Music, Awake Her


With an afterword by Lawrence Kramer: Sonata, What Do You Want of Me?

Cover painting: ‘Riverrun’ (oil and wax on canvas) David Ryan 2001

Available on backorder

SKU: 9781915048189 Categories: , ,


In Music, Awake Her, Martha Kapos discovers a way of using sonata form to emphasise and reveal key episodes of feeling, ones returned to in different poems written in various moods over a period of nearly 30 years.

She imagines sonata form as a narrative structure – with relations to parents giving rise to the two key themes, the child’s conflicts, modulations and resolutions between the two outlining an emotional trajectory that leads from early life, the exposition, through adulthood, development, to the new poems embodying the recapitulations of old age. In his Afterword, American musicologist Lawrence Kramer writes that the ‘revisited past is the only past we have. The question of sonata form is how to find it.’ The interlocking of themes and images here makes this Selected and New Poems a remarkable, and psychologically acute, showcase for Martha Kapos’s work.

‘Martha Kapos speaks in one of her poems of ‘the tiniest drama of matter’. She is referring to a candle flame – and indeed her poetry often has the apparent serenity of candlelight. But it comes not from the faux effect of a LED bulb! Touch these poems – and you feel the combustion, the energy of fiery emotion and active perception. Her intense sensibility is aligned with powers of musical precision and strong visualisation to make poems that are memorable and moving, and that over time have steadily coalesced into a body of work with substance and coherence. This New and Selected Poems is an occasion for fireworks’ – Maurice Riordan

‘Tell all the truth’, says Emily Dickinson, ‘but tell it slant.’ That line came back to me reading Martha Kapos’ poems when I tried to say to myself what she is doing, what is happening, in them. She writes very clearly, in very definite shapes-on-the-page. But the poems carry in them continual allusions to an elsewhere. I might say they mirror something other than their own manifest shape and apparent sense. Or refract it, at an angle not constant or calculable. Every reading would be a beginning again, some losses, some gains along the way. And each time something quickening’ – David Constantine

Martha Kapos.  Paperback, 210 x 135 mm, 124 pages, May 2024.

About the author: Martha Kapos was born in the US. Her professional life has brought together both poetry and the visual arts. In 1963 she came to London to study painting at the Chelsea School of Art, and then she taught there for many years in the Art History Department before joining the editorial team at Poetry London in 2001. A pamphlet from The Many Press, The Boy Under The Water, was her first poetry publication in 1989. She was shortlisted for Poetry Review’s Geoffrey Dearmer ‘New Poet of the Year’ award in 2001. My Nights in Cupid’s Palace (Enitharmon, 2003) was a Jerwood/Aldeburgh First Collection Prizewinner. This and her following two collections from Enitharmon, Supreme Being (2008) and The Likeness (2014), were Poetry Book Society Recommendations. The 2019 summer issue of Poetry London was her final issue as Poetry Co-Editor before her retirement. Smile Variations, a pamphlet from Happenstance, came out the same year.

Previous books by Martha Kapos:

My Nights in Cupid’s Palace, Enitharmon Press (2003)
Poetry Book Society Special Commendation
Jerwood/Aldeburgh First Collection Prize

Supreme Being, Enitharmon Press (2008)
Poetry Book Society Special Commendation

The Likeness, Enitharmon Press (2013)
Poetry Book Society Special Commendation

Smile Variations, HappenStance Press (2019)


The collections were widely reviewed – see excerpts below.

‘Here is a richly imaginative new voice. Martha Kapos attends with steady intensity to inner and outer weather in poems that can make athletic metaphoric leaps between domestic scenes and a macrocosmic world of nature, geography and cosmology…An intuitive and lyric sensibility is allied with unusual powers of visualization and composition to make this a distinctive and assured debut collection.’ Maurice Riordan – Poetry Book Society Bulletin (My Nights in Cupid’s Palace)

‘The best debut of the year: a true collection of poems rather than just an assortment of ones she made earlier, and each of them is perfect.’ Nicola Smyth: Books of the Year – The Independent on Sunday

‘Almost every poem here makes another myth, a new cosmology…exerts an unsettling, enlivening, revelatory effect. Her poems seek revelation, they are the act of seeking it; they are, as Lowell said poems should be – not the record of an event – but the event itself.’ David Constantine – Poetry London

‘Here is the sudden finding of something new and wonderful. She has a sharp language of feeling that enables you to find the uncommon in the common ground in the interior zones of the self’ John Clarke – Beverley Poetry Festival

‘Martha Kapos’s striking first book of poems guides us through the palatial spaces of a playful and inquisitive imagination. Door after door opens in a debut that balances a consistency of voice with a genuine ability to unsettle and surprise.’ Olivia Cole – The Times Literary Supplement

‘This is Cupid’s palace sparkling with horseplay and humour, as well as metaphoric and intellectual glamour.’ Ruth Padel – Financial Times

‘Her imagination can startle us into a new perception of familiar realities with intricate links and echoes between poems making their own small chain of being.’ Eva Salzman & Alan Jenkins – Poetry Book Society Bulletin (Supreme Being)

‘Her prizewinning first collection combined a meticulous control of language with a quietly original vision: both qualities now seem in full flower in a book whose imaginative ambition begins with the title… Supreme Being is a beautifully crafted collection; it is also a profoundly moving one.’ Carol Rumens – The Guardian

‘Her work has been likened to a kind of Cubism of the mind and this does give a sense of the planes and angles of her vision its stunning shifts and openings out. Poems convey both distance and warmth, the poet’s curiosity untrammelled, her powers of concentration intense… Martha Kapos is one of our most original and searching poets’ Moniza Alvi & John Burnside – Poetry Book Society Bulletin (The Likeness)

‘Beautifully crafted poems laden with rich and surprising imagery’ Sarah Corbett – Poetry Wales

‘Kapos treats visual perception in a slant 21st Century take on mimesis… She combines her interest in the nuances of sight and depiction with the elegiac lyric that is so profoundly her natural element. These delicately fastidious lyrics surprise us continually into unexpected sight.’ Carol Rumens – The Poetry Review (The Likeness)

‘Reading these poems was frustrating at first, as though the writer were being intentionally elusive. But then I saw that there was no other way to write them… The title is derived from a line from Richard Wilbur ‘Odd that a thing is most itself when likened’… The Likeness grapples with the paradox of absence. An absence is not a vacuum; it is a painful likeness of the missing person which can take on a heightened clarity.’ Frank Beck – The Manhattan Review

‘Martha Kapos has an ear for word music and a fine eye for a line break. But the beauty of her Smile Variations is more unsettling… Far from giving us another unvarnished account in the standard post-confessional manner, Kapos layers varnish over varnish and lets the poems catch the light. Whatever has or hasn’t happened, the art which overlays it rewards visit after visit.’ William Wootten – Times Literary Supplement


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