Mary Shelley was brought up by her father in a house filled with radical thinkers, poets, philosophers and writers of the day. Aged sixteen, she eloped with Percy Bysshe Shelley, embarking on a relationship that was lived on the move across Britain and Europe, as she coped with debt, infidelity and the deaths of three children, before early widowhood changed her life forever. Most astonishingly, it was while she was still a teenager that Mary composed her canonical novel Frankenstein, creating two of our most enduring archetypes today.
The life story is well-known. But who was the woman who lived it? She’s left plenty of evidence, and in this fascinating dialogue with the past, Fiona Sampson sifts through letters, diaries and records to find the real woman behind the story. She uncovers a complex, generous character – friend, intellectual, lover and mother – trying to fulfil her own passionate commitment to writing at a time when to be a woman writer was an extraordinary and costly anomaly.
Published for the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein, this is a major new work of biography by a prize-winning writer and poet.
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.
Fiona Sampson’s latest collection transforms the sensory world into an astonishingly new and vivid poetry. Here, dream and myth, creatures real and imagined, and the sights and sounds of ‘distance and of home’ all coalesce in a sustained meditation on time and belonging.
Combining formal sophistication with metaphysical exploration, this is an incandescent work of renewal, beauty and risk.
‘The Catch, like its predecessor, Coleshill, is alert to the marginal states of dream, memory and imagination encountered at dusk or dawn, or while driving at night. Sampson, seeing experience, time and imagination as a unified field, admits darkness and friction alongside love and illumination…’ – Sean O’Brien, The Independent.
Poetry and art music occupy similar cultural positions: each has a tendency to be regarded as problematic, ‘difficult’ and therefore ‘elitist’. Despite this, the audiences and numbers of participants for each are substantial: yet they tend not to overlap. This is odd, because the forms share early history in song and saga, and have some striking similarities, often summed up in the word ‘lyric’.? These similarities include much that is most significant to the experience of each, and so of most interest to practitioners and audiences. They encompass, at the very least: the way each art-form is aural, and takes place in time; a shared reliance on temporal, rather than spatial, forms; an engagement with sensory experience and pleasure; availability for both shared public performance and private reading, sight-reading and hearing in memory; and scope for non-denotative meaning. In other words, looking at these elements in music is a way to look at them in poetry, and vice versa. This is a study of these two formal craft traditions that is concerned with the similarities in their roles, structures, projects and capacities.
The poems hum with an evocative music of their own: there are hymns of the orchards, verses for walkers, songs for bees. These are slices of life and states of mind; poems of grief, fears and maledictions, but also of renewal, resurrections and the promise of spring. Coleshill emerges as a ‘parish of sun/and shade’; its darkness and light perfectly balanced. From the T.S. Eliot and Forward Prize shortlisted poet comes a deep, interrogative collection of astonishing clarity and power.
“Coleshill finds Fiona Sampson enduring a term of trial, its rural setting made menacing by present threat, old terrors and the larger unravelling of the environment.” – Sean O’Brien, Independent
“In this sumptuous collection, haunted by fear and a surefooted, hard-won joy, Fiona Sampson celebrates that elusive and most endangered thing: a meaningful sense of place. Reading Coleshill, we are reminded of an essential community with the land, and with all our good neighbours, animals and humans.” – John Burnside
“These poems of place, often troublingly dark, are sui generis in the way they use what’s to hand to explore what’s hidden. Fiona Sampson’s technical subtlety is everywhere in evidence and her emotional range is startling. Coleshill is a book of rare power and depth.” – David Harsent
“This is Sampson’s poetic masterpiece, and a landmark book. She creates intimacy of place through a chamber music of the natural and made worlds, honed observations and epiphanic ‘instrusions’. With its layering of history and presence, Coleshill is a major contribution to the literature of the local.” – John Kinsella
“A richly rewarding and thematically coherent work, written with an avid attention to light effects, atmosphere, and the natural world.” – Suzi Feay, Independent on Sunday
‘Rough Music’ is the old English name for a custom of public scapegoating. This is a book full of disturbing musical echoes, in which brilliant renewals of carol, charm, folksong and ballad explore themes of violence, loss and belonging. Fiona Sampson’s characteristic lyric intensity deftly fuses metaphysics and politics with the vernacular of daily life.
By turns sensual and incantatory, Common Prayer offers a liturgy for a world in crisis. Meditations on the actuality of sickness and bereavement move outward through narratives of the broken body of Europe’s violent twentieth century. Challenging and exploratory, Fiona Sampson’s poetry remakes the spiritual and physical metaphors by which we live.
Urgent, acrobatically alert poems alternate with the comparative stillness of a series of love sonnets. Here, too, the imagination is always at work, demonstrating that curiosity is a form of passion. – Sean O’Brien, The Sunday Times
That she is also a very fine poet indeed seems almost impertinent of her, but that is what she is… Sampson’s free verse soon surprises by its seductive ease and its vivid rendition of he ordinary, material world. This perfect equilibrium between the numinous and the touchable is typical of Sampson’s achievement. – Adam Thorpe, The Guardian
Fiona Sampson burst onto the literary landscape as the brilliant young editor of Poetry Review a couple of years ago. In Common Prayer, her subject is darkness of many kinds, erotic or lonely, histories of Eastern Europe, abandonment. She finds a subtle suggestion of sexual gesture in unexpected places. – Elaine Feinstein, The Times
“Fiona Sampson makes no apology for her old-fashioned diction of baptism, martyr, angel, avoiding the usual big questions by asking apparently ingenuous ones – is that radiance? Are you glass? There is a breathless agony in the isolated speaking voice which demands patient re-reading to be relished.” – Medbh McGuckian
This brilliantly devised verse-novel opens with a love affair in crisis, unfolds through loss, risk and existential challenge, and ends with lovemaking in a domain at once sensual and imagined. Such radical ambiguity invites us to experience the lovers’ dilemmas as our own: is true intimacy only possible through distance? How much of our identity is just story?
Exploring the limits of meaning, Sampson refreshes our sense of poetry as that which goes beyond the grammar of the commonplace. Profoundly influenced by the poet’s work in the mainstream of European poetry, The Distance Between Us is a passionate exploration of psychology and sexuality set among the tensions of contemporary European identity.
“Superb. Perfectly balancing remoter imaginative and intellectual perspectives with a richness of earthy, ordinary detail.” – Poetry Review
“These poems are liguistic tours de force [which] point up the extraordinary versatility of Sampson’s language.” – Poetry
In Translation: Bulgarian edition, Balkani,
Fiona Sampson’s second full length book of poems is as varied and well crafted as any that will be published this year. Her intellect and humanity are underlain by a compelling poetic talent. Surviving a murder attempt generates the clarity, compression and pure celebratory drive of the book’s title sequence of fourteen syllabic sonnets. It forms the spinal cord of the entire collection, from which nerve endings reach out into a dizzying range of poetic matter, while retaining the book’s essential cohrerence and integrity, and what Maura Dooley calls “Sampson’s incisive, inquisitive, painterly eye”.
Fiona Sampson’s poems explore modes of perception and constanly query our view of reality. They chart a keen and complicated response to experience. Included here is the long poem, the multi-part ‘Green Thought’, winner of the Newdigate Prize. Typically its themes and variations are multiple, from love to the beauty of a Welsh woodland, from the joy of unadulterated desire to the suspect implications of irradiated fields.
British poetry is enjoying a period of exceptional richness and variety. This is exciting but it’s also confusing, and throws up the need for an enthusiastic guide that can explain and celebrate the many parallel poetry projects now underway.
Beyond the Lyric does just that. This is a book of enthusiasms: an intelligent and witty map of contemporary British poetry and a radical, accessible guide to living British poets, grouped for the first time according to the kind of poetry they write.
In a series of ground-breaking new classifications, beginning with the bread-and-butter diction of the Plain Dealers and ending on the capacious generosity of the Exploded Lyric, it examines the broad range of contemporary tendencies – from the baroque swagger of the Dandies to the restrained elegance of the Oxford Elegists; from the layered, haunting verse of Mythopoesis to the inventive explorations of the New Formalists.
By probing the cultural context from which these groups emerge and shifting the critical focus back to the work itself, Sampson’s astute analysis illuminates and demystifies each of these terms and asks the big questions about what makes a poem.
The result is a celebration of poetry as a connected, responsive and above all communitarian form. Lively, engaging and inviting, this is the indispensible and authoritative guide for anyone who’s ever wondered what’s going on in British poetry today.“Few are as well qualified to do this as Sampson… Sampson is a thorough and often persuasive close reader.” – Tom Payne, Daily Telegraph
Percy Bysshe Shelley: Poet to Poet (Faber 2012)
Poetry Book Society On-line Book Club Choice
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) was born in
In this series, a contemporary poet selects and introduces a poet of the past. By their choice of poems and by the personal and critical reactions they express in their prefaces, the editors offer insights into their own work as well as providing an accessible and passionate introduction to some of the greatest poets of our literature.
Music Lessons: The
Poetry Writing: The Expert Guide (Robert Hale 2011)
Written by a prize-winning poet, this book takes the reader
through the entire poetry writing process, all the while promoting individual
creativity and expression.
Poetry Writing starts with questions about what poetry is, what it means to the poet and why people write it. It goes on to consider rhythm, rhyme and repetition and explore different poetry forms. This book is also thoroughly practical; there are exercises at the end of every chapter, it contemplates the ‘ideal reader’ and finishes with advice on getting poetry published. Listings of poetry publishers, magazines, resources and festivals are also included.
Whether you are a complete novice or an established writer, Poetry Writing will offer something new time and again; this beautifully written guide will inform, encourage and inspire.
A Century of Poetry Review – Edited and Introduced
On Listening: Selected Essays (Salt 2007)
On Listening is a collection of essays covering many of the
key areas of contemporary debate in creative writing. From translation as the
art of the impossible to the significance of community writing projects, by way
of teaching debate and personal enthusiasms, it affords a portrait of the field
as a whole.
A Fine Line: New Poetry from Central and Eastern
Exploring the writing process and its relationship to self, this guide synthesizes critical and creative theories of writing for both writers and readers. Each chapter links a range of theoretical approaches to one practical aspect of writing, using illustrations from fiction, poetry and literary non-fiction, and suggesting practical exercises for pursuing the topic further. The book will enable students to develop literary, critical and psychodynamic understandings of the creative process and to explore a range of key topics.
This unique and comprehensive ‘map’ of the topic of creative writing in health and social care brings together contributions from health and social care professionals and provides the information needed to teach, counsel and write. Principally exploring poetry and story writing and telling, case studies range from work with pre-literate children in post-war
“Creative Writing in Health and Social Care is full of experience of working with patients with dementia, hospital, hospice and occupational therapy patients, and those in primary care. This is innovative work – deeply helpful to the patients, illuminatively described.” – The British Journal of General Practice
Examining the potential of creative writing as a therapeutic
tool, particularly in terms of its influence on the self and personal
development, The Self on the Page is divided into two parts.
In Part One representative practitioners provide an overview of current work in the field, based on their experience of conducting courses, workshops and research projects with creative writing students, and clients as diverse as people with learning disabilities or dementia and people in hospices, using various genres of creative writing from poetry to autobiography and literary fiction. This section also contains many practical suggestions for writing techniques that can be used for personal development, whether working with writers’ groups or with client groups in health care and the social services.
Part Two explores the theoretical background to the therapeutic uses of creative writing, with particular reference to psychoanalysis, philosophy of language, and literary and social theory. Illustrating a wide range of different approaches, the contributors provide an introduction to thinking about creative writing in a personal development context with suggestions for further reading, and look at the potential evolution of therapeutic creative writing in the future. Academics with an interest in textual practice, language and cultural theory; practitioners and theorists of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis; arts therapists and their educators; arts providers.
In Translation: Hebrew edition ACh Publishers, Tel Aviv: 2002
What do we mean by ‘poetry and healing’? Do poets write
because it makes them feel better? Are there differences between the
experiences or needs of writers and readers? What’s the point of writing in
Fiona Sampson pioneered the development of writing in health care in the
(Translator of two collections only)