Home » Literary Life » Bittersweet Seventeens – Rosie Johnston

Bittersweet Seventeens – Rosie Johnston


Rosie Johnston

Last year I  interviewed  local poet and author Rosie Johnston, recently I  was delighted to hear that her latest collection of Poetry has just been published by Lapwing Publications.

Rosie who lives on the ‘Island’, has had a number of books published in recent years but Bittersweet Seventeens is her third collection of Poetry where she uses her own particular style of poetry using seventeen syllables for each verse.

Johnston_Bittersweet cover

Rosie explains how this particular collection came about.

I never thought I’d be a published poet. I’ve been writing fiction and journalism for nearly twenty-five years now and thought that was it. In 2009 I had a contract for a third novel (to follow The Most Intimate Place, Arcadia 2009) and was looking forward to writing it. I even got a first draft done. Then life got in the way. Divorce, moving home twice, my father fell over in Belfast and after a ghastly time in hospital, he passed away. Then I had to wind up his estate. In the middle of all that, the new novel got lost.

What forced their way through instead were little poems, just seventeen syllables long, and Bittersweet Seventeens is my third collection of them. They’ve all been published by Lapwing Publications and I’m very proud to be a Lapwing poet.

Why seventeen syllables? It’s not as if eighteen would kill me. People (especially poets) keep encouraging me to write something longer, something more like theirs. So my second collection Orion (Lapwing, 2012) was one long poem telling a universal love story – and every verse has seventeen syllables. What about writing a normal poem, the poets kept saying, a bit of free verse maybe. I tried and couldn’t make it work. Meanwhile readers were saying that they really liked the seventeens and could they have more.

So here they are, Bittersweet Seventeens. I love the discipline of compressing as much thought and skill as I can into that short space and hope readers will enjoy them. They’re described as a poem sequence; that just means you can take them individually, or gorge the lot at once like a whole box of chocolates. It’s up to you.

I have made my own selection of a few verses from the collection to give you a flavour of Rosie’s work which I hope you will enjoy.


‘My darling, my darling, my

Love, my love’: Gentle in his final words.


Sibling: the act of having

Nothing in common

But genes and quibbling.


Seventeen on the seventeen bus,

She skips

School to kiss the driver.


She chanced a look, risked a

Kiss and lived

To rue her date with a chancer.


Our Christmas fir lies by the bins,

Dwindled, nude,

Slave to our brief pleasure.


Her prize-fighter heart is down. Stares


Up at the ropes. Bewildered.


To her neighbour in Hades –

‘Does the drink

Keep you down here?’ ‘It helps, aye.’


Another happy day. Let’s bless

Each second’s

Golden gift: survival.

If you would like to buy a copy of Bittersweet Seventeens , they are available at the Lapwing website here.

Rosie also runs some very successful writing groups in Greenwich and Cambridge, such is the popularity of the groups that new dates are being added all the time.

If you wish to buy some of Rosie’s other work or want to find out more about her writing groups please go to her website here

Other Post you may find interesting

Looking at Orion – An interview with Rosie Johnston

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