Barbara’s poems are rooted in the natural world. She looks at landscape with a geologist’s eye, sometimes influenced by her strict religious upbringing and its repudiation. She has an eye for the telling detail that lifts a poem. Her poems have been published in many poetry magazines including Acumen, Orbis, Poetry London, Poetry Salzburg Review and The Rialto.


“Barbara Cumbers has a very distinctive way with language and structure. Her poems won me over with their quietly beautiful and devastating lyricism” was how Amy Wack (Poetry Editor for Seren Books) described Barbara’s entry for the 2014 Mslexia pamphlet competition where she was a runner-up.


She earned her living as an information officer in the NHS and is a former associate lecturer in geology for the Open University. She lives in London, with a husband and two cats. This is her first full collection.





ISBN 978-1-910834-01-5


Indigo Dreams Publishing




138 x 216mm


72 pages


£8.99 + P&P UK













Tawny Grisette


Through the long wet grass of autumn

domes are growing, doe-coloured, velvety.

In line like explorers they track along

old apple root. No photosynthesis

when sugars are there for the taking,

white threads sew through damp wood.


When I don’t need it any more,

let my body be as that apple root

where soft and branching explorations

of mycelium can feed and send

their fruit up into light to scatter spores

as dust in a cloud downwind.




The Foolishness of Squirrels


It’s not yet ten o’clock and already

the heat is pressing its dry weight

down on head and lungs. Already


others are preparing to camp

in the shade of the cottonwoods,

avoiding the whiteness of afternoon.


There’s a thumping behind me –

a squirrel is whirling its tail to drum

on the ground, and chattering.


In the shadow, an inch in front,

is a rattlesnake, coiled and still,

diamond head solid and deadly.


The squirrel is deliberate

with its feckless little noises. Perhaps

the god of squirrels is a rattlesnake.


The squirrel is in awe of it, dancing

before it with the pointlessness of ritual.

I wait in shamefaced hope that the snake


will strike, but it goes on sleeping

and I walk away, downwards

into the white noon of the canyon.

Wet Through


I am a gap in the rain

which flows around me,

my skin dividing water-self


from water-other.

Most of me is water,

the trees in a distance too far


to offer shelter are mostly water,

as are the rabbits, their ears

flattened like broken umbrellas.


The wholeness of rain

in its long, long fall

where droplets scatter


and merge, splits

as it hits me,

rejoins into runnels


as it pours from my skin.  

It leaves my water-self

flowing where I choose.






It is like watching mandrake bloom, the slow

unfolding of what I know, the stiffening

of fear in men’s faces, my prophecies

forgotten in the ruin that is now.


It is like watching the dead decay, inexorable

liquidity, gas-filled flesh dissolving

while the faces of the living have denial

shining clear from their unknowing eyes.


At every turn I tell them if this then this.

They do not hear, or if they hear, say

I am mistaken, that other seers see it

otherwise – anything to say it will not be.


It is like watching ice melt, its solid grip

on mountains loosening, its water flowing

into disbelieving future, each tide

a little higher, the wind a little stronger.




Dinosaur Footprints, Isle of Wight


The tide’s retreated to the edge of sight,

a blur of birds and waves. I brush dried mud

of Chilton Chine down from my clothes,

fine dust scattering. You should have held on to me,

you say, as I might have done five years ago.


Dinosaurs had walked here once – huge feet

left prints on ripples in a delta’s swamp,

and ripples turned to rock, and rock to shore.

Silt slides over older silt, continents buckle.

Iguanodon is twice transformed,


from beast to footprints, teeth and bones;

from Hawkins’ horn-nosed quadruped

through lumbering biped to bird-like grace.

First built with little data, modified with more,

the past is always changing. You smile,


as you did five years ago when we’d collected

sediment for your research. And now

we work together at a fresh cliff face

revealed by winter storms and landslip,

uncovering more data cautiously.

This collection of poems is mainly about water or the lack of it. The water ranges from rain in Cumbria to a well in Palestine, from the North Sea to the Colorado River; its lack is deserts anywhere, actual and metaphorical. The poet’s geological knowledge and scientific background add depth to poems of landscape and the natural world, often as it has been changed by man.





“ ‘The idea of the journey’ is what fires these beautiful poems. Barbara Cumbers employs a scientist’s mind and a poet’s eye when describing the minutiae of the natural world. She is the perfect guide to take us through fields and over mountains, and into the more difficult terrains of the heart and soul. It is a joy to follow her lead.”

Tamar Yoseloff


“Barbara Cumbers’ poems exist in a powerful tension between the physical reality of this world – with often explicit reference to her geologist background – and its moments of emotion and uncertainty. The result is poems of moving precision and revelation.”

Robert Seatter


“I thought these poems were simply beautiful: well-wrought, intelligent, keenly perceptive and finely crafted.”

Amy Wack



He was bound by frogskin and water,

held beneath hosta leaves

and on the damp soil around irises.

By day he had the flat of lily pads

where he could launch himself

into flights through his watery world.

In the grace of rain at night

he could leap into the elegance of air.

But always he returned,

dragged back by his chains.


Then she came and made a prince of him.

She gave him freedom, so she said.

In quiet moments he could forget

the claims of duty and decorum.

He cultivated a vivarium,

talked to newts and salamanders,

knowing they would not answer

his now too-solid tongue. He grew

sedge and sundew, looked deep

into the eyes of water forget-me-nots.


Next time, he thought, I will be a bird –

a marsh harrier, hook-beaked and taloned.

My chains will be feathers and air.



Rannoch Moor


The moor is teaching me infinity,

not in the way the night sky

might in the distances

of stars, nor as rocks do

with the length of their memories.

The moor has its own way


in the rise and fall

of sphagnum with rain,

in the unnamed greens

the heather takes into itself,

in the ever-changing light,

and in the figure of a man


small in the distance

as he picks his way

on the old pack road,

who staggers as if heather

had snagged his walking

and who never reaches home.

BC AMEND TW 9781910834015 TW 9781910834015