Signpost Ten, ‘Extremophile’ by Sheenagh Pugh


This stunning poem will give you strength.

It was only a matter of time before I fell in love with one of Sheenagh Pugh’s poems. To quote from the back of Sheenagh’s recent collection, ‘Short Days, Long Shadows’ (Seren Books, 2014 – see details below):

“Sheenagh Pugh is a poet, novelist, translator, critic, reviewer and considerable online presence through her popular blog. She has won many prizes including the Forward Prize for best single poem, the Bridport Prize, the PHRAS prize, the Cardiff International Poetry Prize (twice) and the British Comparative Literature Association’s Translations Prize.”

She is also a very helpful person and thoroughly good egg,  willing to help people like you and me learn more about poetry. She has agreed to let me reproduce ‘Extremophile’ for you here:



Two miles below the light, bacteria
live without sun, thrive on sulphur
in a cave of radioactive rock,
and, blind in the night of the ocean floor,
molluscs that feed only on wood
wait for wrecks. White tubeworms heap
in snowdrifts around hydrothermal vents,
at home in scalding heat. Lichens encroach
on Antarctic valleys where no rain
ever fell. There is nowhere
life cannot take hold, nowhere so salt,
so cold, so acid, but some chancer
will be there, flourishing on bare stone,
getting by, gleaning a sparse living
from marine snow, scavenging
light from translucent quartz, as if
lack and hardship could do nothing
but quicken it, this urge
to cling on in the cracks
of the world, or as if this world
itself, so various, so not to be spared
as it is, were the impetus
never to leave it.





An extremophile is ‘a micro-organism that is capable of living in hostile conditions or an extreme environment’ (Chambers Dictionary, 13th edition). What I love about this word is that it is new to me and, before I looked it up and found out that it was a ‘real’ word, I thought it was a made-up, poet’s word, based on the idea of someone who likes extreme activities, like ‘extreme sports’ and this set me thinking about having a lust for life – cue Iggy Pop. Yes, to me this poem is rock and roll!

How exciting, how interesting, how inspiring that life can “live without sun, thrive on sulphur”! How life-affirming is it that “There is nowhere life cannot take hold… flourishing on bare stone”?  And don’t you just love “some chancer”? It makes you smile. It made me think of an art student who put a price tag of £2000.00 beneath one of his paintings at the end of term show and someone bought it! Reading this poem makes you think, “Yes, I will have ago! Yes it is worth a try!”

Look at the settings for the images of the poem: radioactive rock, the ocean floor, hydrothermal vents, Antarctic valleys. All these places are other-worldly, exotic, alien to us and yet real; another clue about life and its endless possibilities.

The end of the poem is breathtaking. The idea that the world itself is “the impetus never to leave it” is so profound and uplifting.

This poem is the first in Sheenagh Pugh’s most recent collection, ‘Short Days, Long Shadows’, published by Seren Books. Here’s a link to the publisher’s website with details of the wonderful book:



short 2

Click on this link for Sheenagh’s blog, on which she features some of her poems. Enjoy!



So for writing our own poems?

You could start by hunting out interesting landscapes, unusual places, strange habitats and see where that leads you. There are several outcrops of rocks around my town. They’ve already given me inspiration for one poem, but I think I’ll look closer and see what else springs to mind. I’ve just remembered there’s a yew tree in the park, which you can smuggle yourself inside and that’s definitely worth a closer look.

You could start with a science book. Find something notable or interesting and ponder on it for parallels in life. Think about it as you fall asleep and you may wake up with a poem idea!

Please note in the comments if this has inspired you to write a poem. No need to post your poem (unless you wish to).


A big thank you to Sheenagh Pugh for allowing me to reproduce her poem here.

The featured image is a free download from




Signpost Nine, ‘Shore Leave’, by Kate Garrett


The sky is grey this morning. The air seems to lie heavy on my chest. I am in pain. I have Lupus, an autoimmune disease, so the pain’s nothing new, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Neither is it easy to be cheerful, as I drive my daughter to school through rush-hour traffic, trying not to care whose turn it should be to let people out and that I can’t stop for children trying to cross the road because the arsehole in the black BMW behind is far too close up my backside. Well, my car’s backside.

So here I am, in my dingy living room, with a cup of tea, a blank Word document and Kate Garrett’s pamphlet, ‘Deadly Delicate’. Does the pamphlet help?

Yes it absoflippinlutely does!
Pirates! Misunderstood, doing the best they can, swashing their buckles  (or buckling their swashes, even), hiding their hair, drawing blood – theirs or others’ – but only because they have to. And it’s not cartoon silliness, it’s real. These are poems that could easily have been told by the historical characters who speak to you from the pages of this powerpack pamphlet.

My favourite poem is ‘Shore Leave’. I have Kate’s permission to reproduce it for you here (I think it’s rather appropriate that it’s come out a little bit swimmy):


The beautiful rhythm and imagery of the first line put you on the quayside, looking down at the ocean. You almost have vertigo, looking in to the water, which is moving, “drunken[ly]” with the “tide spit[ting] foam at your feet”. Then you feel the shore shift as you stand still. Anyone who’s stood on a beach knows this feeling of not knowing whether it’s you, the shore or the sea that is moving. You are dizzy and dropping and swirling and shifting and I make no skull and crossbones about saying isn’t life like that? Especially as you “look to the ground, the horizon.” But it’s ok; “Keep moving”, we’re told, for “better pleasures lie ahead”. There are taverns! Rum, fun, rest from the sea’s constant tides and the harsh life aboard ship. Once your “crooked sails” are “straightened” you can “climb back on board under the stars; look up” and then “slow the movement of the earth to a slumber.” I’ll say that again, slowly; “slow the movement of the earth to a slumber.” There, that’s better.

This looks like such a simple little poem, but it is skilfully crafted: full of movement and – if we want to see it – a way of coping with life and its relentless tides.

I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Kate read her poems and it’s just as true listening to them as reading them: there is no pretension; no “look at me” – not even any “poor me”, simply a truthful, matter of fact way of looking at the world, which is somehow filled with magic.


You have a choice of where to buy Kate’s pamphlet. For details, you need only click on this link:–deadly-delicate.html

A final note on writing your own poems. How about looking at historical characters who interest or intrigue you? Pirates, witches, Roman centurions, Christians thrown to the lions, lions having Christians thrown to them…. Think about what their lives may have been like. If you don’t find inspiration there, then that’s another hat I’m going to have to eat.