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Sue Leigh and her approach to poetry

Sue Leigh is a poet and writer who lives and works in the valley of the River Windrush in Oxfordshire. Her collection Chosen Hill is published by Two Rivers Press. Sue reflects here on what poetry means for her.

Chosen Hill book cover

How and why did you become a poet?

I loved poetry as a child, I knew somehow it was important.  It was the sound of it I liked, its strangeness.  I started writing as a teenager – just a few poems.  It didn’t occur to me at the time that they might be for anyone else.   Writing felt private, real and liberating.

I continued to read poetry as I raised a family and worked in publishing – it sustained me at some deep level.  But I wrote nothing during those years.  Later, a space opened up and I found I had the solitude and quiet I needed to write.  Since then poetry has become the touchstone of my life.

What are your interests?

I write about the deep past – what we might learn from it, what of ourselves we leave behind.  I want to look at the past in today’s light.  From my window I can see a small Norman church (built on the site of a Roman villa) and what is left of a deserted medieval village, and beyond, the river that flows on.  The past is so close.

I find myself returning to questions of how we might live, how we might respond creatively to being alive.  I am interested in the lives and work of other artists – how they express the subtleties and complexities of experience. 

I write about the natural world from a place of reverence but also concern.  

I cannot say where poems come from except from noticing, paying attention, a kind of intense listening.  It is difficult to talk about process.  In the end there are the poems and they must speak for themselves.  And it is of course all provisional.  There are times of writing, there are fallow periods.   

Which writers have influenced you?

I have been inspired by many writers but John Clare and Edward Thomas have been important – poets whose vision is often connected to an English landscape with a sense of the local and particular. 

I also read what might be called ‘nature writing’ (although I am not entirely happy with the term) by writers such as Nan Shepherd and Annie Dillard.

What is the future of poetry?  Does poetry matter?

Poetry won’t stop the worst things happening but poetry can help, by naming things and by focusing on the particular.  Language can so easily become debased but poetry uses words charged with their utmost meaning.  Poetry is inherently truthful.

Poetry also renews and deepens the imagination and that is as essential to public life as it is to private life.  Imagination is close to compassion and that surely is the greatest virtue of all.

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POETRY & EUROPE, A Celebration

However the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland leaves the European Union, if it does, the long and deep-rooted connections between the poetic cultures of these islands and those of continental Europe will continue to be, and need to be, sustained.

As a celebration of these continuities, whose existence has, if anything, been made more urgently manifest by the current political crisis in which the countries of the British archipelago find themselves, the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading and Two Rivers Press, the town’s most prominent publisher, hosted an evening of readings featuring poems and translations from or about experiences of Europe.

This event also served to launch two new volumes on these and related themes, Ravishing Europa by Peter Robinson (published by Worple Press) and A Part of the Main by Philip Gross and Lesley Saunders (publish by Mulffran Press). Jane Draycott, reading from Storms under the Skin, her translations of Henri Michaux (Two Rivers Press), a Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation in 2017, joined them; and the evening, hosted by Steven Matthews, included guest appearances by other poets published by Two Rivers Press in 2019, including Kate Behrens, James Peake and Conor Carville.

The event took place in the foyer café at the Museum of English Rural Life, Redlands Road, Reading, on Tuesday 12 March 2019.

This event was supported by a grant to the Department of English Literature from the Endowment Fund of the University of Reading and by gifts in kind from Two Rivers Press.

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RiversSide

We invite contributions to our online gallery – RiversSide – where we feature poems, artworks, photography and short prose. RiversSide publishes works about Reading or by creators who live in Reading.

To submit a work for consideration please email riversside@tworiverspress.com.

If we select your work, we will feature it on the RiversSide section of our website, and we may also republish your content in print format, for example in a printed pamphlet anthology. We are unable to offer payment for publication of your work, but you will be entitled to a small number of free copies of any printed work we publish which includes your content (contributors would retain copyright in their own work).

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The Botanical Art Portfolios – a new series!

We are delighted to announce the launch of our New Series!

The Botanical Art Portfolios, edited by Julia Trickey, feature distinguished botanical artists, their work and their inspiration. Intentionally both beautiful and useful, these handy-sized paperbacks are designed to be taken anywhere, referred to, collected and gazed at. Each book will bring out the personality of its individual artist, showcase their work and share why they love what they do, explain their choice of subjects, the distinct techniques they have developed, and their failures as well as their successes.

Here is the first title in the series: Botanical Artistry by Julia Trickey. It’s out now!

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