Peterloo Poets

Poetry Publishers 1972 - 2009




BARTLETT, Elizabeth

A Lifetime of Dying



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Poems 1942-1979
Poems by Elizabeth Bartlett


Elizabeth Bartlett was born of working-class parents near the Kent coalfields in 1924. Her father was an ex-sergeant in the army and her mother a house-parlour-maid. She won a scholarship to Grammar school, but was removed at the age of 15 to work in a hypodermic needle factory. Her first poems were written at school and at the age of 19 she had one published by the legendary Tambimuttu in Poetry London. She has been writing ever since. In recent years her poems have appeared in several Arts Council and P.E.N. anthologies in one of The Poetry Book Society’s Christmas Supplements.

‘In the jargon of the medical world, where I have worked for the last ten years as a receptionist and secretary for a GP, and for the Home Care Service, I am addicted to the writing of poetry, and there is no cure.’

A Lifetime of Dying is a first full collection and the poems in it range from one written in 1942, when the author was 18, to one on Steve Biko’s death written in 1977.



Mouths are pink tunnels for supermarket food,
For kissing in the dark, out of pity or fear.
A mouth tells us structuralism is all, the lips
Moving, destroying a decade or two in passing.

A mouth is greedy on one breast, an abscess
Forming on the other one. That was the same mouth,
Sucking for dear life, a book propped on his head,
His destiny as clear as a runnel of milky vomit.

How we mouth at each other, like goldfishes
In tanks, eating, kissing, talking, drooping,
Sucking. Sometimes no stiff words creep out
At all. Biting is forbidden. We are not cannibals.

Ah, but mouths can say such words
The heart lurches in its cage, can say words
So compelling there is nothing we would not do
To hear them just once more before we die.


Price 1.95 per copy post free 
Cover illustration: courtesy of the Tate Gallery, London.
Publication: DECEMBER 1979 (64 pages laminated paperback)