Wild Court

An international poetry journal based in the English Department of King’s College London

‘The Penlee Lifeboat Disaster’: a poem by Jennifer Edgecombe


The below poem is taken from Jennifer Edgecombe’s debut pamphlet The Grief of the Sea, published by Broken Sleep Books in June 2020. It also appears in Carcanet’s New Poetries VIII.


The poem originally appeared on Wild Court in February 2020 and is republished here to mark the 40th anniversary of the Penlee lifeboat disaster, which occurred on 19th December 1981. 



    The Penlee Lifeboat Disaster




well they’re mostly fishermen
they come from the same village as what I do
this is just a part-time job

I’m pretty lucky here
the sons of Mousehole
top notch

darts had just started
everyone was drinking laughing joking
a strange note in the wind

I asked him when he’ll be round the corner
we call Land’s End the corner
he said about just after tea

he said it was rolling a bit
a marker on the radar
slowly drifting in towards land




when the maroons were heard
stopped what they were doing
rushed to the station
only eight hands were needed

all dressed
the best he had
just sort of waited
waited and waited

and waited
to catch the right moment
to knock her off the slope
she went down and was gone

some thirty foot in height
like being in a washing machine
bouncing significantly
the ocean was very confused




a mother two children
eight miles east of Wolf Rock
together for Christmas
engines have stopped


about fifty-foot seas


with water in the fuel tank
he was drifting faster than he thought
it was getting very difficult
less than a mile from shore


sixty maybe seventy-foot waves


how very clean and new 
the green painted deck looked


bright pink court shoes


The Union Star was on her maiden voyage
The Union Star was the latest one

With the Union Star so close to shore
The Union Star was heading straight toward

I could see the helicopter and I could see the Union Star
Water getting into the engine of the Union Star

Solomon Browne went up onto the Union Star
But after sliding off the deck of the Union Star


she was effectively out of the water
two boxing bags
trying to steady themselves
throwing lines over
shadows of people running
it appeared they were just jumping

and the lifeboat crew were out
with their arms out




he always seemed to be a free spirit
like a breath of air

she went out
and she’s still out