Thursday 17 November 2022

Four Poems by Peter J Donnelly


Margot Asquith


Daughter of a baronet,

wife of a prime minister,

mother of a princess and 

a film director. The source

of her husband's success

and possibly his downfall.

Who wouldn't want her

in their family tree?


She's the reason I have a B grade

in A level politics, which I'd never

have studied otherwise, 

nor joined the Lib Dems.

Her books line my shelves -

Places and Persons, Off the Record,

Octavia. At sixteen I devoured them,

believed her to be my great-grandma's

grandma's cousin. Perhaps she was.

I imagine likenesses, think I can hear

one of us saying the things she said.

She tells enough white lies

to ice a wedding cake - maybe;

The t is silent as in Harlow, less so.


Her own grandma's portrait is on my wall

in a montage with the other family photos.

Robina Arrol - her picture like the cover

of an Austen novel, yet she lived

with a manufacturer 'by habit and repute'.

Beatrix Potter

By the time I got to Hill Top Cottage

I was both too old and too young

to care that it was fifty years

since its mistress left it to the National Trust.

I wouldn’t have known had I not been told

that the view from her library window

was the one Tom Kitten could see

from the chimney in The Tale of Samuel Whiskers.

I’d have been jealous had I known

that at my age her education was over,

that she had never been sent to school.

By then I no longer wanted

to write books like hers, knew I could never

illustrate them if I did. I still pitied

Aunt Ribby, tricked by Duchess the dog,

Jemima Puddle-duck nearly lured to her death

by the fox-tailed gentleman.

She was saved, though her eggs were not.

Even Tom Kitten, put in a roly-poly pudding

by rats, though it served him right

for teasing the ducks, ruining

Tabitha Twitchit’s tea party.

Ginger and Pickles were far too trusting,

but I was still fascinated by village shops,

perhaps had ideas of owning one some day

like I had ideas of my own Hill Top Cottage,

just not in Near Sawrey, too far from the railway. 




Mary Ann Evans

Not just a woman but one living in sin,

today she's still known by her pseudonym,


while many couldn't tell you who Currer Bell 

was. Romola, though least read,


coloured her writing. Never again

would her heroines have names


like Eppie, or Maggie or Hettie.

No more would anyone say 'nor' for than,


'as' meaning that; only once

would a character say 'allays'


not always. Even Loamshire

is absent from her final work.


My Fourth Visit


We didn't stay long in Exmouth.

The waves made national news that day,

the only time I've been to Devon in winter.

It didn't resemble the place

where I'd had my interview at Rolle College

the last time I stayed with you,

or where I had lunch at a Chinese restaurant

with the family after we'd looked round A La Ronde.

I must have gone twice that holiday, 

my paperbacks by Margot Asquith

definitely came from there, and perhaps

David Cecil's Early Victorian Novelists

with a chunk of pages on Mrs Gaskell missing.

The birthplace of my mother,

now it's somewhere I go with her and Dad

after funerals - first your mother's,

then your husband's. I hope next time

won't be after yours.

Peter J Donnelly lives in York where he works as a hospital secretary. He has degrees in English Literature and Creative Writing from Lampeter University. His poems have been published in various magazines and anthologies including Dreich,  High Window,  One Hand Clapping and Southlight.  He won second prize in the Ripon Poetry Festival competition in 2021 and was a joint runner up in the Buzzwords open poetry competition in 2020.





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