A Handful of Water

Here are a few comments about my latest poetry collection:

from Penelope Shuttle –

‘loving your book, loving the focus on place, and insight, and memory, it is shot through with light and weather.’


from Chris Waters –

‘just read your collection in a sitting (didn’t want to stop!) Beautiful, sharp, zingy, compressed and loaded poems – between the prisoners, the soldiers, the islands, the creatures and those inner and outer weathers – I have many favourites and will read them all again soon, but slower – as you would when anticipating a really good wine…’


from Mavis Gulliver, this poem that she wrote –

More than a Handful
on reading ‘A Handful of Water’

I took your book to the bath,
early morning indulgence of hot water,
time to ponder on a poem – or two.

I read and read
soaked up familiar words
Islay, Rathlin, otter, chough.

Flinched at the unfamiliar,
nervous footfalls in the Somme,
prison and cell shock.

I read and read,
didn’t notice until the end
that the water had grown cold.


And you can read Caroline Davies’ blog about it here.


Here’s a review from Abegail Morley –


A Handful of Water is Rebecca Gethin’s second collection, her first, River is the Plural of Rain came out from Oversteps Book in 2009. There are echoes of that book within this collection, but somehow they are deeper and resonate more and there is much beauty captured in its pages. In “Landfall in Co. Donegal: 1826” the narrator remembers the trees and plants he’d discovered on his travels:

“From time to time he fingered its smooth surface,

the knobbly cup; when no one was looking

sniffed it, recalled the texture of the trunk

its bulges and ridges, the fissures;

the gush of wind in the branches

spiralling down leaves…”

There is something quite peaceful and meditative about a number of the poems, as well as an artist’s eye for detail:

“… sheep pick their way on stick-thin legs

Between spiral-horned skulls of their own, wind

Tugging the roots of their fleece…” (Rathlin Island)`

In Disappearing a “low mist skulks where land frays into bog” and in ”St Raphael’s Huccaby” in winter “snowdrops/ blizzard the churchyard: after the thaw, they gutter out/ like embers of children…” and in “Stranding” the “…sea’s molecules don’t forget their own.” However, it is not all the natural world; Gethin explores the lives of soldiers and prisoners inhabiting their skin. In “Letter Home: 1917” the soldier tells of “the entrenching of the Conchies’ Path/ through the quagmire/ leading over open more/ to nowhere” and in “Refraction” the first line begins “Even before I knew him he was dead”. A Handful of Water ebbs and flows with ease and precision, and every so often ripples shudder up and down your spine.’


And here’s a handful of my poems from A Handful of Water:


But I keep some unanswered letters in a drawer.
Laid flat they look like windows into the homes
of my past. From here in the dark, I stare 
between the lines into the lit rooms
of their addresses. Until the words are warmed
by reading, the tones of their handwriting
stay quiet. She said It will be autumn
before I’ll have time to think of inviting
myself to stay. It took two days to arrive
with a second-class stamp. By then I’d heard
she’d died the night before. My father wrote the word
love several times, knowing he’d never survive
without it. I imagine him writing my name and address
licking the flap, pressing it firm with a kiss.

“Keepsakes” appeared in Poetry Salzburg Review, 2012



I walked through the woods today to see
bluebells in flower, before beech leaves mesh overhead.
I’d show you the coppery dimpsey and maybe
flush a glimpse of the deer as they pronk away
with barely a rustle. I’d present you
with armfuls of bluebells and ask if you agree
with my theory that we might not notice the deer
if they didn’t kick up their white rumps as they flee.
You’d have to know where to look so
I’d need to go with you. I’ve never been there
when you were telling me something
unexplained, or when listening to the bee-filled air.
You missed the bluebells and the deer again today
but then you’ve never made it here in May.

“Fleeting” sadly wasn’t published by anyone before but it’s a particular favourite of mine.


Not all the poems are sonnet-like:

No pretence – 1746

Our paying guest slept with a loaded pistol
beside his pillow – seldom spoke
but understood our Gaelic.

He wore a Highlander’s kilt: odd, those bare knees.
All day he watched from a headland,
wrapped in a plaid, gusts whipping his eyes.

We shared the little we had,
warmth of peat,dish of mackerel,
gulls’ eggs (but he shook his head at poteen).

Hands white as a dairymaid’s skin –
wore rings on his drawing room fingers
unroughened by farm work or hauling nets.

When a ketch took shelter
he was heard speaking some language
to crewmen who rowed ashore, fetching water.

When wind veered the ship sailed south
and, without a word, he was gone.
Soon after, Mother’s scrofulous neck healed.

She remembered how three times
he’d stretched his hand to stroke her shoulder.
She always said she’d been touched by a king.

*Do you need me to explain that the Battle of Culloden was in 1745 and that Bonny Prince Charlie had to flee to France? Rumour had it that he hid away in Co Donegal for a short while en route. Amazing story! “No pretence – 1746” appeared in The SHOp, 2011.


St Nectan’s Church, Hartland

In the anchorage of the church yard
ranks of gravestones, lit by yellow lichens,
list like boats beached at low tide,

pegged with invisible guys to the mast
of the tower that peers through swirling gulls
over the murderous rocks, into open sea.

River Schrӧdinger

Impossible to keep hold
of a handful of water
flowing downstream,
or to isolate its particles –
a wave of light,
a swirl of bubbles.
The river lies still
while the waters break apart,
merge together –
hydrogen and oxygen
molecules scattering
and gathering
in a welter of currents
that pour themselves away.
The river holds still –
impossible to distinguish
between what is
and what might have been.

“St Nectan’s Church, Hartland” and “River Schrӧdinger” appeared in The Reader, 2011.


Landfall in Co Donegal – 1826

He treasured what he brought back to his treeless Thoraigh
from the big island off the coast,
where their boat fetched up in the storm.

From time to time he fingered its smooth surface,
the knobbly cup; when no one was looking
sniffed it, recalled the texture of the trunk

its bulges and ridges, the fissures;
the gush of wind in the branches
spiralling down the leaves,

their dazzle of copper and gold,
how he’d scuffed them with his feet.
In his pocket, he sensed the potential of oak tree

taking root, feared to plant it because
he didn’t want his secrets growing through the leaves
scattered over the ground.

“Landfall in Co Donegal – 1826” appeared in Envoi, 2010.


Conscript  1916

He isn’t a soldier, this man
dressed in khaki, his ears attuned
to the resonant heart of the fiddle
balanced between wrist and  clavicle,
to the song in his bow held
between thumb and finger ends,

not to the 270 kilo howitzer shell,
or the unsewing machines,
neither the 118 kilo blackbird
nor the cooing of turtle doves,
and torpedoes he’s learned are too close
when they seem to flutter and rustle like larks,

nothing like the ones singing out across
No Man’s Land when the artillery ceases.

“Conscript  1916” appeared in Other Poetry, 2011.


My poems have appeared in Smith’s Knoll, Orbis, The SHOp,  Artemis, Envoi, Interpreter’s House, Stand, The Reader, Acumen, and IMpress.

Other poems have been published in anthologies: Confluence, poetry from the Two Rivers Group, Hidden Histories, Moor Poets vol 1 and 2, The Sand-Hopper Lover and a sequence of poems called Bestiary was selected for inclusion in Cinnamon Press’ Kaleidoscope. 

1 Response to A Handful of Water

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