NaPoWriMo 2017.06

Still playing catch-up! Day 6 asked us to look at one thing from several view-points, ao of course I have looked at a fox. Not very poetically, I have compiled an alphabet of alliterative kenning-like descriptions that could all be applied to vulpes vulpes.


Agile animals,

Barking burrowers,

Cunning climbers,

Den-dwelling diggers,

Excellent egg-thieves,

Folkloric favourites,

Gorgeous gambollers,

Hearing-led hunters,

Indolent individuals,

Jewel-eyed jumpers,

Keen killers,

Limber leapers,

Monogamous mammals,

Nocturnal neighbours,

Odorous omnivores,

Pesky poultry-predators,

Quick-witted quarry,

Russet rubbish-rummagers,

Spry slinkers,

Tameable tail-waggers,

Urban underworlders,

Vulpine vermin,

Woolly-footed worm-eaters,

Xenodochial extroverts,

Yearlong yelpers,

Zippy zoomorphs.


NaPoWriMo 2017.05

Aaand back to the foxes, because today we’ve been asked to write about our personal connection to something in the natural world, for example an animal. Like a fox? Yes, like a fox.


Brief Encounter

To endure the late walk home,

all buses gone to roost, and stars

muffled in sodium clouds; to pass

graceless retail parks framed

cloddishly in jobsworth shrubs,

dull with after-hours; to skirt

heavy-headed buddleia guarding

chain link and litter, exhaling

purple rankness; to navigate

the emptied junction, on the round-

about the inexplicable silver balls,

big as bales and rusting quietly

in the plain sight of the darkened

carwash; and then, to see him

in the lit delta of the goods

vehicle entrance, his spirit level

spine balancing caution, curiosity.

Brief arrow of blaze; to meet,

unexpected yet unmistakeable,

the most beautiful thing in the world.


NaPoWriMo 2017.02

A recipe prompt! But, but – foxes? Surely people don’t eat foxes? Oh yes they do. In the case of the Fat Lady Clarissa Dickson Wright, they eat them stewed with chestnut pasta.


Fox Stew

Remove guts and skin,

That’s how to begin,

Says Clarissa, when prepping a fox.

Now submerge in a brook.

Do it all by the book!

Nags Clarissa, when cleaning a fox.

In only three days

That smell washes away,

Claims Clarissa, when drying a fox.

And after its bath

I just chop it in half,

Laughs Clarissa, when jointing a fox.

It can taste rather nice

With a touch of allspice,

Winks Clarissa, when cooking a fox.

But the best by a mile

Is Italian style,

Slurps Clarissa, when eating a fox.

NaPoWriMo 2017.01

Oh heaven help me, here we are again! Some of you may know that last year I completed ‘National Poetry Writing Month’ or NaPoWriMo for the very first time, not by following the official prompts but by combining them with a personal imperative to feature otters in every poem. No-one was more surprised than me at the success of this gambit. So, this year…..


Again, I have every expectation of abject failure.

The first official prompt is inspired by Kay Ryan, sometimes known as a ‘poet of compression’, and looks for short lines, tightly-woven rhymes and an animal. An animal, you say? Riddle me this…


Compressed Fox

Squeeze ‘fox’,

out pops the ‘o’,

a slippery pip,

leaving behind ‘fx’,

shorthand for tricks

cinematic, pixels

magicked to Orcs.

Reduce by ‘f’ and

fleet-foot bloats

to a lumbering

cart-hauling beast;

oxen-free, an ‘f’

will play louder

than pianissimo.

‘X’-less, it leaves

back-street, after-hours

border disputes

for international

corridors of power,

but tell the F.O.

to f.o., it’ll leave you

with a vote on

a treasure map,

a perfect kiss. Press

‘fox’ if you must,

it will be the greater,

no less.

Human/Otter Dictionary

Final NaPoWriMo prompt! And it is to translate a poem, but unfortunately there is no otter literature, so I have had to listen to the varied vocalisations of the giant otter and then make up some complete nonsense again. Giant otters have twenty-two distinct sounds, probably because they live in the largest and most complex social groups. They are also very stressed out by being in close proximity with humans.



I may not have lived among giant otters, but I have shared flats

with people I can barely tolerate. Their hastily-chosen, temporary

sexmates, on catching sight in a doorcrack of my solitary moshing,

have given just that strangled yip of laughter that would garner

a small dead fish from an alpha otter momma.


I have beaten wearily at floors and ceilings in the incoherent Morse

of the diurnal trapped among nocturnal experimental loop-pedallers,

whose weeeekrrrikkering dial-flip zzewstatic WAH interferenzzzzeee

resounded loud enough to alter the direction of hunting otter packs

as far afield as Lake Salvador.


I have nursed beers on window seats whilst macaw-hoarse flirters

make throat-back grokkle sounds in the crowded kitchen, tsip-tsip

their own drinks and then exit the yikkering, yipchuckling hodgepodge

to find a place to ‘be alone’. Through my wall I heard them,

little snouty buzzings, universal language of purr.


And yes, I have felt that wavering scream of isolation threaten

to come sailing out like a violin bow dragged ragged on a saw-edge,

though  I have been habitually considerate and kept the noise down,

at most emitted a pup-squeak like a balloon-dog having its neck rung,

but no otter ever answered.



In Memoriam James Williams MBE


I was dimly aware of the nam96ab3c04c81b8ef05bea62d1b24dcd7ae James Williams because during this month of research various ads for his books on otters have popped up in my peripheral vision, but I had no idea he had been awarded an MBE for his conservation work, “for services to otters”.

I am slightly twisting today’s prompt, turning it from an ‘I remember’ poem to an ‘I don’t remember’ poem about James, inspired by the wonderful contributions on his memorial page at the Somerset Otter Group. What a man, how I wish I had known him.

I don’t remember James, with his cap and stick, and his little laugh.

I don’t remember him pushing down the barbed wire and legging over,

trotting back-heeled down the bank to check a turd – dog or otter?

I never ran into him under bridges, peering at dubious dark blobs

on known sprainting rocks, those infamous otter-loos he patrolled.

I don’t remember the anatomy of paw-prints he never taught me,

don’t think of eels because of him, still have no way to catch crayfish.

When I look at a riverbank, I see only the stones that are visible,

I don’t remember to follow my nose along the breeze, across the bend,

I don’t remember to see the land like a musk-talker, a scent-dweller.

Never have I bowed at his delicate request to sniff what otters leave –

“a sweet, wild, musky scent of pebbles and water weed and fish

and of the eternal untameable current”. But how I wish I had.



Otter fishing in the Sundarbans


Off prompt today, sorry NaPoWriMo! Didn’t fancy writing a backwards story because I’ve been thrilled by accounts of otter fishing, still a living practise in the mangroves of Bangladesh, where generations of fishermen raise domesticated otters to herd fish into their nets, pups learning from their parents. I’ve taken inspiration, images and some entire phrases from this great eye witness account  and also from this deliciously atmospheric website celebrating the Sundarbans.

You can watch footage of otter fishing here and here.

Otter fishing in the Sundarbans


the beautiful forest receives

the falling night

smears it kohl-black

along its starless, brackish



where fish trace cursive

drowned comets


elders swung on a chain

of tailflicks like

heavy-flanked censers


in a bamboo box

a writhing otterknot

cacophonous yipping

piercing the slats

their whiskers and stench

of fermented mud



the estuaries breath the tide

into their bronchioles

new islands breach

spines of giant crocodiles

midstream, middream


the mud shifts

whispers under

the paws of maneaters

the striped jungle

conceals its secret hives

its weapons


fisherman, release them

longleashed from the narrow boat

dogfaced snouting

fish from crannies

playful, frisking

fish from gullies


in swamps where

translucent women wade

neck deep dragging

nets through shrimp-seethe

and are eaten tiger-silent

down to their screams


this is the only joyful hunt







Loving The Longest Otter

sappho-eats-600x700-500x583It’s been a long day, folks, and we were challenged by NaPoWriMo to write a poem with long lines – seventeen syllables long, to be exact. To my mind, this calls for a particularly long otter, so I’ve taken a look at the Giant Otter of the Amazon. Which, of course, is a particularly long river.

There are a lot of fabulously interesting facts about Giant Otters – for example, if they stood up they’d be as tall as my mum. There are some distressing facts about Giant Otters – for example, just the noise of human activity in their vicinity can stress them out so much they kill their own pups. None of this is in the poem, but you should totally check them out here.


The path of the Amazon is

a dilly-dallying belly-dancer, juggling half-moons hip to hip

a slipshod silt-filled seam, stray-dog yellow, stupefied vein of sunlight

an unravelled fingerprint, a concertina folded from jaguar tongues

a velvet ghost road four hundred and eleven thousand otters long



Sea Otter Prayer

The designated call-and-response for today has allowed me to combine some research lists, that of shark species and Ocean goddesses. Now, the competent marine biologists among you will no doubt be able to tell me exactly which of the following sharks have no interest in eating sea otters, but for now let’s just go with the flow, alright?


Sea Otter Prayer

Sedna, mother of storms,

From Blacktips save us

From Silvertips, Silkys,

Duskys, Coppers, Blues.

Deliver us safe from their mouths


Nerrivik, lady of the deep places,

From Tigers keep us

From Leopards, and Smoothhounds

Sharptoothed, Grey and Brown.

Delivers us safe from their mouths.


Arnakuagsak, daughter of the creator,

Protect us from Hammerheads,

Malletheads, Bonnetheads,

Bulls, Swells and Sicklefins.

Deliver us safe from their hunger.


Arnapkapfaaluk, Big Bad Woman

Let us not fall into the Megamouth,

Keep far from us your Goblins,

Horns, Nurses, Pacific Angels.

Deliver us safe from their hunger.


We are the smallest of your fingers

Cut from you and fallen in the bitter sea.

Gather us away from Great Whites.

Sedna, deliver us.




Otter Gibberish

0e5bac450eaadf8fe1ab7904bf6fd918Our prompt today was to start with a line from an existing poem that we could remember without looking it up, and then to write our own poem onwards from there. Many people immediately reached for beautiful, flowing phrases, lines that have remained with them as inspiration and guide…. My immediate thought was ‘Can a parrot eat a carrot standing on his head?’. Spike Milligan. Gotta love him.

Can a parrot eat a carrot standing on his head?

Would a possum scatter blossom on his lover’s bed?

Could a peacock dance to bebop if he’s in the mood?

Would an otter race a stock car, or would he just get booed?


Can a raven go clean-shaven to evade the law?

Could an emu change a brake shoe on a four by four?

Can a lobster be a mobster if he has a gun?

Should an otter be a yachter just to have some fun?


Can an ostrich free the hostage from the terrorists?

Is a weasel on a Nepalese hill scaling Everest?

Could a pigeon get religion if it were brain-washed?

Would an otter tell a whopper, or the truth at any cost?


Can a beaver get Dengue fever sitting in his dam?

A spider in the Hadron collider – does the world go bang?

Would a dolphin and Alec Baldwin have screen chemistry?

Are some otters total tossers, or is that only me?


Can a jackal use block and tackle to raise up a wreck?

Does a donkey wear diamante to the discotheque?

Can a panther be a Morris dancer if he has no rhythm?

If an otter flies a helicopter, must I get in with him?