My new collection, ‘Skies’, has just been published by Carcanet.
This brilliant new collection’ Penelope Shuttle
‘Her best, most urgent collection to date … tender, exact and unflinching’.
‘These are personal moments which shine with the universal; a cosmos on a slice of toast; the waxing of the moon in a milkman’s morning round. ‘Whirled and free / the stars, my calm dead, walk with me.’
Poetry Book Society Bulletin, Spring 2016
Stop Press: ‘Skies’ has been featured on BBC Radio 4. I was interviewed by Kirsty Lang and read three poems on the lively arts magazine programme, ‘Front Row’. Here is the link. ‘Skies’ and I appear after 18 minutes! Please drag the marker along the time bar to go straight there. – click on marker again to play if necessary.
And delighted that ‘Skies’ is The Observer’s Poetry Book of the Month’! ‘The seasoned craft and musicality of Alison Brackenbury’s poetry shine through in this humble, haunting and humorous collection’. (Kate Kellaway)
Can skies be bought? Yes, in this case, from
Carcanet , my publishers– at a bargain price!
Friday 6 May, 12 noon at Bristol Can Openers, Steam Cafe Bar, 15 Union Gate, 63 Union Street, Bristol, BS1 2DL. FREE. Open mic.
Monday 16 May, 7.30 p m at Leicester Shindig, The Western, 70 Western Road, Leicester LE3 0GA, with Shruti Chauhan, David Clarke and Lydia Towsey. FREE – sign up on the door for open mic.
Wednesday 8 June, at Square Chapel, Halifax with Hilda Sheehan. Details nearer to the event at
Thursday 30 June at Words and Ears, The Swan, 1 Church Street Bradford on Avon Wiltshire BA15 1LN. 7.30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tickets £3 on door. Reading with Rosie Jackson. Open mic!
Friday 21 October at Poets’ Café, South Street Arts Centre, 21 South Street, Reading RG1 4QU. Provisional time: 8 p m. Please check details nearer to event at
Monday 24 October, at Emporium Theatre and Cafe Bar, 88 London Rd, Brighton BN1 4JF. More details nearer to event.
Scraps of Shakespeare
Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet: early film still.
This blog is a disgrace. As I begin, I hear the voice of a history student, forty years ago. She complained that, to me – and to my fellow English students –‘Shakespeare equals God throughout’. God? No. But I feel I am scrabbling in the foam, at the edge of a great sea.
It is a sea which licks the feet of almost everyone who speaks English. There are threads of Shakespeare woven through our speech. They are so familiar that, if we notice them at all, we probably think they are proverbs. They quietly defy anyone who thinks that poetry becomes incomprehensible with time; that it cannot speak of our own lives; that it is not for everyone. I must admit, disgracefully, that when the Tory Education Minister, Kenneth Baker, made Shakespeare compulsory, I thought this would be a disaster in my daughter’s comprehensive school. Instead I found that her best friend, struggling in most subjects, spent lunchtimes with my daughter, rehearsing ‘Macbeth’: ‘Heaven knows what she has known … God, God forgive us all.’
I consider the four hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and his burial beneath doggerel: ‘Curst be he who moves my bones’. I hope I will not be cursed because Shakespeare runs like a thread through the shabby cloth of my own poetry. The young wear black. When I was younger, I wrote, blackly, about ‘Hamlet’:
The Players Come to the Castle
It was a dream of welcome,
After miles of storm
The table steamed with cakes and game
The royal fire sprang warm.
Our leader’s lines. Now I, the poor
Boy playing queen, tell what I saw.
The hall lay dark and icy,
Its scarlet rugs rubbed bare.
No word or gesture came from
The prince, slumped in his chair.
(From ‘1829’, Carcanet, 1995)
Scholars would tell us, carefully, that we must not seek the man in the plays. But I swear that the man who made Hamlet welcome his players so warmly had travelled in rain-soaked carts, and been treated like a dog on arrival. That he did not sleep enough: ‘Sleep, O gentle sleep’ – And that he paid a price for his London sexual adventures. I think that ‘Lear’ was written by someone with a venereal disease: ‘But to the girdle do the gods inherit; beneath is all the fiends’. There’s hell, there’s darkness, there’s the sulfurous pit’ —
We do know something about Shakespeare and money. For he carefully made money, in impressive quantities. He bought an equally impressive house in his home town. He would go to law to get what was owed to him. The Sonnets are dense with legalities. But, as a Shakespeare-loving Tory Cabinet brought in Clause 28, I wondered if poets frequently addressed their young handsome patron as ‘Dear my love’? (For younger readers, here is an account of Clause 28. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Section_28. And love? Read Sonnet 13, and decide. http://www.shakespeares-sonnets.com/sonnet/13.) Meanwhile, in middle age, trying to scavenge some rags of his metres, I glimpsed Shakespeare again:
I planned to take these lines apart,
The story lies too close to lose.
The young man’s fingers grip his heart.
Each betrays each. The woman comes.
Both sleep with her. How do they part?
He buys the grandest house in town
Where his wife stays. The boy moves on.
Thick body creaking, he retires.
Only once, toils back to London,
Climbs to lawyers; on the landing
The short breaths stop. The faintness flares.
He leans against the greasy wall.
Their laugh breaks round him, down the stairs.
From ‘Bricks and Ballads’, Carcanet, 2004)
Hamlet rages against comic actors. Yet the fools remain, especially in my favourite play, ‘Twelfth Night’. It ends in ‘the wind and the rain’ of the Elizabethan street (or the player’s cart). But first, Feste says ‘Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun. It shines everywhere.’ And my day once brightened because student editors, expert in the rags and patches of postmodernism, wanted to publish a poem, of my old age, where Shakespeare shines in an irreverent light:
To Mr W.S., from his agent
The sonnets were a flop. But plagues are over.
Go back to plays again! Don’t be cast down.
Plots aren’t your strength. Steal one! A fight, a murder.
And this time, please, a good part for the clown.
(From ‘Bricks and Ballads’, Carcanet, 2004)
So, queen ‘of shreds and patches’, I fold my borrowed finery around me, to say a last ‘Amen’ to that. To God? To William Shakespeare.
P.S. If you are in London, you can see The Poetry Society’s exhibition of posters inspired by lines from Shakespeare. It runs until May 7, and is in the basement of their excellent Poetry Café. ‘Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?’ I am not sufficiently virtuous to resist the Poetry Society’s food!
And there are special Shakespeare events there on Saturday April 23rd – a workshop with A.B.Jackson and a reading by A.B.Jackson and A.E.Stallings. More details here:
Here are some of the posters which will be the backdrop to these events!
I helped to suggest the Richard II quote. ‘For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground…’ In Shakespeare, the ground comes before the King.