Book Club: Poems about a play of light and shadows - and glimpses of ‘full sun’

Partial ShadePartial Shade
Partial Shade
Acclaimed Sheffield poet John Birtwhistle launches his book Partial Shade: Poems New And Selected (published by Manchester's Carcanet Press) at the Broomhill Oxfam Shop at noon on Saturday July 1, when he will read a few poems and sign copies with all profits to Oxfam.

As he says, 'Broomhill Oxfam is a hub of the community and its shelves are a significant book exchange in which donors in effect recommend reading to each other. I have often read there, and enjoy the unpredictable audience.'

'Partial Shade' is the common gardening term for plants that in fact need a measure of sunshine. In John Birtwhistle's poems, there is a continual play of light and shadow – and even glimpses of 'full sun'.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

This selection from his own work does not follow chronology. It is an entirely fresh ordering, in which poems converse and argue with each other across the years. Lines about politics, parenting, mortality, art (and love, 'that bookish theme') are plaited together, intimate yet distinct. It makes available poems from out-of-print collections, as well as substantial new poems. The rhythm varies from lyric and narrative poems to 'haiku-like miniatures: agile, mobile and eventful' (Hugh Haughton). As the poet Michael Glover says 'John Birtwhistle is a marvellously versatile intellectual gadfly of a poet. No sooner do we think that we know his manner, his theme, than he is off elsewhere, teasing, amusing, throwing out possibilities like sweets strewn along a woodland path,' whilst Imtiaz Dharker finds them 'rich in scope and style, with surprising shifts and echoes'.

John BirtwhistleJohn Birtwhistle
John Birtwhistle

John Birtwhistle was born in Scunthorpe in 1946. His poetry has been recognized by many awards including a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. He has had three concert libretti set and performed: David Blake’s The Plumber’s Gift was staged by English National Opera and broadcast on Radio 3. For twelve years, he was a Lecturer in English at the University of York. Birtwhistle is married to a Consultant Anaesthetist and since 1992 he has lived in Sheffield with his family.


Demolished, a rubble

hill of bricks

already colonised

by ash, bramble,

birch, coltsfoot,

it is in our lifetime

that the Works

flourished and died.

On its concrete floor,

outline ghosts

of machine footings

are stencilled

in black oil. Bald

groundsel roots

in a crack with steel

shavings that oncecurled from a lathe.

Hardest to wreck,a lift shaft is

left standing,

stripped of its floors

like the square tower

of a hill town

in Italy, sprayed

with graffiti tags,

all that is made here

now being art.

The chainwire fence,


with butterfly-bush

sans butterflies,

lets to an abandonedsteel yard

where, racked

on railway sleepers

distinct gauges

of rods and plates

lie coded in

their dabs of paint.

There is no

hammering, no

drilling, timing,

lifting noise.

Nor are machines

the only ghosts.

Sagging raftersof a factory

like the ribs ofa rotten ship fly



On its façade

can still be read




where the Dutch florist

sets out tablets

of colour like a strict field

planted by Mondrian,

a Burmese woman

stands entranced at

blue waterlily heads,

one to a flask in

martial array:

“I can taste it

now. Mother

used to send us

in a rowing boat

to gather lily

roots from the lake.

I am leaning

over the side,

plunging through

flowers to grasp

the ever so sweet

slippery stuff.

We’d chew it before

it ever got

to the kitchen fire.”

Floating like lilies,

my sister and me.

[if you need a space filler, then some of the below!]

In-person Launch Event for Partial Shade by John Birtwhistle

Saturday 1 July, 12 noon, Broomhill Oxfam Shop.

Online Launch Event for Partial Shade by John Birtwhistle

Wednesday 28 June. Register in advance here:

Independent Bookshop Week – Save the Date!

June 17th-24th is Independent Bookshop Week. is a celebration of independent bookshops in the UK highlighting the vital role independent bookshops play in their communities. Why not visit Sheffield's independent bookshops Rhyme and Reason, Juno Books and La Biblioteka this week and see what their wonderful booksellers recommend for you?

Why shop indie?

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Independent bookshops are staffed with book experts who are wildly passionate about reading and getting the right book into the right hands. Independent bookshops bring vitality to our high streets, work with local communities and champion reading for pleasure. Independent bookshops have real passion, real people and real conversations. Independent bookshops offer proper browsing, perfect gifts and they pay their taxes!

How can I celebrate Independent Bookshop Week?

Find your local indie

Shop with them between Saturday 17th - Saturday 24th June 2023.

Share your book purchases on social media, tagging the bookshop, the publisher or author, and @booksaremybag and #IndieBookshopWeek

Related topics: