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Mark Totterdell was born in rural Somerset and has lived in Exeter for many years, where he works as a freelance copywriter.
His poems have appeared in many magazines including Agenda, Ambit, The Interpreter’s House, Magma, The Rialto and Stand, and in anthologies including Poems for a Liminal Age (SPM Publications 2015), Half Moon: Poems about Pubs (Otley Word Feast Press, 2016), Driftfish (Zoomorphic, 2016), Troubadour (Picaroon Poetry, 2017) and Diversifly: Poetry and Art on Britain’s Urban Birds (Fair Acre Press, 2018).
He won the 2012 Fire River Poets Competiton, the May 2014 Sentinel Literary Quarterly Competition, the 2014 Poems Please Me Competition and the 2016 Poetry Pulse competition, and has been placed, commended or shortlisted in many others.
His collection This Patter of Traces published in 2014 by Oversteps Books, was shortlisted for the Stare’s Nest Fledgling Award for the best first collection by a poet over the age of forty.
Author and map photography Jane Thomas
138 x 216mm
£9.99 + P&P UK
191 – OKEHAMPTON AND NORTH DARTMOOR
Green to the moor, he saw each crystalled stone
as more itself than ever it would seem again.
Fearful of mire, the miles of the wide possible,
he aimed to follow faint red dots on paper.
176 – WEST LONDON
He was up for some finger-eared songs north of the river.
His view was unrestricted from the upper deck,
through wide-eyed windows. A diversion.
Still the jag of smashed shopfronts. The pillar of smoke
172 – BRISTOL AND BATH
His feet printed twenty miles of dashes
on simplifying snow, fields whiter than their map.
From Dundry, before descending to city slush,
he saw Welsh mountains, their small bright origami.
This gobbet of white
was never cuckooed
– hoick, splat –
into the arsy-versy
armpit of the thistle.
This fort of froth, a foam-home
for the raw green speck
with pinprick eyes,
is a soft construct
of shat sap and fart.
It’s no worm,
and it twists quick.
‘It’s not a snake
but a legless lizard’,
but what’s a snake
but a lizard that lost
its legs in another time?
Words squirm. It writes
and writes and writes
itself in cursive script.
Seized, there’s the
the shed tail
writhing as if
The Warren House
Don’t drive here. Approach it on foot, past the stone stains
of Grimspound. You’ll see it from miles away, a fat
white grub on the matted fur of a Dartmoor roadkill.
Don’t think of storybook characters, much-loved pets,
plump straight for the speciality of the House,
tuck into the flaky pastry, the gamey flesh,
that piquant sauce of dissonance and guilt-pangs,
the sharpness of those painfully small bones.
The Shepherd and Dog
That day, when miles were shorter, I had walked
all day along the wavecrest of the downs
to down pints here, though I remember more
my dark climb afterwards back up the scarp.
That night, and in those unforgotten dreams
on later nights, sweet turf was all my bed,
I slept in soft cool green of beetles’ glow,
my world a room that found no need for walls.
It’s nothing but a soft splosh
and widening, fading rings on the river.
Half a minute under. Eelbane.
Mute low flight. Wingtips never quite breaking
the tension. Baldraven. Shaggy tail
balancing diamond-bit head.
A score of black cyphers on lines either side
of the pylon. Coalbirds. Their pattern
charged with a semblance of meaning.
Seacrow. Unseen against the bladderwrack,
it’s only its own wrecked reflection,
shifting across the overturned sky.
borrow a fagpie
sneak a quick dragpie
off down the pub so there’s no need to nagpie
just an old lagpie
grabbing a bagpie
black and white stripy-topped off with the swagpie
not one to bragpie
see what a beauty he’s managed to blagpie
don’t lose your ragpie
he’s such a wagpie
waving a black and white piraty flagpie
fancy a shagpie
any old slagpie
all on his own with a well dodgy magpie
Sometimes you need to be beneath tall trees
by water, to follow the path from the road,
the faint trail from the path, to edge
past brambles, crushing the tiny leaves
of seedlings, trusting in their resilience.
Sometimes you need to be invisible, screened
by a green growth of unofficial balm,
to see an unpoeted kingfisher, the ash
unknowing of its written-up demise,
the beech as it was before the book, the word
We’re walking towards Land’s End,
fields to our left, a vast sea to our right.
Ahead of us, an ice cream van like a shiny spaceship.
I turn to you and say
Can I have an ice cream, Daddy?
It’s my little nod to childhood.
I’m 47. You smile. Moments later
you turn to me and say
Can I have an ice cream, Daddy?
You’ve stolen my line without even knowing.
We walk on with our cones.
I’m bearing mine like a flaming torch.
The sea is such a long way down.
Out of the piping of my pen
the ink flows dark and full
onto each empty waiting page,
with simple truths to tell
of innocence and harmony,
how all the world’s one whole,
of fish and fowl, of beast and tree,
the aptness of it all.
Up from the wellspring of my brain
the words unceasing spill,
as if they had the power to soothe
the sting that’s in the tale;
a world away, a gulf apart,
profounder by a mile,
there lies that other well, of which
I cannot speak at all.
“Mark Totterdell’s first collection, ‘This Patter of Traces’, was a tour de force of traditional lyric precision combined with a slightly 'askew' take on the poetry of landscape. This new book looks even better, combining a love of maps and places with flora and fauna and a taxonomy of pubs. These poems are mainly brief encapsulations of time and place, yet range widely in terms of geography and in relation to our place in and of the world. So much knowledge worn so lightly. This is poetry of the first order, lively and interesting to read.”
“Much-anticipated, the new book surpasses expectations, its sections staking out Totterdell’s characteristic territories: the engagingly reflective lone walker at large in OS maps; the meticulous describer of the natural world whose endlessly resourceful language is our connection to its otherness; the connoisseur of the evocative names (and interiors) of pubs. Scintillating.”
This diverse collection of short poems in a variety of styles includes one individual’s erratic journey with maps through Britain’s landscapes, a crawl of quirky pubs, and brief encounters with an assortment of individual creatures from caterpillars to cormorants.