Pike in a Carp Pond

Pike in a Carp Pond is a book about vision and resilience, imagination and the making of meaning. In her first full-length collection, Pnina Shinebourne re-imagines the lives of two major twentieth-century figures – the English painter Stanley Spencer, and the German Communist leader Rosa Luxemburg. While Spencer (1891-1959) found glimpses of heaven in the lives of Cookham villagers, soldiers in the trenches and shipyard workers on the Clyde, Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) spent her life trying to build a socialist society free from political, social and economic oppression. One was an artist, the other a politician, but Pnina Shinebourne argues that they were both revolutionaries who combined the literal and the visionary in their desire to articulate our aspirations for a better world.

Cover image: Paul Klee, Angelus Novus (Israel Museum, Jerusalem)

Sample Poems

Comrade Luxemburg is ready

to enter the hall     black dress
    hair pulled back tight

a stern gaze     unflinching     a
crimson bloom in her cheeks

[What she thinks]
I want to affect people like a clap of thunder
to inflame their minds
with the breadth of my vision
and the strength of my conviction

she steps up to the platform     a slight limp
    a twitch
of a muscle as she steadies herself     flanked
to her left by a portrait of Karl Marx.
Waves of applause    fists clench   cheers rise up through the air

[What she says]
The mass strike is the living pulse-beat
of the revolution – the most powerful
driving wheel of the proletarian struggle
to keep your fighting energy alive!!!

             On the train home     a frozen drizzle turns to sleet
a figure scrambles down the foggy platform
clutching a bunch of flowers

[What she writes to her lover]
                       I imagined you waiting on the platform
                       wild hyacinths in your arms
                                             why didn’t you come?
In a flash
I drew a groggy smudge across your face.
          I hate you! I could kill you!


the icy Sunday afternoon
the thrill on the lips
the velvety-sweet texture
    of a steaming beetroot soup
the splash of sour cream
         the lumpy
clutter in her throat

the box of old letters kept hidden
under the bed
letters from mother
she was too busy to answer
(The Goddamn politics!!!

     always    so    so    busy)
last night she went to bed
       wishing never to wake up

Comrade Lenin directs Comrade Luxemburg on the set of The Russian Revolution

aft Anne Carson

[Rosa gets a final touch-up to her eye make-up]

Vladimir: 30 seconds to go. You walk towards the door,
pause, and then return to your desk. Look at the cue-card.

Rosa: The mighty sweep of the revolution in Russia 
– the light is weird    I can’t see the card

V: Raise your head a bit, like this.

R: The mighty sweep of the revolution in Russia
all power in the hands of workers  – can’t see

[Cue-card operator tilts the cards up a bit]

the bourgeois state is an instrument of oppression
of the working class 

V: Too monotone    think inspirational    try again
from ‘the working class’.

R: the working class grasped the mandate and duty
all power exclusively in the hands of the proletariat
and the peasant masses 

[Rosa walks to the cell’s window, leans forward, her nose
pressing against the bars]

R: and with their sharp pointy wings the swallows snip
the blue silk of space into little bits

V: You’re flagging again    stay focused
   keep the tension.

[Rosa walks back to her desk, stops, waves the cue-card
operator out of the way]

R: Freedom only for the supporters of the government only for the members of one party is no freedom at all.
Freedom is always for the one who thinks differently 

V: Not quite.


The last time

after Gabrielle Calvocoressi

I saw Rosa Luxemburg it was a warm
summer evening, dozy shadows
of maple trees crawled along the railway bridge.

At the tobacconist a man in a collared shirt
shouted into the telephone
what? I’ll be there around 5 o’clock, fine,

goodbye, and put a cigarette to his mouth.
I was distracted by a boy
edging to the kerb right in front of a car.

I missed her crossing the bridge, caught only
her arm waving to the one-eyed
news vendor on his way to the Kneipe,

heard her voice calling out to him
how will you get home, alone in the dark?

Roslein Rot

She sat on the bed and waited.
Goethe’s Faust in her handbag.
She heard her name. She did not look up.


Sound of hobnailed boots.
She put on her coat
pulled on her gloves.


I watched her walk into the lobby,
two militiamen at her side.
In the dining room a grand buffet
was laid out.
Crowds gathered, chanting
   here comes the old whore
Roslein      Oh! Roslein Rot


I took a deep breath. Clenched my fist
before I raised the butt of my rifle.
Someone picked up a shoe
dislodged from her foot.
We dragged her into the street.


When Lieutenant Vogel fired his pistol,
she paused, as if amazed that death
had met her on a freezing Berlin night.
A soldier threw a blanket over her head.


A splash. A shudder. A man walking his dog
along the Landwehr canal saw soldiers
hurl a bundle over the bridge.
A thud, a crash through thin sheets of ice
into dark water–
the old slut is swimming now
Roslein Rot     Oh! Roslein Rot

Google Earth

Someone is sitting by the window, clicking.
It is Rosa, zooming to Tiergarten
on Google Earth. A mouse-scroll
over clusters of purple-tinged elderberries
nestled in feathered leaf-fronds.
Along the path ants scurry about, pause,
swirl, reverse, wander around tufts
of huddled leaves. In the dialogue box:
Robert Hass ‘having some dim
intuition of a poem made luminous’.
A double-click on placemark to Sudende
to a close-up of Mimi lying in the sun
folded together like a soft package
blinking at a hovering wasp.
Tilt view: Rosa is in her kitchen
squishing ripe gooseberries. Mixing
in granulated sugar, boiling for ten minutes.
Flash: Winter of 1905. St Petersburg.
A hundred thousand workers march
to the Winter Palace. Troops open fire.
Cossacks gallop through the crowds.
Pools of blood on fresh snow.
Flash: Mutiny on the battleship Potemkin
sailors refuse to eat borscht infested
with maggots. Jump to Huffman Prairie:
The Wright brothers’ third flier circles
the air for 39 minutes 23 seconds.
On the screen a yellow pin with flashing
crosshairs is homing on Mumbai.
Close-up: Platform two. Shanti Mishra waits
for the ten-fifteen train. A sudden
shudder, a barrage of bullets rips open
her ribcage. Outside the station
two men reloading assault rifles hurry,
then pause, waving in glee.        
Flashback: A blur of pixelated
edges. She sees herself smuggled
across the Polish border hidden under straw
in a peasant’s cart. Voice-over:
a sound of whirring. It’s Gretchen
at the spinning wheel, singing of a kiss
and a promise. Fly to: Frankfurt, 1914.
A packed courtroom spilling over
into the street. The woman in the dock
is Rosa, on trial for calling to refuse
to take up arms. Dissolve into a prison,
1917. Like a bumblebee on its back,
legs tucked-in, numb in the autumn frost,
she struggles to roll over and rise.
Flash forward: the past seems to catch up
as if propelling her into the future –
2010. A man walking his dog in Tiergarten
stops under the Lichtensteinbrucke
to touch the raised letters on a cast-iron plate
at the spot where her body was thrown
into the canal. She is pleased
to see bikers cycling along the path.


‘These poems are wonderfully imagined, visually powerful and always convey the sense of the poet\'s deep care and fascination for her subjects.’

Hannah Lowe

‘Here are precise, distinct poems that are steeped in empathy, and at times, uncomfortable intimacy. Shinebourne haunts the skin of her muses, peels back layers of history to reveal the visionaries beneath.’

Abegail Morley

‘This exquisitely crafted collection draws together two remarkable lives: in their own ways visionary, brave, contrary and humane. This is exactly the calibre of verse we need for the fragile, challenging world we now inhabit.’

John Glenday