This blog, this day, is one year old! We’ve enjoyed writing it, and we do hope you’ve enjoyed reading it – these newsy nothings, those blowsy musings, our events, our happenings, our cakes. Thank you for returning, for your comments, for lending us your eyes, for sharing with us your poetry.

Robyn muses upon the Costas

January 27, 2010

So four poetry collections have won the Costa – formerly the Whitbread – Book of the Year and oddly, except for Heaney’s Beowulf, they’ve all been written by husbands about their late wives: Douglas Dunn’s Elegies, Ted Hughes’s Birthday Letters, and now Christopher Reid’s A Scattering. I think it’s because the narrative of human relationships in these books is one that novel-readers are comfortable with; the subject is immediate, heart-rending, intimate. The awards are for ‘the most enjoyable books’; Josephine Hart, Chair of the judges, said that Reid’s collection is ‘a devastating piece of work and all of us on the jury felt it was a book we would wish everybody to read’.  In these books, the poets make of distressing subject matter, the most personal of experiences, something that wakes recognition and a kind of comfort in a wide range of readers. We’re not taken out of ourselves, but more deeply into ourselves, to a place of chaos and dread (and inadvertent humour, sometimes) that becomes, in the poet’s words, a place where these feelings are articulated and ordered. Elegies remains one of the most borrowed books in the library. Perhaps A Scattering will contain a poem that you’ll want to keep close and carry.

~ Robyn

“I was struck by the great sadness of this landscape” – Mark O. Goodwin

Fresh podcast with which to nourish your ears!  Subscribe with iTunes or subscribe using RSS – you’ll thank us! Means you can be ahead of the pack when our podcasts go live… If you can’t get your head around that, you can use the rudimentary player on our hosting page.

Ryan managed to squeeze in a goodly few chats during his recent trip with our Lilias to northern climes and this episode, the second in our ‘Highland Trilogy’, features a fascinating conversation with Gaelic poet Maoilios Caimbeul and English poet Mark O Goodwin. Their recent collection, The Two Sides of the Pass (Two Ravens Press, 2009), is a conversation in poems across two languages and the landscape of the Isle of Skye. Presented by Ryan van Winkle. Produced by Colin Fraser. Incidental music by Ewen Maclean.

Poetry for Haiti

January 21, 2010

The Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and Poetry Live have invited 20 leading poets to perform at Westminster Central Hall, London on Saturday 30 January at 2.30pm in a fundraising event for the people of Haiti.

Poets include Carol Ann Duffy, Roger McGough, Andrew Motion, John Agard, Dannie Abse, Brian Patten, Gillian Clarke, Imtiaz Dharker, Grace Nichols, Elaine Feinstein, Daljit Nagra, Ian Duhig, Lachlan Mackinnon, Owen Sheers, Glyn Maxwell, Jo Shapcott, Robin Robertson, Colette Bryce, Maura Dooley and Robert Minhinnick, along with the musicians John Sampson and Andy Roberts.

Tickets are £10 | Telephone 01497 822629 or go to to book.

Tickets will be available at the door on the day for cash only.

All proceeds will go to the Disasters Emergency Committee’s Haiti Earthquake Appeal.

Online shop

January 20, 2010

Dear far flung friends, and anyone else who prefers to shop from the comfort of their living room within proximity of the kettle,

our online shop is open! Featuring some of our most popular titles, including our charming ‘Great Occasions’ books Handfast, Handsel, Lament and Kin (all Polygon), the only-available-from-the-SPL Addressing the Bard: Twelve Contemporary Poets Respond To Robert Burns (just in time for the great man’s birthday!) and our fabulous SPL linen book bags to put them all in, our shop will satisfy your poetry desires. All purchases help us continue doing what we’re doing – the gift of poetry that keeps on giving.

Plastic at the ready…


Owen Sheers

January 20, 2010

Last night we got the inside track on what it was like to host the hugely popular Poet’s Guide to Britain programmes, part of last year’s BBC Poetry Season, from poet and novelist Owen Sheers.

In case you didn’t catch the programmes – and some of last night’s audience hadn’t – there were six in total, each taking an element of landscape and looking at that through the prism of just one poem. Thus, London and city life were explored via Wordsworth’s ‘ ‘Composed upon Westminster Bridge’; villages and towns with Lynette Roberts‘ ‘Poem from Llanybri’; islands with George Mackay Brown’s wonderful ‘Hamnavoe’ (‘My father passed with his penny letters/ Through closes opening and shutting like legends’); woods and forests using Louis MacNeice‘s ‘Woods’; coast and sea with Arnold’s haunting ‘Dover Beach‘ and mountains and moorlands with Sylvia Plath‘s ‘Wuthering Heights’.

We watched the opening sequence of the ‘Hamnavoe’ episode, then Owen spoke to our Robyn about how the series came about, how he chose those six poems, and the many more that have subsequently been collected in a companion anthology, A Poet’s Guide to Britain (Penguin) (there are still a few of these left to purchase in the library if you want to get your grubby mitts upon one). Robyn was especially interested in how his selection criteria was defined by the private lives of the poets  –  would people have tuned in in such numbers to find out more about a poet who had gone about their poetic business without drama or controversy, without having lived in interesting times? The immediate and tangible benefit of the programmes was dwelt upon – sales of George Mackay Brown books soared a whopping 800% on Amazon, and we certainly experienced a surge of interest here in the SPL – was this part of the plan or happy side-effect? She wondered if Owen felt poetry lent itself well to a visual medium. The audience wondered if the BBC will make another series.

We can tell you that the episodes are soon to be released on DVD, and the afore-mentioned book is out and available here and in bookshops near you. We’ll be featuring fragments of this event in an upcoming podcast, as well as a quick chinwag snatched by Ryan –  in ten short minutes, he somehow unearthed that Owen was one of the masterminds behind C4 The Big Breakfast‘s regular feature ‘Streaky Bacon‘ – in which, according to Wiki, “Richard Bacon would get a member of the public out of their house to ‘streak’ along their street wearing nothing but bacon-covered underwear in order to win a large supply of bacon from their local butcher.” As you do. An evening both entertaining and informative, it was particularly gratifying to see Lynette Roberts’ and George Mackay Brown books being borrowed straight away, to sell a few of Owen’s books and to have people rushing to the stacks – bringing people and poetry together: yes sir.

…Philip Gross for The Water Table (Bloodaxe), a collection of poems meditating upon the Severn estuary. Chair of judges Simon Armitage said “It is so concentrated and keen-eyed and patient. The poems have a beauty and a craft to the writing and it’s hard to imagine how he kept it up over 64 pages.”

The shortlisted poets were

The Sun-fish by Eiléan Ní Chuilleánain

Continental Shelf by Fred D’Aguiar

Over by Jane Draycott
The Water Table by Philip Gross
Through the Square Window by Sinéad Morrissey
One Secret Thing by Sharon Olds
Weeds & Wild Flowers by Alice Oswald
A Scattering by Christopher Reid
The Burning of the Books and Other Poems by George Szirtes
West End Final by Hugo Williams

You can join us for a closer look at The Water Table at our New Books session: T S Eliot prize winner special, on Monday 15 February, 6.30 – 8pm.