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Orford Ness

Some years ago now I visited Orford Ness Nature Reserve, a strange and mysterious place on the coast of Suffolk. Strange in the same way as any place with ‘Ness’ in the name, mysterious because of its history as an atomic test site and before that as a place of experimentation in radar and ballistics. Even though wildlife has reclaimed this marginal sweep of land, the area is dotted with derelict structures and unexplained features some of which are still off-limits to the visiting public.

A few months later my poem ‘Searching for the Police Tower, Orford Ness’ won the Poetry Society Stanza Competition 2014, fuelling my (long-gone) belief that I was destined to be the Next Best Thing in poetry. I had no idea at that point that a zillion poets had already ‘discovered’ Orford Ness. Those were heady days – that period many poets go through, in which you imagine yourself being snapped up by Faber and consequently winning the Forward Prize. Although I now see the folly of it, I would never laugh at anyone for having such a dream. Rejoice in each and every early or small success! Live for that moment, as it may never return!

Anyway, my point is that even your oldest, earliest successes can have a longer shelf life than you think  A few weeks ago I got an email from someone at the National Trust who had been looking for poems about Orford Ness to display in the Visitor Centre there next year, as part of some kind of festival. She’d discovered my poem on the Poetry Society website and would I mind if mine was one of the poems to be displayed. Why would I say no? It’s so nice (and unusual) to get such a request. Will anyone waiting for their ferry ride over to the Ness in 2023 bother to read my wee poem, up on the wall with plenty of others? And will it enhance the enjoyment of their visit? Will they remember (or even read) my name? Who knows. But there’s no harm in imagining it.

Published inBlogCompetitionsPoemsWriting


  1. Gráinne Tobin Gráinne Tobin

    That’s wonderful. Poems sometimes have a life of their own and readers don’t care when they were made , or at what point in a poets life.

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Thank you Grainne, and yes that’s a very good point.

  2. Mat Riches Mat Riches

    Excellent poem, Robin. Wonderful news. And now I must go to Orford Ness, even if it is in Suffolk.

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Thank you Mat – ah yes, Suffolk has much to commend it!

  3. Hilaire Hilaire

    How wonderful! I love it when poems have a life of their own. Great poem, fab last line.

  4. “A concrete bunker’s dark mouth breathes a stink
    of dereliction, down among the yellow poppies.”

    What meticulous observing, takes me immediately there in my mind’s eye even though I’ve never visited. I think Ian Duhig said something like “poetry is a long-game” and this post proves him right. Congratulations to you, Robin, and to the person at the National Trust for unearthing your brilliant poem.

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      That’s very kind of you, Josephine. A long game, indeed! x

  5. All objects wrestle
    themselves . . . . .

    So nice. I’m sure your poem will be read. People who go to places like Orford Ness are the kind of people who read poems.

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Thank you, Sally – I hope so!

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Robin Houghton 2024