Featured Publication – Night Shift by Jonathan Totman

Our featured publication for May is Night Shift by Jonathan Totman, published by Pindrop Press.

Jonathan Totman’s debut poetry collection is a bag of exquisite gems. Lightly, discreetly, he takes us by the hand and shows us owls and fireworks, chores and spreadsheets, architecture, lichens and encounters with wild animals, in ways that make us see the world through fresh eyes. Poems about the grief of losing a parent are woven through others exploring the joys of new fatherhood – and ultimately about what it is to be human. Delicate and hauntingly beautiful, this is a collection by a poet who is going places.

“Totman has a gift for marrying the natural and the human – sparks of life from every source flare and soar into the darkness, scattering their fine traces on the imagination. Night Shift is a collection to warm the heart – a book rich in humanity, tenderness, colour and light.” Clare Best

These bravely tender, beautifully intimate poems speak of the presences and the voids that shape our apprehensions: of ‘the prayer-deep dark’ and the heart’s private lanterns’; of ‘the rich soil of the night’, and of ‘the light // crashing through’. Whether ‘trespassing’ into the ‘rickety barn’ of fatherhood or acquiescing in a wood’s ‘rough shelter’, Totman treads softly, inviting us to bear witness, to feel ‘the flutter and kick of imagination / pushing against absence’. Night Shift is a vigil, and it is also an incitement to attend: to embrace life’s ‘grit’ and ‘balm’, its ‘slip and scrape’ and the everyday ‘kindnesses that stick like burrs’.” Rebecca Watts

With an appropriately skilled language of poetic sensibility, and an often understated tenderness, Jonathan Totman with an open generosity invites the reader to share his experiences of Nature and family. ‘Night Shift’ is an impressive first collection.” John Lyons


In the car’s close warmth,
the long tunnel of the night,
a memory surfaces:

glimpse of fur and motion,
grey hind too low and large for anything
domestic, caught in the headlights as we

bumped down the drive.
Curled in the back and half asleep, I saw
the arrow of him

spin towards earth,
the safety of a hole 
and the knowledge of having strayed too far.

He’ll be long gone now.
His chamber sealed,
the complex passed to his offspring’s offspring.

New entrances, perhaps, new passages
ending in moss and the scent of a mate;
a tumble of cubs deep at the heart.

And I’m gone too.
Driving my own clan down different routes;
the black and white road

and the grey, grey panic at the verge.


Crouching to inspect the sweet peas –
tendrils coiled round wandering stems,
purple flowers like crinkled summer skirts,
laden with dew – I spy, behind the blue
ceramic pot, some stray, domestic tangle:
a pair of maternity tights, gusted from the line,
leaf-light and ghostly, stretched with a memory of body.
I bundle them in a palm and think of
that little life, flexing its shoots of limb:
all those clothes to be worn, the picking up to come.

Previously published in the pamphlet Explosives Licence (Templar Poetry, 2018)

The Damage

Slung up, she is an eager tourist,
little limbs dangling from the trunk of me,
head against my too-fast heart.

What’s that, what’s that, what’s that
old oak kneeling on spread limbs,
the billion open doors of its bark.

What’s there beneath that high-rise of pine,
its drop zone of nibbled husks
a triumph of collectibles.

She wants to know about the damage:
the wounds where branches were,
the smooth table tops of stumps –

their human angles.
I tell her how the place mends itself,
the small machinery of decay

moving in to mould and remould;
this sodden rug of moss and fungus,
woodlouse, worm and all

the fingertips of the forest
reaching in until eventually
the heartwood gives way;

the giant and tiny bodies
leached into soil. I tell her how
seeds unzip in the mud, grow

down, spreading through the rot.
I tell her there is life, and life,
and she listens, throbbing like wood,

brain branching into all those possible worlds.


And then that pause-in-the-wind moment
when his notes fall out 
of the background music of sky,

a rattled coo, toy-like, close 
and shapeless on the walk home,
the thought of a feathered warmth,

musty with chick and pellet, the kill 
waiting to happen on some dark edge
of field, the thought of other

owls on other nights,
and what you never quite see,
a sense of size, of story,

a faith in what a parent said
taking off into the woods
in the fledgling light.

Previously published in The Fenland Poetry Journal

Jonathan was born in Sussex and now lives in Oxfordshire. His pamphlet, Explosives Licence, was joint winner of the 2018 iOTA Shot Award and was published by Templar Poetry the same year. Jonathan is a former Fenland Poet Laureate and co-edited poetry magazine The Fenland Reed for several years. This is his first full collection.

Night Shift is available to purchase from the Pindrop Press website.

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