The submerged land of Lyonesse was once part of Cornwall, according to myth and the oral tradition, standing for a lost paradise in Arthurian legend, but now an emblem of human frailty in the face of climate change. And there was indeed a Bronze Age inundation event which swept the entire west of Cornwall under the sea, with only the Isles of Scilly and St Michael’s Mount left as remnants above sea-level. Lyonesse was also Thomas Hardy’s name for Cornwall where Penelope Shuttle has lived all her adult life, always fascinated by the stories and symbolic presence of Lyonesse.
After seeing the Isles of Scilly from a small plane at a low altitude – flying over the Wolf Lighthouse – and then visiting the recent Sunken Cities exhibition at the British Museum, imagination and memory played their part in joining the Lyonesse dots together for her, prompting what she calls ‘a spontaneous inundation of approaches to the theme, images, soundings of Lyonesse’. As she writes in a preface to this book: ‘The universality of loss, both of physical cities and of the human experience erased from the record, enhanced the resource of Lyonesse in my writing. Lyonesse is a place of paradox. It is real, had historical existence. It is also an imaginary region for exploring depths. It holds grief for many kinds of loss… The poems seek re-wilding of a city where human loss interconnects with mythic loss; myth is rooted in the real.’
The second part of this book – New Lamps for Old – is a collection of poems she needed to write in coming up for air from the watery depths of Lyonesse, to find ways to begin again, to find meaning in life after bereavement. The ‘old lamps’ of a former life have been extinguished, leaving darkness. Her challenge was to find ‘new lamps’ to illuminate and give meaning to life. Lyonesse is a fluid magical world. The poems of New Lamps for Old are concerned with earth, air and fire. Both collections share allegiance with the fifth element, the spirit.
‘Penelope Shuttle’s wonderful 13th collection is two books in one. The first half of Lyonesse maps a mythical, submerged stretch of land between Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, where lions and ballgowns jostle for attention with sunken gods and pre-Raphaelite artist and muse Lizzie Siddal. Shuttle uses this terrain to explore loss, both personal and environmental. The second half, “New Lamps for Old”, focuses more directly on life after bereavement and its shifting sensations… Throughout Shuttle’s language has a vivid, smile-raising immediacy: “venture towards the happiness wherever daylight invites us”.’ – Rishi Dastidar, The Guardian, Best Recent Poetry, August 2021
‘... a singular, arresting and moving book... two collections in one, hinged by a theme of loss. Lyonesse is Cornwall’s mythical kingdom – its Paradise Lost... It is this kingdom that has fired – watered – Shuttle’s imagination and produced an extraordinary flow of work... Shuttle’s Lyonesse is fresh, clear and convincing. It gives grief geography, an address. I believe in its direct dispatches from a submerged front line.’ – Kate Kellaway, The Observer, Poetry Book of the Month for July 2021
‘The first section of the book, in a breathtaking showcase of skill and imagination, animates the mythical land of Lyonesse, which in legend once sat at the southwestern tip of Cornwall. Symbolism, the surreal, spiritual motifs, and more, shift and swirl together, as fluid and full of changeability as the “shape-shift silvers” of wave and sea that we delve beneath to encounter this once-was place. In the second part of the book… Shuttle paints a picture of life without a beloved, bringing details to the fore in order to tell – and touch – the reader. Fluid, thoughtful, and full of imagination, this is quite simply a must-read.’ – Mab Jones, Buzz Magazine
‘These [‘New Lamps for Old’] are measured poems about grief and loss – “imagine living without sorrow / I’d forgotten life used to be like that” – that complement the fabulous poems about lost Lyonesse. Penelope Shuttle gives us a collection packed with Cornish myth and magic, overlaid with environmental warning, and a deeper sense of yearning for what has gone.’ – Greg Freeman, Write Out Loud
'... Shuttle turns the lost land of Lyonesse into our collective sub-conscious, a place which holds grief for many kinds of loss, and an emblem of human frailty in the face of climate change... Much of the writing in this fine collection is beautifully turned and deeply moving' - Hilary Menos, The Friday Poem
Penelope Shuttle reads 'Missing You'
Penelope Shuttle reads her long elegiac poem 'Missing You' from Unsent. This film is from the DVD-book In Person: 30 Poets, filmed by Pamela Robertson-Pearce, edited by Neil Astley.
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