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  • 22nd January 2018
    Written By Fiona Sampson

    On RadioRadio 4 Book of the Week: 4 Start the Week: Scotland Janice Forsyth programme 18 Jan: 3 Free Thinking: PodcastsSpectator: History Extra: In PrintGuardian Book of the Week: Mail Book of the Week: Times: Sunday Times: Telegraph: Times: Idler Book of the Week (extract): Other MediaGuardian Lead Feature: Magazine on Frankenstein: Trust Romanticism Blog:'s Prize for Fiction Bookshelf and Giveaway:

  • 7th January 2018
    Written By Fiona Sampson

    This has been a great weekend for reviews of In Search of Mary Shelley - I'm pleased to say it has been Book of the Week in both the Guardian and Daily Mail (never let it be said that I lack range!), and was the lead review in the Telegraph (not on line unfortunately!), and well reviewed in  the Times, the Sunday Times and the Observer. My thanks to Rachel Hewitt, Ysenda Maxtone Graham, Miranda Seymour, Paula Byrne, John Carey and Rachel Cooke for their insightful and incisive discussions of this fascinating woman. You only have to look at the range of images the papers use to illustrate their stories to see the extent of her impact! If that's not enough Mary for you, I'll be launching the book on January 18 and with a lecture at National Portrait Gallery that evening. Click here to book your tickets.  It is BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week Jan 15-19 - click here for more details - and I'll be talking about it on BBC R4's Start the Week on Jan 8 (here) and on BBC R3's Free Thinking, Radio Ulster and Radio Scotland on Jan 18. The Links: Guardian, Daily Mail, Times, Sunday Times, Observer, National Portrait Gallery Tickets, Radio 4 - Book of the Week, Radio 4 - Start the Week    

  • 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.

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