5 Questions for: Elisabeth Sennitt Clough

Paper Swans Press and Elisabeth Sennitt CloughElisabeth Sennitt Clough

Elisabeth’s poem, Silverfish was published in The Darker Side of Love and Mother’s Day Portrait was published in Schooldays. Her pamphlet, Glass, is available now.


Elisabeth Sennitt Clough was born in Ely and grew up in a village near Cambridge, but spent much of her adult life living and working abroad. She identifies two major influences on her work: her childhood in the Fens and the Fresno School, a group of poets that emerged under Philip Levine’s influence. She holds a Ph.D, MA and BA and is just completing her second MA (in Creative Writing: Poetry at MMU). Her work has been widely published in magazines and anthologies, and has been prized in several  competitions. She is a current Arvon/Jerwood mentee and hosts a local Stanza Group. Read more about her at www.elisabethsennittclough.co.uk



When did you first start writing poetry and why?

I began writing poetry on an Open University Creative Writing course (A215) with tutor Caron Freeborn. Then I took the follow-up course (A363) with the same tutor. I can say without hesitation that Caron is the reason I write poetry. For the longest time, I thought she was just being kind to me when she made positive comments about my poetry! I had very little belief in myself as a poet – to me poets were people who did not come from backgrounds like mine.


You are currently launching your first pamphlet, Glass. What next? Can you share any projects or aspirations with us?

My debut collection is forthcoming next year from Pindrop Press, with Sharon Black as editor.


If you had to save just one poetry book from your bookshelf, what would it be and why?

I would save Voyage of the Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis. I suspect people may be getting a little tired of me raving about this book, but I will say briefly that it is a ferociously intelligent engagement with issues of gender and race. The lengthy found poem sequence in the middle of the book is comprised of titles, catalogues and exhibit descriptions of objects in Western art that depict the black female form. Here, Coste Lewis confronts misogyny and race using the misogynists’ and racists’ own language.


I know you have been on poetry courses, for example, online at The Poetry School at with Arvon. How do you think poetry courses help an aspiring poet?

I am currently an Arvon/Jerwood mentee and the tutorials (with Mona Arshi) are proving unparalleled in terms of helping my development as a poet. Furthermore, the course I took to qualify for the mentorship (‘Weaving Texts: Exploring Patterns in Your Life and Writing’) with Pascale Petit and Ian Duhig is without doubt the reason that this pamphlet came about. Not only did the tutors provide practical help: workshops, tutorials etc, they actually gave me the confidence I needed to believe a book was possible.

I am big fan of The Poetry School courses and always try to take at least one per term. They too have helped my development in a myriad of ways. I know I am not alone in getting excited when the new catalogue is released! I love the way in which the tutors put together such individual courses, pushing poets in new directions. The tutors’ planning and level of commitment to the workshops and feedback makes these courses what they are, as does the commitment of fellow poets to attend live chats. I’ve made some wonderful new connections through The Poetry School.

I will just mention one other course that I’ve taken which also helped with the development of this pamphlet and that is Kim Moore’s Poetry Carousel. You can read my review of it here: https://kimmoorepoet.wordpress.com/2016/04/28/an-account-of-the-2015-poetry-carousel/.


And, finally, which poem of yours would you like to share with us?

I’m going to share ‘A Smallholding in the Fens.’ I was overwhelmed by Sue Burge’s comments about this poem in her review. Very recently, this poem was highly commended in the Sentinel Literary Quareterly Poetry Competition. Similar to Sue, competition judge Mandy Pannett comments on the ‘strong, vivid images. One of my favourites is the pike that was “so huge, it had to shunt back and forth/at the river’s mouth in order to turn.” Possibly the most memorable is the linnet that pecked its catcher’s hand “but it was the small heartbeat/he felt through the gourd of his palm,/that made him set it free.”’ Thank you Sue and Mandy for your kind words. From the outset I wanted to write from within (rather than about) the Fens and I hope I have accomplished that.



A Smallholding in the Fens


We began with myths and later included actual events

– Michael Ondaatje, Handwriting


There was an attempt at a pond,
but it was never lined
and the water didn’t want to be contained
by that black earth.

I don’t like to think of the fish,
their gills silvering the soil.


There was a drought one summer.
It made my mother thirsty.

Irrigation dried up most of the dykes,
but I still dreamt of wading birds.


Once my stepfather caught a linnet:
as his hand tightened around it,

it pecked at him,
but it was the small heartbeat

he felt through the gourd of his palm,
that made him set it free.


Our home was full of hooks:
for fish and for game.

When he was a boy, my stepfather saw a pike.
It was so huge, it had to shunt back and forth
at the river’s mouth in order to turn.

My mother hung birds in the kitchen,
sometimes their heads brushed hers
as she walked underneath.

There was an otter skin on the wall.
Its whisker holes were pink on the inside,
as if it had measles.


The boy we called The Milky Bar Kid
peed himself in the corner
after his dad punched his door.
His room smelt of particle board and vinegar.

Some nights his mum gave him cat-food for dinner.
He scraped the jelly off
and said it tasted just like Fray Bentos.


There are mini-twisters in the Fens.
They bustle along the headland,
chests puffed out like bossy toddlers.


Things about my eighth summer:
I cracked a toe-nail on the pavement.
I bent down to huff the tarmac
when it started to blister in the sun.
They used a hose on the soles of my feet,
when only sand-paper would’ve done.


Elisabeth Sennitt Clough

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