This poem won 2nd prize in The Elmet Open Poetry Competiton, 2012, judged by Kathleen Jamie. It subsequently appeared in Antiphon.


Keep your eyes down, don’t look
at the soil, but what lies below:roots
sticky clay, fist shaped boulders,
black shale that sounds like coins

when you bore through. Dig
into layers of fireclay, galliard,
the brittle strata of sandstone.
When grit sets your teeth on edge,

don’t give up, even if you hit a layer
of bastard stone or strong blue bind.
Don’t look back at the pinhole
of daylight shining above you

but take a deep breath, swallow
ironstone, fossilized shells,
eat your way through ganister,
toothsome silica, until you reach

the soft coal bed, then lie down,
let the weight of the world settle.

2 thoughts on “Substrata

  1. I think you read this at the Puzzle, and I knew it was intricate, and full of relish for all those petrified words, but it’s even better to have your reading voice in my head and to re-read and savour. Those last two lines withal the overlapping resonances of ‘soft’ and ‘bed’ and ‘weight’ and ‘settle’, all ‘down’ in the comfortable dark. Don’t tell me you have problems ending poems.


  2. Thanks John – much of the language in this poem is due to a fantastic model in the Toulson Museum, Huddersfield. What an inspiring place that is!
    It’s a good poem to read because it gives me an excuse to swear (bastard stone). Ooops. There I go again.
    All the best,


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