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Not drowning but waving

Did I mention I’d signed up for some swimming lessons? I saw a poster for a six-week long (school holidays) once a week group course, at the place where I swim, and jumped in at it. It’s not that I can’t swim, but I want to swim with style. And I want to learn how to do flip turns. At the first session we split into beginners and improvers. We’re almost all of a certain age, while our young, bemused instructors tell us things like ‘children find it really easy to do this with their shoulders.’ Hmmm. Three of us have an instructor who sends us up and down lengths doing various drills while the others, with their own coach, tentatively launch themselves across widths. It feels quite hazardous – two shipping lanes with great potential for collision. I’ve only had two minor smashes, no-one hurt, although part of me always thinks rather uncharitably that the slower swimmers should look before setting off, as they have a shorter distance to cover! Anyway I’ve now invested in some prescription goggles, which should make it easier to see any impending obstacles, not to mention the instructor waving at me to GO, rather than having to yell R-O-O-O-B-I-I-N! from 25 metres away.

Before becoming self-conscious of all the things I’m doing wrong, I didn’t used to think about swimming when swimming, but I did sometimes think about poems. Some poets like to go walking. Personally I rarely get inspired when I’m out and about. And I have to say I don’t really write anything in my head while swimming, but being in the water is fraught with metaphorical energy, as are (for me and many others I suspect) swimming pools generally. I’ve had a ‘lido’ poem on the go for at least a decade, I think it’s currently out somewhere but I won’t be surprised if it comes back rejected again. Unlike ‘Lido’ by Alison McVety from her fine collection Lighthouses (Smith Doorstop) that sticks in my mind, the swimmer ‘left to plough on’ in the rain, ‘ten years gone and I’m still turning and swimming, turning and swimming’.

I’m now trying to remember various ‘not waving but drowning’ type poems, particularly one by a (currently living) poet whose brother downed… perhaps you can help me out? I think I read it in a magazine some time in the last ten years. I just did a search for ‘poem about a brother who drowned’ and it threw up an extraordinary list of results, all of the ’25+ Heartening Poems for a Deceased Brother’s Funeral’ variety. Funerals are probably the only time 99% of the population ever wants to encounter a poem, to be fair. Anyway, if I ever get to do a flip turn I’ll let you know.


I’d like to give a big shout-out to Dave Bonta, poet, author and indefatigable blogger, whose longstanding blog Via Negativa I can whole heartedly recommend. I’m personally indebted to him for mentioning several of my blog posts in his weekly roundup, but more importantly for his careful curation skills – every week, he re-posts a few paragraphs from a dozen or so blogs. I’ve encountered many a new blogger/poet I’d never heard of, and many really interesting blogs thanks to Dave.

Published inBlogBloggersBloggingPoemsWriting


  1. Hilaire Hilaire

    Interesting! I love swimming but I can’t dive and I can’t do flip turns, so look forward to hearing about your progress. Decades ago I had a poem about swimming & the changing rooms at public pools published in Magma. There is Regi Claire’s poem ‘(Un)certainties’, about her/a sister drowning, which won the 2020 Mslexia poetry competition – wonder if that’s what you’re thinking of?

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Thanks Hilaire – I’m not sure that’s the one I’m thinking about as I’m pretty sure it was by a man, but I shall check it out. I like the sound of your ‘changing rooms’ poem, they were certainly quite scary when I was young (as were all those communal changing rooms in clothes shops!)

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Robin Houghton 2021