Tuesday 28 March 2023

Louise Peterkin, "The Night Jar"


Louise Peterkin, photograph by Scott Barron

Louise Peterkin is a poet and editor from Edinburgh. She is a recipient of a New Writers Award from the Scottish Book Trust. She is the co-editor along with Rob. A. Mackenzie of Spark: Poetry and Art Inspired by the Novels of Muriel Spark (Blue Diode, 2018). She is a poetry editor for the long running magazine The Interpreter’s House. Her first poetry collection The Night Jar was published by Salt in 2020. She works in the Law Library at the University of Edinburgh.

About The Night Jar, by Louise Peterkin

My debut poetry collection features a number of monologues. I envisaged the Night Jar of the title as a sort of Pandora’s Box containing the voices of various characters, sometimes wronged and misunderstood, sometimes defiant, occasionally villainous; multifaceted. Through these individual voices, I try to explore universal themes: religion, patriarchy, repression, lust, envy, sexuality.

Some of the personas are my own inventions – an inquisitive nun called Sister Agnieszka who embarks on a series of adventures, a wildly imaginative young woman called Innes living in a rural community. Other poems feature real-life historical figures or ones lifted from the pages of novels or from popular culture – Indiana Jones, Hitchcock, Renfield, HP Lovecraft, Indiana Jones and Jaws (The Bond movie henchman, not the shark!).

The characters within the collection are often trapped within literal or metaphorical prisons – asylums, institutions, small communities, domesticity. There is imagery throughout of boxes and keys and vivid description of setting – both landscapes and the intimate interiors of the narrator’s surroundings.

Many of the poems are influenced by my enduring fascinations with cinema, especially horror and film noir and old Hollywood, and engage with myth and fairy tale. 

You can read more about The Night Jar on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read two sample poems from the collection. 

From The Night Jar

Sister Agnieszka Runs Away to the Circus

Roll up! Big Top in view like a yummy mirage;
scalloped, candy-striped, as good as any church
in scale, in height for the swooping,
the twirling, the leaping and curving
for the love of God, the love
of the falling. The good folk here
fit you for your leotard.
Instructed all day in the fine arts: juggling,
knife throwing, tightrope walking.
You know now balance
is an act of sheer faith,
so spread those arms out in the style of the cross
on a frail bridge above, on the back of a horse.
After work, there is much to enjoy –
a consignment of massive animals,
the Ark-stink of dark and straw.
Lie with the strongman, all night long
if you care to, savour the taste of his body,
his shiny skin, his Colonel Blimp face.
Or console the associates of the sideshow
as they hover towards your implicit grace, soothe them,
let the conjoined twins envelop you like a moth.
Be fearless as you walk that line,
straight across, don’t look up or down.
And don’t succumb to your nightmare –
you know the one –
where the ground, the trailers,
the skin of the tent tremble,
and you run outside to see
a legion of nuns
come to collect you
come to take you home
lapping at the horizon like an army of penguins,
in their vengeance, Sister,
in their thousands.


Not entomology, nor some god-aping
yen for a menagerie to bend to my will
but for the blood, the lifeblood sir! It flows
through the strata of the littlest things.
I was precious

at first, reticent. So when a bee marred
itself in a clumsy descent from the window
I let it curl for days like a dried flower
before I sampled. 
I smiled: it tasted liverish, autumnal.

I dusted the sill with sugar for a fly
I blackened the sill with flies for a spider
The spider would tempt down a bird

But I was impatient; I indulged.
I rattled a flea to my ear
then popped it in my mouth like a pill.
My fingers took on the tang of a bell,
faint arcs of gore under each nail

as if I had been playing a black pudding piano.
Small viscera
hung from my gums like a piñata.
I needed self-control if I wanted the sparrows!
I began once again to propagate.

Until the day the doctor entered my cell
to find the air and my hair full of birds.
And what he conveyed, not so much in words
but a sharpening glint in his eyes was a sort of . . .
respect. I wouldn’t say awe. No, not just yet.

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