Shuttle, Penelope (Diane)

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SHUTTLE, Penelope (Diane)

Nationality: British. Born: Staines, Middlesex, 12 May 1947. Education: Staines Grammar School, 1952–59; Matthew Arnold County Secondary School, 1959–65. Family: Married Peter Redgrove, q.v., in 1980; one daughter. Career: Part-time shorthand typist, 1965–69. Judge for numerous awards and competitions. Awards: Arts Council grant, 1969, 1972, 1985; Greenwood poetry prize, 1972; Eric Gregory award, 1974. Lives in Falmouth, Cornwall. Agent: David Higham Associates Ltd., 5–8 Lower John Street, London WlR 4HA, England.



Nostalgia Neurosis. Aylesford, Kent, St. Albert's Press, 1968.

Branch. Rushden, Northamptonshire, Sceptre Press, 1971.

Midwinter Mandala. New Malden, Surrey, Headland, 1973.

The Hermaphrodite Album, with Peter Redgrove. London, FullerD'Arch Smith, 1973.

Moon Meal. Rushden, Northamptonshire, Sceptre Press, 1973.

Autumn Piano and Other Poems. Liverpool, Rondo, 1974.

Photographs of Persephone. Feltham, Middlesex, Quarto Press, 1974.

The Songbook of the Snow and Other Poems. Ilkley, Yorkshire, Janus Press, 1974.

The Dream. Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press, 1975.

Webs on Fire. London, Gallery Press, 1975.

Period. London, Words, 1976.

Four American Sketches. Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press, 1976.

The Orchard Upstairs. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1980; New York, Oxford University Press, 1981.

The Child-Stealer. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1983.

The Lion from Rio. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1986.

Adventures with My Horse. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1988.

Taxing the Rain. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1994.

Selected Poems, 1980–1996. Oxford, Oxford University Press, n.d. A Leaf out of His Book. Oxford, Carcanet/Oxford Poets, 1999.


Radio Plays: The Girl Who Lost Her Glove, 1975; The Dauntless Girl, 1978.


An Excusable Vengeance, in New Writers 6. London, Calder and Boyars, 1967.

All the Usual Hours of Sleeping. London, Calder and Boyars, 1969.

Wailing Monkey Embracing a Tree. London, Calder and Boyars, 1974.

The Terrors of Dr. Treviles, with Peter Redgrove. London, Routledge, 1974.

The Glass Cottage: A Nautical Romance, with Peter Redgrove. London, Routledge, 1976.

Jesusa. Falmouth, Cornwall, Granite Press, 1976.

Rainsplitter in the Zodiac Garden. London, Boyars, 1977; Nantucket, Massachusetts, Longship Press, 1978.

The Mirror of the Giant. London, Boyars, 1980.

Short Story

Prognostica. Knotting, Bedfordshire, Martin Booth, 1980.


The Wise Wound: Menstruation and Everywoman, with Peter Redgrove. London, Gollancz, 1978; as The Wise Wound: Eve's Curse and Everywoman, New York, Marek, 1979; revised edition, London, Grafton, 1986.

Alchemy for Women: Personal Transformation through Dreams and the Female Cycle, with Peter Redgrove. N.p., Rider Books, 1995.


Critical Study: "Peter Redgrove and Penelope Shuttle: The Joys and Perils of Collaboration" by Erika Duncan, in Book Forum (Niantic, Connecticut), 7 (4), 1986.

Penelope Shuttle comments:

When I was about eight or nine, I'd walk home from school along two tree-lined roads, Rookery Road and Acacia Avenue. I liked to choose a leaf that looked and felt special to me, and place it, as an offering or decoration or comment, at the root of another tree.

Writing poetry, I'm participating in the natural environment of the imagination.

But why his Book?

Women poets are now relishing and exploring the paradox inherent in a male muse. Recently Carol Rumens said: "Some of my muses are male, some are female. It doesn't seem to me to be a very radical or schizophrenic thing to play it both ways, because I think every human being combines different elements of their gender and also perhaps the other gender."

The Muse changes sex, the Muse is all ages.

In 1986, realizing that I was fully and passionately engaged maternally with my daughter, I made the decision to have no more children. A few months later I experienced a series of rich yet disturbing dreams featuring a young boy of about eight or nine, the same age at which I'd offered leaves to trees. He was my unconceived son, and the dreams announced a bereavement for that unmade life. But all those energies, physical and spiritual, that go into pregnancy, birth and child rearing, concentrated themselves into poetry. My unborn son became one of my muses, an unspoilt male spirit, not yet a grown man with all a man's troubled focus.

Also, the Book is Cornwall. I've lived here since 1970 and to my mind it is a masculine country. Despite the tourist layer wrapped around the region like a Cornish pastry crust, Cornwall has very high unemployment levels, and life can be as hard here for many people as the granite underfoot. Various poems here consider Cornwall, its history, its present, its alternative future.

His Book is also the book of nature. The poem sequence Verdant is about the carvings of pagan green men that you find in many churches. Their foliate faces remind us of vitalities and knowledge previous to Christian culture.

The title poem is for my companion Peter Redgrove. It evokes the inner and outer landscapes we've shared during our many years together, taking leaves out of one another's books. See my long stepped poem "Geologies" with its connection to Peter's early poem "Minerals of Cornwall, Stones of Cornwall" and how in his poem "Abattoir Bride" he says, "And there is a leaf-marriage too …"

*  *  *

Although Penelope Shuttle is the author of some extraordinary novels, she is by nature a poet. For a long time her gift manifested itself surrealistically in works of intense emotional oppression. Like her coauthor and husband, Peter Redgrove, Shuttle dared when she was very young to open her imagination to the teachings of the unconscious. In all her writings she remains passionately committed primarily to exploring hidden regions of the woman's psyche in a dream imagery wholly her own.

Shuttle's early, disturbing writing can now be seen in relation to her mature development. The collections of poetry that appeared after 1980 are remarkable achievements both in matter and style. In The Orchard Upstairs the prevalent symbols are directly related to the poet's sensual experience of pregnancy and childbearing. These delicate poems tell the truth "but tell it slant." This is especially the case in the title poem, which sets up a dichotomy between outside and inside, destruction and creation, male and female, while all the time recognizing their vital interconnectedness:

Outside, the wind and the rain,
a darkness lurching against the threadbare house:
inside, the orchard upstairs …

The orchard, the womb, the bearer of "fruits," sacrifices itself in the act of giving birth to the child. In so doing the woman suffers not only physically but also through loss of innocence and, indeed, loss of her pregnant self:

A small speck or stain
on my heart.
It is my sadness for the lost room,
the pillaged house.

The loss finds compensation in the gain of a child, the daughter whose presence haunts the poems of The Child-Stealer. Here childbearing is still the theme, but it alternates with a second theme, that of childhood, both the poet's own and her daughter's. The child stealer is the witch of menstruation who carries away the unborn, the figure of Lilith in a myth of life and death in which death is not evil but a necessary, wise opposite. Childhood is understood in a Blakean light, but Shuttle's taut language intercepts sentimentality:

In the boundless afternoon
the children are walking
with their gentle grammar on their lips
from door to door
the little ones go, brightly tranquil,
repenting nothing.
How safe their journey,
their placid marching,
famous and simple voyage.

The reader is persuaded that these impossible children, these stolen ones who will never be, are indeed in the poet's imagination real enough to undertake the crusade they are seen to embody. It is as if by writing the poem Shuttle had created children in her mind that she could not create in her body.

The Lion from Rio pursues the theme of wife, mother, husband, and child in poems more explicitly sexual, in some cases charmingly anecdotal. At her best, however, Shuttle is a symbolist of female experience. Her mental landscape peacefully assimilates house, garden, and "flaxen river," through which cavort her emblems of physical energy: horse, snake (occasionally hedgehog), and the lion of life itself.

The poem "Horse of the Month" suggests that the title of Shuttle's fourth collection, Adventures with My Horse, will center on the theme of menstruation. The collection is actually full of animals, real and symbolic, described with wit and a refreshing zest for language. Like Redgrove, Shuttle subscribes to some innocent romantic inversions, so that serpent and pregnant sow are saviors in an Eden presided over by Selena the moon rather than the sun god Apollo. That there is scarcely room for evil in this imaginary womb-enclosed world is something to be pondered. But Shuttle triumphs in poems like "Dressing the Child," in which a river becomes the knitted sleeve of a continuously reborn and conscientiously mothered child-earth:

Wide spindling river,
out-of-fashion green and cream
woollen river cast on huge brown needles,
bare tree-trunks garter-stitching
the currents, purling the banks,
armholing the bridges, casting-off barges.
The winter river is a long coarse sleeve
of flecked and brindled wool
into which I shove your thundery arm, the cuff
of ribbed bushes scratchy-tight on your wrist.

—Anne Stevenson