Annie Taylor’s Barrel Ass by Simon Williams

in Poetry/Spotlight

I was no young wire-walker

out of a Barnum sideshow.

I taught music, turned the handle

like a monkey for the organist.


A not-so nubile sixty three and soon

for the women’s workhouse, I rolled

the barrel out, scraped the river bottom

with the pitched rim of it.


Good oak and iron

to protect me from the drop,

a duck-feather mattress

to protect me from the oak and iron.


I took the slow water, where the cat had

embarked, tumbled, been rescued with

a single scratch. That river took my barrel

with a bob to the edge I never saw coming.


I considered a further stanza, here,

about the fall, the falls,

but it would have been

four lines of trailing scream.


Not that anybody heard me,

with the roar of the water.

The rescue boaters broke me out,

before the fug did what the drop hadn’t.


Would I do it again, they always ask;

come to me with cascades I could try.

I sit here rooted to the stage,

let them pick their favourite. Tell them go fly.


Annie Taylor was the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel

barrel ass – to charge headlong



Simon Williams ( has eight published collections, his latest being a co-authored pamphlet with Susan Taylor, The Weather House (, which has also toured in performance. Simon was elected The Bard of Exeter in 2013, founded the large-format magazine, The Broadsheet and is currently developing a one-man poetry show, Cosmic Latte.