News, Events and Comment

  • 12th June 2017
    Written By Fiona Sampson

    Thank you to Carol Rumens for her close reading in the Guardian of Cob, from my most recent collection The Catch. As she notes, The Catch (reviewed here by Sean O'Brien) uses breath rather than punctuation to shape the poems - and for me this presented a form that is both supple and labile, nodding as it does to W S Merwin's notion that punctuation 'staples' a poem to the page. Each poem is a single sentence, and it was vital to me that this sentence 'worked' - it had an internal consistency and could be viewed from without as having complete coherence. Yet within this I aimed to keep the reader on their toes, to open a space for different readings in both senses of the word - the way it is read, and the way it is understood. For any poet, this is the challenge, to use form as part of the 'thinking' the poem does. As I discuss in my book Lyric Cousins, poetry and breath have relationship of complete intimacy, and it is one of the things I explore in The Catch. It is a joy when a close reading works hard enough to seek out these hidden structural - and ontological - systems within a poem - thanks to Carol Rumens for doing just that.

  • 26th May 2017
    Written By Fiona Sampson

    Here's a taster from the Introduction of my new book, Limestone Country, out on May 30 from Little Toller. You can preorder a copy here! Limestone Country This book is about a love affair with limestone, that sedimentary rock, largely calcium carbonate, which time and water make out of bones and shells. Limestone is the cannibal earth reconsuming her own. But its lacy spume is a hundred times more delicate than marble. Limestone dazzles in Sicily, contorts the highlands of Bosnia, paves The Burren in County Clare, emerges in fantastical tufa formations on the eastern Mediterranean, in Lebanon and Israel, and creates the dramatic caves and gorges of karst regions like Slovenia’s Kras, the Chocolate Hills of the Philippines – or Australia’s Nullarbor Plain. Rome is built from Travertine limestone. Mount Parnassus is limestone, as is the pavement of the Acropolis. Subtle, water-inflected, still ceaselessly in transition, limestone is welcoming to humans, who have long found it adapts easily to their needs, as they to it. It enabled some of the earliest human settlement and art of which we know. The great paintings of Lascaux and other nearby caves, which date from 15,000 BCE, are found in the limestone valley of the River Vézère, in south-west France. A few kilometres further south again, the inhabitants of the limestone Grotte du Vallonnet left their tools behind over 1,000,000 BCE. Really living in these landscapes means paying radical attention to how they behave. It means knowing their wildlife as well as ways of farming, observing how water and vegetation respond to the mineral facts of rock and soil as much as how humans live in and with them. This is a book about trying on possible ways of living – or dying – in limestone country.

  • 24th April 2017
    Written By Fiona Sampson

    Everyone hates a ‘humble brag’ so I’ll say it straight out – I was chuffed to receive an MBE for services to literature last Tuesday. And here’s why. We live in a time where any sort of intellectual cultural activity is regarded with suspicion, and where funding is being cut from anything that promotes critical thinking. Libraries are being closed, university places are becoming ever more expensive, humanities subjects such as classics are being dropped from school curriculums (their difficulty is having an adverse effect on students’ marks, ‘reasons’ the minister), and where any voice that attempts to express the complexity of life is silenced with cries of ‘elitism’. As we’ve seen in the last two years, this cultural dumbing down has very real effects, and it’s making the world a much darker place for ourselves and our children. I started my life in care. But from an early age I had the good fortune to find books, which in those days were free and in the public library, and which showed me there were possible worlds to which I could aspire. I read voraciously, always. In my early twenties I started working with writing in health and social care. The way poetry allowed people to say the complex, challenging and just plain painful things that couldn’t otherwise be expressed was one of the reasons I was drawn to it. Since then I’ve written, grappled with, and lived with poetry. I’ve tried to serve it in a communal way, setting up festivals and so on: I absolutely love talking about and reviewing books that enthuse me. More and more poetry is seen – and taught – as a simple expression of feelings. For me, it is more than that: it’s an act of resistance, as it points to a notion of being human which is far different from the dumb, complacent and passive consumers that the powers that be wish us to become. Official recognition for work in the cultural sphere is also being hacked away at: one only need compare the number of Honours given for sport compared to literature (don’t even think about looking back thirty years, the change is dramatic). It would of course be great if there was something other than the Queen’s Honours list: but there isn’t. So I accept this honour with all the caveats any thinking person would have, and pledge to keep fighting for a cultural space which allows people genuinely to think, and to aspire to a world where the intellect is seen as valuable both in itself, and in making a world that is, frankly, better than the one we are making now.

  • 31st October 2016
    Written By Fiona Sampson

    There’s a running joke in my house that I have always published 27 books, no matter how many more I write. It just feels like a good number, and works well when being introduced. I’m not sure what the next euphonious number is – 31? 33? 46? Obviously 27 will have to absorb a few new books before I make the leap... So, I am happy to announce that my fifth (or sixth?) 27th book is out today – Lyric Cousins – which investigates the relationship between music and poetry at the deepest level – how each form shapes the other in a dialogue that is as old as Homer. Having made a career in both, it was a pleasure for me to investigate the similarities and differences between these two most complex, most challenging, and most rewarding of art forms. For more details, go here.

  • 19th October 2016
    Written By Fiona Sampson

    I should be used to it by now, but there is still something thrilling about having your new book arrive, hot off the presses. My latest book, Lyric Cousins, is out on October 31, and it represents a unique opportunity for me to bring together my three 'careers' - as a poet, as a professional musician, and as a critic. As many of you will be aware, I started life as a concert violinist, studying at the Royal Academy of Music, and performing for and with musicians including Sir Simon Rattle and Pierre Boulez. As a poet, I have had my work set by composers including Sally Beamish, Steve Goss and Luminata Spinu, and am currently having three sonnets from Coleshill set by Sir Harrison Birtwistle. I have always enjoyed bringing these aspects of my working and thinking together, and it has been wonderful to have been given the opportunity to do so in what for me was a 'thought experiment' - looking at the ways that these 'problematic' forms - poetry and art music - have worked for or against each other, and their family resemblances and differences. For me both are striking examples of 'thinking the world' in a unique way. At a time when the zeitgeist (never a neutral creation) favours the simple and undemanding, poetry and art music, at their best, continue to ask questions of us for which there are no simple answers, and thus resist the banalization of modern life. It was a pleasure to write this book, and a joy to have it arrive. More details here.