“Between 1787 and 1850 over 160,000 convicts were sent from Britain to penal colonies in Australia. First Fleet tells the story of the first eleven ships that sailed from Portsmouth on a 15,000-mile voyage to establish the first British penal settlement at Sydney Cove. Drawing on the surviving journals of some of the men and women on board the prison convoy, these poems inhabit the imaginary voices of convicts, crew, marines and Aboriginal people to give intimate voice – lyrical, poignant and unsentimental – to the poverty they left behind and the terrible ‘starvation years’ they faced when they reached Australia. This is a book about history and landscape, imprisonment and, environment.” Andy Croft, Smokestack Books
Jane Fitzgerald receives twenty-five lashes for disobedience, March 1789.
I only talked with William. We like to talk with each other;
our corner in the shade. But Bloodworth the brick-master,
the henhouse sneak, has folk flogged now, easy as a major.
William went to plead but mister Tench said
I have written the sentence down. William said,
count every second stroke Jane.
I couldn’t count after five. I pressed my face
into the tree like it was my mother’s skirts,
Bloodworth shouting dammed bitch from the crowd.
I saw my daughters in Bristol.
The girls taller, waist-high to their father at the gate
their faces clean, hair shining, their mouths shut bravely tight.
When it stops my eldest holds my hand. We walk to my hut.
Women are separate from the men now.
We have our own fires and places.
But William, he nurses me.
His narrow fingers, soft as water make me sleep.
I dread the flies that’s all – footsteps along my wounds,
the shiver of their eggs.
William is no soldier. His uniform hangs off his shoulders,
he is young, taunted and ordered by all others.
But he brings me the healing leaves,
sets down his musket, reaches for me.
I will sew his torn sleeves.
‘Most poets don’t have a story to tell. But Michael Crowley does.’ The High Window
‘Crowley has the skill of a novelist, but a poet’s ability to concentrate on what matters.‘ Poetry Salzburg Review
‘…a journey in the hands of a skillful captain.’ London Grip
‘…his ability to bring images to life is unerring.’ Mistress Quickly’s Bed
‘Unashamedly didactic. Highly recommended.’ The Recusant
Time Signature (from First Fleet)
Last time you were here, home that is,
there was a heartbeat. Early days
but already, there was a heartbeat.
We felt its pulse in our sleep –
your mother first, then passed
onto me, each of us picking up its refrain
softening in the heat of darkness,
playing on the roof tiles under the rain.
It walked with the birds at dawn
and the sky moved across it,
drawing light out on its count.
Louder still after you boarded the plane,
leaving us with the weekly arithmetic.
Three seasons later Rosa’s fingers reach
from a photo frame. I lean in to the new-born
smell, to the film over her eyes,
get the cases down from the loft.
We’re looking at clothes, maps, real estate.
Outside cloud shadows cast across fields,
where you live smoke rolls itself towards the ocean.
Here England crumbles at the edges,
twelve hours behind and counting.
First Fleet available from Smokestack Books and Amazon
Close to Home
It was an overspill, tipped into fields
after the War. We played in woods,
held chalk-white warm eggs, frogspawn and newts
caught in the tracks left by the diggers.
We lived in white semis and grew detached
between the one-way system and the end of the line.
Some of us knew the names of trees,
some all the stops to Euston.
Nobody knew the fields better than me –
the hour and a half of copse and grass,
the dell deep enough to abseil down,
bright red lines on my palms from the washing line.
Coaches came to take our parents to work
along asphalt like liquorice.
We spoke of where our families came from,
we made our voices belong.
My mother spoke about going home.
Still, there were always the fields, always a song,
I was the first to sing when the weather was high
there were Germans to fight, places to hide
and her, standing at the edge of the path
calling me in before the other boys.
There was no adventure for the Famous One.
We moved on. It became itself after we’d gone.