Spoil, Morag Smith (Broken Sleep Books)

Morag Smith’s poems are haunted by the past, both historical and personal, and a desire to return:

   I want to go home
                                                but keep unpacking
   The whole idea of home
   disintegrates when I touch it

What she can do is conjure up various possibilities of home, versions of belonging, tentative histories and the stories she has lived and learnt about.

The book opens with an incantatory wish to be transported back to ‘the Island of Tin’, using the ancient sky disk as a talismatic focus. Then we are transported to pre-tourist trap Heligan and Smith’s youth, with goats and wilderness. Elsewhere she tells stories about her days living and travelling in a van, despairing of poverty, vandalism, evictions and abuse, but also celebrating her freedom in poems like ‘Eye on the Mirror’:

   Up here
   above the road
   I’m a fucking queen
   I’ve got ten tons of truck behind me
   and kids everywhere

But it is the land that rules this collection, Smith’s own heart, the mined-out and abandoned rocks, failing industry and wildnerness:

   The mother that made me
                       was mud and stone
   I was cut from rough rock
                                  raw and ragged

she declaims in ‘Prima Materia’. It is hard to know if this is tin or ore personified or Smith’s own lineage. In ‘Salt of the Earth’ she insists

   Don’t call me salt
   call me soil
   call me dirt
   call me unrefined

later, in the same poem, as she finds her own place in the scheme of things, she declares that she is

   Aiming my eyes at the earth
   I look into the dirt
   see the disturbances
   beneath the surface

   The past pulses
   through my boots

Many of the poems channel these pulses. Specific carns and abandoned mines are named and discussed, and there is a stunning sequence of four poems which focuses on the bal maidens, young women exploited by mine companies to break stones and collect ore for hours on end, at minimum wage.

Adrift in mizzle and mist, living in communities of shared poverty and temporary residence, Smith finds hope and purpose in ‘trying to touch that impossible line’ she compares to the edge of an infinity pool. It is a line of history, of resistance, of power and celebration. Morag Smith is a poet as strong as rock, as fluid and musical as water. Spoil is an amazing debut.

Rupert Loydell

You can buy Spoil direct from the publisher at

Morag Smith reading from Spoil:


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    1. You haven’t read my book have you, The Magpies of Ravenscroft. I’ll let you have a read in a while.

      Comment by Chris on 22 November, 2021 at 9:56 am

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