The Tall Lighthouse

Helen Mort                   


Helen's poems are tender and intriguing, filled with subtle yet

memorable images. She writes with an easy maturity and is a welcome

new presence.Helen was born in Sheffield and grew up in Derbyshire.

She received an Eric Gregory Award in 2007 and won the Manchester

Young Writer prize in 2008. Her latest pamphlet a pint for the ghost has

been selected as Poetry Book Society pamphlet choice for Spring 2010


a pint for the ghost


£5 ISBN 978 1 904551 73 7

a pint for the ghost is a sequence inspired by South Yorkshire legend:a night-time encounter with the ghosts of worked out mines, smoky pubs and deserted highways. For more info, visit:

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'This is an exciting collection from a writer who knows the value of the past, and how to set it against the present to illuminate them both.'

                                                                                                     Ian McMillan

previous collections


the shape of every box by helen mort


in her eagerly anticipated debut volume helen presented us with twenty engaging poems of people and place. Helen was a winner of the Foyle Young Poets Award on five occasions from 1997 to 2004

the shape of every box captures Helen Mort in the incipient process of distilling her own distinctive brand of desire. Entwined around love and the stillnesses of observation, these poems bind tenaciously to sensation even as their tendrils sway in elusive, sometimes surreal, air. Mort's limpid diction contrasts well with her slant takes on narrative and emotion, the poems rarely allowing us to settle but, rather, developing and complicating their effects on our palate of thought.
                                                                                                              Mario Petrucci

a chaser for miss heath (from 'a pint for the ghost')


At seventy, our dance mistress

could still perform

a perfect pas des chats.


Her French was wasted

in the north. We stood in line

repeating parr-durr-shat


or sniggered

as she waited in the wings,

her right hand beating time


against her hip, her eyes

avoiding ours. She never

made the stage.


It took me twenty years

to understand. Alone tonight

and far from home


in shoes that pinch my toes

until they bleed, my back

held ballerina straight,


I wait as she did, too afraid

to walk into a bar

where everyone’s a stranger.


I almost see her glide

across the city night

to meet me, tall and white


and slim. A step behind,

she clicks her fingers. Elegant,

she counts me in.


review of a pint for the ghost

‘There are pubs / where the front door / shuts behind you / like a coffin lid’ (‘are you being served?’) From the outset, the reader is yanked through the gloomy bar door into the worlds A Pint for the Ghost inhabits. The success of this pamphlet stems from Mort’s choice to understand ghosts as experiences that linger and refract in different mediums – time, stories, memory – and, importantly, her refusal to be intimidated by these echoes. Not restricted to vicious poltergeists and chilling tales of folklore (though these do abound), ghosts are vivid recollections of a dance mistress waiting ‘in the wings, / her right hand beating time / against her hip’ (‘a chaser for miss heath’); pub tales of silent hitchhikers resurrected in the mind; the familiar habits of a homeless man in a small town.

‘a pint for dad’ illustrates the importance Mort sets on encouraging personal, emotional responses to ghosts of memory in everyday life. The best ghosts in the pamphlet are the most lovable: Northern miners, steelworkers who still ‘loiter by the pubs’, ‘press their noses / to the glass facade of Debenhams’, and ‘pace beside the working girls / who don’t look up’ (‘a vodka for the working ghosts’). These poems are not only about the dead; they celebrate the heritage of the North – the local, working lives of Northern men and women. What’s more, they do it well.

Mort’s pamphlet holds oral traditions – myths, tales, sharing stories by the fire – at it’s heart, and this is mirrored in the prose-like nature of the writing. Through these traditions the work appeals to the reader’s own human vulnerability, and one’s own consciousness of the transience of human life. Mort utilises these issues to wonderful poignant effect in the final three poems. In ‘full measure for neil moss’ ghosts ‘from Castleton, from Carsington / [...] call to us, from reservoirs / and mine shafts, long since shut, / from bricked up wells and tunnel mouths’ – and they do this, ‘certain / that it won’t be long / till we come back to them.’ From this, the reader moves on to two closing poems – poems which lend Mort’s pamphlet its final, most significant, clout.

Cutting across suburban, rural and desolate landscapes alike, A Pint for the Ghost builds an awareness of the past into everyday locations. Mort’s technical accomplishments bind the whole thing together; she writes with a real gift for distilling whole moods and images into the fewest words necessary (‘a pint for the true shepherds’ is a good example). Mort consistently demonstrates her ability to match tones to her themes, hitting the spot time and again. Likewise, the musical fluency in Mort’s sense of rhythm, mixed with her own unique voice gives a breath of fresh air to what is in fact a highly saturated genre. Throughout this pamphlet Mort remains on top of her game – and the extracts from other poets which pepper the text here and there reveal her researched awareness of the context of ghost writing.

My first reading of this pamphlet scared me so much I had to finish it in a public place. I have since read it six times, and each time, it delivers more. I cannot shovel the praise on thick enough; this pamphlet is essential reading for any self-respecting poet, or lover of poetry. It is a pamphlet for anyone who believes in ghosts, and for anyone who doesn’t. It is terrific – the best pamphlet I’ve read in years. For heaven’s sake, read it.


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