This collection is an ekphrastic series of poems on the painting 'Work' by Ford Madox Brown which is displayed in the Manchester Art Gallery.

The corona of sonnets The Noble Working Men: The Navvies, won first prize in the Pre-Raphaelite Society Competition 2016. Ragamuffins was published in Tiger's Eye, Denver, 2016

It is available to buy here. 


If ever a painting has stories to tell it is Ford Madox Brown's "Work". In its busy depiction of the Victorian social system, the painting  provides a ripe seed for the writer's imagination and Wendy Holborow's is both illuminating and  expressive. She manages to supply new layers of meaning to this meaningful work. There's pathos, humour, empathy and understanding in these poems and a wonderful way with words.


Each character depicted on Brown's canvas (from aristocrats and intellectuals to navvies and ragamuffins) is acutely observed and vividly brought to life through the works in this collection. A mastery of technique is also clearly demonstrated in the use of so many different written forms -  from traditional sonnets to open field poems and from prose to a short play -  the styles chosen being as diverse as and relevant to the subjects described.


I just wish I could have seen the painting whilst reading the collection  but it's easy  to see it in the Wikipedia entry on "Work" or - better still - at Manchester Art Gallery.

Lucia Crothall

'Work's Forward Motion' by Wendy Holborow is innovative and exciting. The book itself has been designed and formatted to such a high standard that I was genuinely shocked that it was a an independently published collection. The cover image leads you into the poetry beautifully and introduces you to the characters without having to rely on continuous footnotes. It took me two hours to read the whole collection. I'm by no means a slow reader but as the characters were depicted so vividly I wanted to remain in their company a little longer and kept revisiting poems. The fragility of the young girl against the horror of her life in 'The Ragamuffins' sticks profoundly in the gullet and the description of bird's "hollow" bones makes it a poem that imprints graphically onto the mind.

The collection plays with traditional and experimental poetic form which has been accomplished with the conspicuous skill and knowledge of an experienced poet. Wendy Holborow's talent is most notable in the collection's introductory poem, 'Mesostic for Ford Madox Brown' where the poem reads horizontally and vertically. It shows a rare understanding of the nuances of visual art. The poems exist in an unfaltering series that focuses on the minute details of the painting whilst also drawing the reader's eye across the collection, as if looking at a behemoth painting in a museum. The most experimental poem within the collection is 'The Women: A Play' and it is one of my personal favourites. Each voice has a colourful character that is informed by their circumstance but far from stereotypical. It is an honest representation of a group of starkly different women living with each other in the confines of the artist's imagination.

'Work's Forward Motion' exists comfortably on my shelf next to Rhian Edwards and Emily Blewitt. It has been read by my artistic friends who have since discovered that I am very possessive of my poetry books. During the weeks the poetry collection spent kidnapped, it was read and recommended by people that I never thought would willing read an entire poetry collection. It was hard enough getting them to simply listen to a poem without the enticement of wine at the end. As an artist, poet and compulsive reader, this collection sates all appetites. It is a modern masterpiece.





What has that navvy found?

The children hear

the click-clack of tiny bones,

hollow, like a broken

penny whistle

that no longer sings.


He spreads the skeleton

of feathery wings –

the weight of earth

has flattened it,

like their mother,

in her eternal bed.


The click-clack

fills their nightmares.

Their mother’s skull

with sockets empty

of her lake-blue eyes,

her gapped and blackened teeth

loosened in her jaw,

her brittle ribs


like an Aeolian harp

no longer

played by the wind.




The girl’s embryonic dreams are of her mother –

the weight of the earth is on the chest

that suckled them, on the pelvic bones

that nurtured each of them in her womb.


Their mother whimpered in death.

The worms flenched her flesh

in whispers. Soil encrusted

ochre bones are all that remains

becoming hollow like the bird’s.


The girl wakes and screams,

disturbs the little ones,

causes her father to shift his weight





Blessed is he who has found his work, let him ask no other blessedness. Thomas Carlysle.



The tapestry of your painting is the yarn

from which I weave my words,


a struggle for dominance

between your images and my syntax,


but paintings, when verbalized, become stories,

so I fabricate my narratives into your characters –


though crowded and claustrophobic,

I make them a complete cloth of life.


Your lithic patience, work of ethics,

limned – yours and mine in tandem.


I shadow your images

with a translation, an explanation.