Sarah Wimbush
Publication Date: 
Tuesday, March 10, 2020
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Shortlisted for the Michael Marks Poetry Award 2020

Winner of the Mslexia/Poetry Book Society Women's Poetry Pamphlet Prize 2019

"In Bloodlines Sarah Wimbush explores her Gypsy and Traveller heritage, conjuring the travelling life of the past, its characters, sights and sounds, and savouring its flavours and vocabulary in earthy and evocative verse." - The TLS

Bloodlines is an exploration of Sarah Wimbush's own Gypsy/Traveller heritage, a journey made by piecing together fragments of distant stories and a scattered language. Along the way, we meet people who are 'tethered to the seasons'; voices that reverberate with a sense of family and resilience, and always with that constant wonder of being part of something colourful, untamed and rare.

"There is a Romany saying, We are all one: all who are with us are ourselves; Sarah Wimbush's collection draws us into the world of Travellers with linguistic panache and delight." – David Morley

"Sarah Wimbush's exciting poetry has that rare ring of authenticity. Her language brings to life a lost world with startling vividness. It is the real thing."Carole Bromley

"Bloodlines asserts Carroty Kate, our Jud and Lizzie's right to have their mother tongue placed among the voices of poetry."Stuart Pickford

"A thrilling debut that kept me outdoors in the grassy world of communal lives. I love the formal dazzle and linguistic dare that spoke of defiance, survival and utter joy." Daljit Nagra


'Late Afternoon by a Hedge' by Sarah Wimbush


'I can see Sandbeck Hall' by Sarah Wimbush


'Bloodlines' by Sarah Wimbush. Film created by Isobel Turner.



Review by Maggie MacKay, Sphinx

Monday, October 19, 2020

Celebrating Romany culture

These poems vibrate and ripple with the intensity of their colourful characters like Kate and Lizzie, seasoned with the community’s language. The reader travels with the individuals as they go about their business, pitching encampment, foraging, threshing, and selling wares from calling baskets.

Our senses are heightened by an awareness of seasonal landscapes, preparation of food and by the imaginative insertion of Romany vocabulary. Each poem smacks of authenticity and insightfulness.

The title poem is shaped as a hooped earring, curving into a spellbinding commentary on the essence of Romany traditions. Repeats of ‘in the Bloodlines’ emphasise the genetic origin of ‘the murmur on the barval’:

In the Bloodlines there’s an acorn of swagger that
inflates into a barrel wearing a vest. In the Bloodlines
there is nothing to offer up to the Old World except
a pair of shammy bootees —
your past, their past. 

‘Carroty Kate’ introduces us to an unforgettable character, a fortune-teller who speaks of how her predecessors would be hanged ‘just for being’:

I get by dukkering at the next marketplace
with sheeps’ trotters
or a brass groat as payment for the reading,
my kissi belt strapped tight
to my left thigh. 

In ‘A Sund’y in Worksop’ a little girl describes the family’s day, the sound and song of her mother’s work and the men playing pitch and toss. She waters the pony, one of several and ‘metals wield and thud’. Her memory is unreliable given the constant travelling. The poem spills questions and changes of mind.

The child reappears in the sensory ‘I can see Sandbeck Hall’. Bartering second-hand goods within the Romany community, and with rain pouring down, her father calls at the servants’ entrance to collect

the onion sacks filled steel pans, rabbit skins, cast-offs
and two wide skirts belonging to old Lady Scarbrough.

‘The Calling Basket’ introduces original metaphors: needles are ‘hobnails’; cotton reels are ‘vardo wheels’; ribbons are ‘smoke signals for missies’ pigtails and china throats’. And, finally, ‘Mother Tongue’ celebrates the language in a playful dance: one to relish.

Review by Rennie Halstead, The Poetry Shed

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Sarah Wimbush’s award winning pamphlet is a rich reflection on the history of Gypsy travellers.

Wimbush details simple episodes from a travelling life, reflecting most effectively on the episodes where a traveller’s experience intersects with the life of the rest of us non-Gypsy gorgios.

In 'Carroty Kate' we meet Kate, with “hair the colour of a thousand foxy hawkweeds” who “owns one red skirt and a navvy’s tongue”. Kate makes something of a living telling fortunes, a “kissi belt strapped tight / to my left thigh.” and muses on the way gypsies were treated in earlier times when she might have been:

slapped […] in irons
dragged me to York Tyburn in a hay cart sat on my coffin,
where I’d be dropped
from the Three-legged Mare –
just for being.

'I can see Sandbeck Hall' recalls a visit to a country house, receiving cast-offs from the “lady housekeeper” in a poem that shows how Gypsies were seen as outsiders, in a scene reminiscent of a 1950’s county house drama:

onion sacks filled with steel pans, rabbit skins, cast-offs,
and the two wide skirts belonging to old Lady Scarborough.

[… ] Daddy doffs his trilby, grease stains round the rim,
like a posh mush in his best gorgio: thank you dear Madam.

'The Bittern' takes us through the travellers’ autumn and winter and shows us the close link between seasonal work and the Gypsy way of life. The harshness of life on the road drives the family to spend winter in a two-up two-down cottage, whilst their vardo is parked at Big Frank’s place. Autumn has finished:

After the glut of soft fruits,
and oat cakes toasting on the griddle,
and the deluge of Cox’s.

it’s the wintering-over
in a two-up two-down cottage

Winter brings different treasure:

a squall of pheasant and quail
bartered for a tail-end of hogget,
mother schooling us by the range:

The children learn:

how to baste the skins to gold,
how to skim the fat for rushlights
and axels, how to eke the meat out

Wimbush remembers the memorable sound of the bittern as winter turns into:

the hardness of spring.
Bitterns nesting in reed beds,
sweeter than heron —

the male’s deep whoohu-whoohu
like a breath blown over a bottle.
On a still day, I feel that call for miles

'Grai' describes the death of a horse and it’s recovery from the bog that trapped it. The poet shows us the scene in a matter-of-fact, documentary style that is devoid of sentimentality:

the mare watches you
watching without blinking,
the shire horse dragging her away
like a bundle of rags.

the horse is shot:

[…] the knackers placed the muzzle
behind the dark pool of her eye

a new thought blown
across her vision.

Wimbush describes the attempted rescue:

[…] the shouting                    the shouting
as they had tossed the rope’s hoopla

over the royal sweep of the neck –
the peculiarity of those whinnies


down at the hawthorn’s groin
where the field unearthed a bog

'The Ring', my favourite poem in the pamphlet, takes us through the colourful, varied life of the poet’s grandmother on an annual round of fruit picking, horse fairs, selling daffodils and rabbit skins. Wimbush reflects on the change in the way of life for gypsies over two generations:

Imagine. Her hands snatching necks.
Shushi skins pinned into borrowed earth.

How she scrubs the gubbins from her garnet setting,
flogs the pelts to furriers for a bob or two.

We watch her journey:

through fields, lanes, cobbled brooks:
posting rag bills, hawking daffodils

We witness a runaway marriage:

how she grips her lad’s hand as they do a runner
to wed at Tinsley Church. And always that sense
of moving as one.

This is a hard life:

No half-dead frills only her histories
and the seasons: the earlies, the hoe, wheat stooks,
mother’s calling basket, wintering over

Wimbush sees much of Gypsy history in the ring, and through it, her own place in the family tradition:

Imagine this ring – my grandmother’s ring.
Its Gypsy setting. Its golden eye burnished
with all the jib and ancients it has worn thin.
See, here on my finger. How it fits.

Bloodlines is a proud retelling of a family chronicle, a Gypsy way of life that appears rooted in a more agricultural past, with the circle of seasons and farm work shaping a family life that is always on the move. Wimbush takes us into this world with great skill, and without sentimentality.

Review by Judy Darley, SkyLightRain

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Sarah Wimbush won the Mslexia/PBS Poetry Pamphlet Competition 2019 with this slim yet seductively insidious collection. Wimbush’s verses creep in under collar and cuff, sending shivers across your scalp.

Weaving in the salt and pepper of Traveller idioms, Wimbush draws us into a journey through her own heritage, where we meet heroes and queens of lanes and fields.

You’ll learn some gorgeous terms along the way: “nose warmer” for pipe, “hedge mumper’ for tramp, and “drum” for road, as well as less familiar words, such as “yog” for fire and “chokka” for shoes. Some felt familiar without me knowing why – “mush” for man, for instance, and “shushti” for rabbit. It all adds to the richness of the telling.

In some poems Wimbush conjures the litany of a life in just a handful of lines, such as with Our Jud, who “rarely missed a fisticuffing up the Old Blue Bell./ And that time calmed the lady’s filly bolting up the road.” Each sentence has the fireside flavour of a blustering anecdote, yet summons facets of courage, heart and honour beside the bravado. Any of us could be proud to be seen as clearly as Wimbush describes Jud.

And yes, there is romance in much of the lustrous imagery, but unfrilled and honest. There’s a nod to the rebellious, the eternally loyal and the larking, with hints of hardship and hard work among revelries.

The smallest details, selected with evident care, help to sculpt the impression of a three-dimensional world. Wimbush writes of ten partridge eggs shared between eight, “Each bite/ Fresh as today’s sunrise”, and of “twilight unfolding its flittermouse wing”, of sisters scouring “the slack” and “twisting gold into hats”, and of feeling “rain coming/ by the weight of the wind.”

This isn’t Wimbush’s first win with poetry – she’s previously won and placed in Poetry Book Society competitions. Mslexia’s judge, Seren editor Amy Wack, says of the poems, ”They are composed with an adroit technique, formal skill, a Chaucerian sense of exuberant action.”

It’s clear that this marginalised, tightknit community comprises a language Wimbush is fluent in, with a feel for words and how to settle them as skilfully as her ancestors turned pipes in jars to rushlights. Reading the pamphlet offers glimpses of sunlit verges and rising smoke, of hunger and humour and a sought-out separation from society that makes them as exotic on the page as mother-of-pearl buttons, threads and “a bud of lace.”

Sensuous, textured and riddled through with landscapes, these are poems that will bring you to your door to reconvene with seasons.

User Reviews

's picture

Average: 4 (1 vote)

I’d never heard of the poet before but I knew I had to read this pamphlet when I read one of the poems in an issue of MsLexia announcing the competition winner. This is a very short book and I read it fairly quickly, even though I took the time to read each poem slowly and carefully. The poems impressed me, vivid, rich and full of detail. I enjoyed every poem but the stand-out poems are the title poem, Gal, John Thomas, Breakfast and Our Jud. I look forward to seeing what else Wimbush has to offer.

08/04/2020 - 05:15


's picture

Average: 4 (1 vote)

I’d never heard of the poet before but I knew I had to read this pamphlet when I read one of the poems in an issue of MsLexia announcing the competition winner. This is a very short book and I read it fairly quickly, even though I took the time to read each poem slowly and carefully. The poems impressed me, vivid, rich and full of detail. I enjoyed every poem but the stand-out poems are the title poem, Gal, John Thomas, Breakfast and Our Jud. I look forward to seeing what else Wimbush has to offer.

08/04/2020 - 05:15
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