft throbbed with heat.
Where horses shaking gnats aside Come slow to hand through the darkening grass

Where seeds fall too, from willow trees
(Rooted in damp, an ancient drain)
White silk clings to my back. I see Small clouds pass slowly overhead.
Ask me nothing. In harvest fields Drivers wear masks – cough dust; hear grain Hiss profit; loss. But in the shade Pale seed drops lightly over me.

The harvest ends. White webs of cold Are strung across the sun;
The wind blows now no hint of fruit but draught, unease, what's done; undone.

Robert Brackenbury

Ancestors are not in our blood, but our heads:
we make history.
Therefore I claim you, from dark folds of Lincolnshire who share my name and died two hundred years ago you, man, remembered there for doing good: lost, strange and sharp you rise like smoke: because it was your will all letters, papers, perish when you died.

Who burnt them? Wife or daughter, yawning maid poked down the struggling blackness in the grate or walked slow, to the place where leaves were burnt,
the white air, winter's. Slips of ash trembled on the great blue cabbage leaves:
O frozen sea.

Why Robert, did you hate the cant of epitaph so much?
leave action to be nothing but itself:
the child who walked straight-legged, the man whose house no longer smoked with rain, and yet
(soft scent of grass in other men's archives)
your name, to linger; did you trust that when all shelves, all studies fell to ash your kindness still might haunt our wilderness a hand that plucks at us, a stubborn leaf twitching before rain
  or did despair turn: whisper there how you were young to burn and change your world: not enough done,
from that you turned to silence and a shadowed wall; unkind to family, to wife and to that maid:
who buried you, for love, in Christian ground.

I think that you had ceased to trust in knowledge.
You did not want the detail of your life wrapped round us like a swaddling cloth; passed, known,
to shadow over us like a great tree.
The crumbling, merging soil, the high rooks cawing out the black spring are for you;
now we must speak and act: make day alone.

In one thing I'll be resolute as you.
In white day in the thawing grass I'll burn one letter, then the bundles; stare at the cracked silvering of walnut bark:
and see what, in that grace? Not you,
your eyes of frozen dark.

Snatch back the half-charred letter! In the icy blue, wasted leaves watch silent the unmaking flames crumble white

too like a God forsaking the heart to ash.

And though I made you, though I should ask nothing of you I will turn against you, bitter as the girl's mouth in the garden tasting winter, ashes: glow of fire that cannot warm us or ever quite betray smoke that twists the cold hand
  in shapes I do not know.

An Orange of Cloves

Clove-scent: the dark room where the lovers lie A closet smelling both of must and musk,
Which makes the head faint: rawer and more old Than pale-flowered stocks which scent the dusk.

Caverns of dark I entered first: I thought I have danced here, and to a golden lute.
Branched velvet, rushes, gallows in the sunlight –

sense shudders till it glimpses in a space The great sharp-scented tree, its flowers, its fruit All of a season, beating in the rain;
The orange, cloves cross-cleft; and past the pain,
a dark tree fading, seeding in each face.


Excerpted from "Gallop: Selected Poems"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Alison Brackenbury.
Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

from Dreams of Power

My Old 13

Gallop 14

The House 15

The Divers' Death 17

Because 18

Derby Day 19

These Are the Colours 20

Kingdoms 21

Yesterday Vivaldi 22

The Wood at Semmering 23

The Two 24

Intimates 25

Two Gardeners 26

Summer in the Country 28

Robert Brackenbury 29

An Orange of Cloves 32

Dreams of Power 33

from Breaking Ground

The Birds 67

Rented Rooms 68

Whose Window? 69

Half-day 70

Apple Country 71

Monday 72

Medine in Turkey 73

Bookkeeping 74

Last Week 75

Homecoming 76

Hill Mist 77

Grooming 79

Mr Street 80

From Breaking Ground: 82

On the Boards 82

Enclosure 84

from Christmas Roses

Crewe to Manchester: December 87

On the Move 88

Hawthorn 89

Black Dog 90

The Horse Stops 92

Produce of Cyprus 93

School Dinners 94

Spinner 95

Moths 96

Woken 97

Collection 98

Draining 100

Christmas Roses 101

from 1829

March Pigeons 103

Brockhampton 104

The Queen's Funeral 105

Tewkesbury 106

A Chinese Wedding 108

Overnight 110

Dawn Run 111

After the X-ray 112

Hay Fever 113

The Spring at Chedworth 114

On Wistley Hill 115

Linum 116

from After Beethoven

After Beethoven 117

Out of Hanoi 118

All 119

The Bride Who Fell Asleep 120

Woods 121

Display 122

Now 123

Postcard 124

Webs 125

Staying at Furnace Farm 126

On the Road 127

End of the Day 128

In the General 129

Turing's Bicycle 130

Elizabeth of York 131

Canals 133

Wright 134

from Bricks and Ballads

At the Beginning 135

Epigrams 136

Self-set 137

The Blue Door 138

On the Second of August 139

Calf Sound 140

Mithras and the Milkman 141

Flight 142

At Home 143

Homework. Write a Sonnet. About Love? 144

Tess 145

Holiday 146

Tabby 147

The Card 148

Cycles 149

Severe Weather Warning 150

The Lincolnshire Accent 151

The North Room 152

from Singing in the Dark

Edward Thomas's Daughter 153

Prepositions 154

Puff 155

Commuter 156

High Notes 157

Three 158

Schemes 159

The Jane Austen Reader 160

Provision 161

6.25 162

The Inn for All Seasons 163

The Beanfields' Scent 164

Levellers' Day 165

Solo 167

Scraper 168

Visitors 170

December 25th, 12 noon 171

Xerxes, an opera 172

from Then

Lapwings 173

Bath Cubes 175

The Trent Rises, 1947 176

The Lunch Box 177

Fruit in February 178

The Shed 179

At Eighty 180

Your Signature is Required 181

On the Aerial 182

Leap Year 183

Victoria Coach Station, 11 p.m. 184

May Day, 1972 185

John Wesley's Horse 186

In the Black Country 187

Thermal 188

At Needlehole 189

The Beatles in Hamburg 190

Wilfred Owen at the Advanced Horse Transport Depot, 1917 191

No 192

from Skies

Honeycomb 193

And 194

So 195

8 a.m. 196

Prologue 197

Aftermath 198

Vesta Tilley 199

Told 201

My Grandmother Said 202

Down Unwin's Track 203

Playground 204

Species 205

Peelings 206

Friday Afternoon 207

Poppy Seeds 208

The Elms 209

Christmas on the Radio 210

Dickens: a daydream 211

Skies 213

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