Signpost Four: ‘Formby Sands’, Angela Topping

(If you haven’t read the ‘About’ section, I’ll just point out here that I am learning to write poetry. This blog is not a review and I am not a teacher, but simply keeping a record of poems that have inspired me to have a go at writing my own poems.)



It was getting on for two weeks since I’d written anything and I feared that I would never be able to write a poem again. A myriad prompts left my mind blank. Then I came across ‘Formby Sands’ in Angela Topping’s collection, The Five Petals of Elderflower. It’s published by Red Squirrel Press and only became available in November 2016. (Angela has her own blog and you can read all about her here:

Angela has given me permission to reproduce the poem on my blog, so here you are, you lucky reader:


Formby Sands

This beach is not for sunbathing,
not at this time of year.
Inland, birds may sing
and hawthorn’s pink tips
froth in the woods, but here

wind makes new partings
in my hair, blows shell-grit
ground by sea-roiling
into my mouth and eyes.
The dunes have swallowed you.

I wade through shifting sand
which sucks and ripples
as I try to follow.
Words are ripped from my mouth.
Where are you? I flounder

think I’ll never find you again
scale sand hills close to crying,
not that anyone would hear me
in this banshee place
of screaming gusts and gulls.

When we find each other
between dips and rises, your calling
and mine, things we dare not say
rise like distant waves,
glitter in cold spring light.



‘Formby Sands’ begins with the stark phrase, “This beach is not for sunbathing”. Wow; that really grips you by the throat! You immediately wonder what the beach is for. The poem continues with a contrast of the safe “pink” “froth[y]” world inland, then the poem continues with disconcerting images and language, for example “sea-roiling”, “swallowed you”, “shifting”, “sucks”, “ripped”, “flounder”. The images are all appropriate to a seaside scene, so you never get lost or distracted with mixed metaphors. I know this is important because I have recently managed to conjure up an image of an elastic band squeezing an hourglass entirely by mistake and therefore unwittingly written surreal nonsense, instead of my intended serene sonnet. Hmmm.

By the way, just look at those line breaks across stanzas; where the mid-sentence pauses add to the dramatic tension!

The “banshee place” seems very real to me. I could imagine someone struggling for words to describe a frightening scene and saying, ‘that banshee place’ with complete sincerity. Oh the relief when we read, “When we find each other” ! But, then there are “things we dare not say” and these words “glitter”. The unsaid words take on a magical quality. For me, it conjured a break-up of a relationship: two people losing each other and being afraid to admit it.

I was inspired by this poem to write about a very frightening childhood experience, when a dream turned in to a nightmare, much as a lovely sunbathing beach became a place of fear in ‘Formby Sands’.

I have to say, I recommend this whole collection. It is vast in its scope, spanning a whole lifetime’s experience. For a new poet, it is almost a textbook itself, in that it will suggest inspiration to you from nature, from relationships, and from sensual experiences, including eating fish and chips and falling in love with a fish. I wrote that this isn’t a review and it’s not, it’s a recommendation. Five Petals of Elderflower is available from or from Angela Topping herself.

P.S. I was dying to know what actually inspired the poet to write ‘Formby Sands’, so I asked Angela Topping and she replied (she’s very obliging) that the poem sprang from a real incident of being lost in sand dunes. It wasn’t inspired by the break-up of a relationship, but I was sufficiently moved by the poem to feel that deeply about it. We don’t have sand dunes where I live and the sand pit in the park simply won’t cut it, so I think I might take myself to the wildest woods I can find this afternoon and imagine being lost in them; see if I can find a poem lurking behind a tree! [Grabs coat and wellies…