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’ was 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 23 September 10-11a.m. with William Fiennes and Laurie Palma at the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and New Networks for Nature Conference, ‘Nature Matters 2016’, CCI Campus, David Attenborough Building, Pembroke Street, Cambridge, CB2 3QZ.
N.B. This is a conference. You can buy day tickets or a ticket for the whole event. Details at
Tuesday 4 October, evening Bristol Poetry Festival with Gillian Clarke, John Greening and Penelope Shuttle. More details nearer to event.
Monday 24 October, at 88 London Rd, Brighton BN1 4JF, with Sean Street and Gregory Woods. Entry is £5 / £4 and £3 for the open mic participants.More details nearer to event.
Saturday 12 November, 8.15 to 9.15 p.m. at the Cornwall Contemporary Poetry Festival, The Falmouth Hotel, Falmouth, Cornwall
There are many more readings in the pipeline for 2016, but not yet in the public domain! Please watch this space…
William Holburne’s China
For a teetotal poet, I take some remarkably drunken pictures. I have heard it said that Bath, and its sulphurous springs, are sitting on a volcano. But its earth has not tilted yet. You can walk safely into the Holburne Museum, once a hotel, now one of those extraordinary free treasure houses which a visitor can stumble upon, and be entranced.
Here is the collection of William Holburne, whose delicate face, wistful eyes and fine curls appear on each catalogue beside his china, paintings and spoons. He appears in one photograph as an old man, heavier, melancholy but not dissatisfied, sitting beside two of his favourite china figurines. What, the visitor might snarl, did this dilettante ever do?
Do not underestimate a collector of china. William Holburne knew the world outside the drawing room. At eleven, he was in the Navy. By twelve, he had fought at Trafalgar and gained his medal. He was the younger son, who would not inherit. The heir was Francis, who appears in a silhouette as the most elegant of soldiers, with an extravagantly curved sword. But Francis died, after a futile battle fought just after Napoleon had abdicated. The sword came to William. So did his family’s money – and his three unmarried sisters.
All lived in Bath, amongst medallions, china monkeys, majolica and the odd marvellous fake, all acquired by William. He idolised William Beckford, who had squandered a fortune, derived from slaves, on a huge collection, failed financially, gone to Bath, but still hoarded, in his specially built tower. Photographed by me, it would rival Pisa! Here, in its place, are some haughty painted tulips (from the Holburne’s own garden).
William the wiser, Trafalgar on his far horizon, did not spend Francis’ lost fortune. He may have bought Beckford’s exquisitely crazy gold teaspoons, but he kept them, and the monkeys, bequeathing them to the people of Bath for their enjoyment. So you can wander beneath vases, suspended in a stairwell (are the overburdened curators playing Russian roulette?) You can pay to walk through the travelling exhibitions. Mine included the children of Impressionist painters (male and female), delicate as the young William, often less long-lived. On the stairs, partly hidden by a magnificent piano, I found a painting by Joshua Shaw.
I had never heard of Shaw. Wikipedia tells me that, like me, he was born in Lincolnshire. Unlike me, he could paint (and invent modifications to guns which netted patents, payments and law suits in rapid succession). He and his powder caps sailed to America, to plenty and poverty (but no towers).
Shaw’s ‘Woodland Scene with Watering Place’ smoulders with light. Wikipedia says he learnt from Claude Lorraine. The excellent organisation which has put ‘Woodland Scene’ on to the Web does not demonstrate how paint threatens to set fire to the piano. The colours, to my eye, are not true. But you can see the massive horse, the old man, the quieter cow. It may be the theatrical work of a semi-charlatan, but, on a hot staircase, it transfixed me.
You may prefer the china foxes, made in Bow and Chelsea, heirs to that long British genius for turning clay into creatures… Then there is the café, with its quiet garden, where old women murmur, and young women laugh. Come to Bath, and be briefly idle, reflective. Before the volcano opens, or the battle begins again, come and sit beside William Holburne’s china.
Finally, here is a poem about another collection – assembled by a less agreeable collector!
The Wallace Collection
Not house, but jewel box. The first Duke
Built it so he could blast at duck
In the dim marshes. Buses roar.
Who bought the art? Earls five and four.
The last, though loathed, crony to Kings,
Outbid frantically at auction,
Left landscape’s blues, our Lady’s face,
Forgotten in their packing case,
Then died. His secretary, stunned,
Found he was heir, the unclaimed son.
What filled the rooms? China’s glazed glow,
Bleu lapis, bleu céleste, bleu beau,
The last French queen’s last desk, where clouds
Of lilies swim the water’s wood,
Leafed with frail holly she could slam
When servants padded through her room.
Rococo gilt hides mercury.
Gilders, best paid, were first to die.
By Chelsea’s lights the river smells.
Art draws, withdraws, bankrupts, compels.
The good son left to us the best
Fine hands had formed, rough hands possessed,
Bleu beau, bleu lapis, bleu céleste.
Published in ‘Then’, Carcanet, 2013