Philip Larkin was not just a poet. He was also a librarian, as is Barbara Blake, who won the RE: Writing Prize in 2018. We are pleased to publish her poems Hurricane and Spirit






Kevin in '94, 

when he broke my heart 

and left the roof caved-in.


Carol the year before, 

the only person I've ever hit, 

outside of family,

and further back Elaine

the girl at school who smelt of wee. 

She left that school so damaged.

They retire the names of hurricanes 

that prove too costly, 

retire them from

the six lists of names 

that rotate 

throughout our lives.

Now I couldn’t call a puppy Kev 

and watch him wash, 

or breed a rose

and name it Carol 

or have a daughter 

called Elaine.

Names marinade in their people 

absorbing juice 

until some taste funny.

People wipe their feet 

on their names 

until some no longer read Welcome.

And then there's Jennifer

always Mum

never Jennifer.

Did she retire herself 

when she had me, 

retire the whirlwind part?

Or would it be too small, 

too disrespectful, 

to ignore her title of office,

her robe of state with its simple trim – 

Mum – not ermine, 

but soft as fur?

Never Jennifer

I couldn’t bear 

to level our home.








You don’t expect to feel maternal 

towards NASA’s Mars Mission rovers. 

I certainly wouldn’t dare to name 

my children Curiosity, Opportunity, Spirit.


But the rovers have heads with camera eyes, 

on top of spindly masts rising up 

from beds of solar arrays stretched out 

like shoulders—a dinosaur’s ancient frill 

and the landing deck of a Star Wars toy, 

plotted with squares, a schematic of the Studio Lot 

at MGM, factory of the stars.

And they have six wheels for legs 

and robotic arms that reach out to test the surface!


And here’s Opportunity trundling over the craters 

as indomitably as a toddler who points 

then runs towards a tree. 

And here’s the pictures being beamed 

from Curiosity’s Pancam 

of a planet more orange than red— 

cinnamon, caramel, gingerbread— 

pictures that show the rover's tracks 

like doodles in an exercise book 

or the petulant crop circles of a kid strung out 

on too much Sunny Delight.


And here’s Spirit 

busily collecting samples on her own, 

as self-absorbed and self-contained

 as a child on a beach, 

making a society of a rock pool, 

telling Mr Starfish he must be home in time for tea.


So when I read Spirit had fallen silent 

at a site called Troy, where she’d got stuck 

wrongly angled before the Martian winter, 

without enough charge to see her through, 

and there’d been no sound, no peep since Sol 2210, 

I felt a tug, a pull, the light years loaded 

with new wonder and new fear, 

which is how I imagine a mother must feel.


Spirit—you robot! Machine! How did you flip 

a switch in me to make me want 

what I never did—to cradle 

your massive head, dig out your wheels 

and set you right again? It must be because 

you are so logical, and so far away.


Barbara Blake has worked in the library at Norton Rose Fulbright’s London office for more than ten years. She won the RE: Writing Prize in 2018.