Image by Caroline Forbes

Elizabeth Bartlett

b. 1924 d. 2008


Hers is a daybook of a night-nurse of the soul - John Mole, 'Encounter'

Art Class

Elizabeth Bartlett

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The Visitors

Elizabeth Bartlett

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Painting of a Bedroom with Cats

Elizabeth Bartlett

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About Elizabeth Bartlett

Elizabeth Bartlett (1924 - 2008) grew up in Deal, Kent. Her childhood was one of hardship and although she gained a grammar school scholarship she left education at fifteen. At nineteen she married and had one son. She worked for a long time in the health service, as a doctor's receptionist, and for the Home Care Service, an environment which provided her with material for some of her most moving poems. She published eight collections including in 1995 the acclaimed retrospective Two Women Dancing: New & Selected Poems which was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation.

Elizabeth Bartlett lived in the same house in West Sussex for fifty years and in her poem 'Painting of a Bedroom with Cats' she describes the room where she wrote throughout that time. It was a space where figures from the arts and history were as much living presences as the cats snoozing on the quilt, and in its hushed atmosphere and scrupulous observation the poem suggests a lifetime of dedication to poetry. Not that her poems have an air of seclusion: on the contrary they are fully engaged in life, her own and those of others. There are powerful poems borne out of the deprivations she suffered growing up, her experience of motherhood and marriage, and of the five years she spent in psychoanalysis. In particular, Bartlett has an affinity for the lost and lonely, like the hallucinating patient in 'The Visitors' or the man who embraces a sunflower in the absence of a woman. Throughout her work, there is a refusal to rely on the vision of others, expressed with defiance in poems like 'Art Class' in which the meddling teacher criticises the student's work because "it seems to have a life of its own." Moments of satire aside, the abiding impression is of a poet prepared to chronicle damaged and disregarded lives, of a "night-nurse of the soul" (John Mole, Encounter).

Bartlett reads her work in a measured way, allowing each word its weight, without being ponderous. Her voice shares the humane quality of her poetry, its steady gaze on a sometimes dismaying world.

Her recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 14 August 2001 at the poet's home in Sussex, UK and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Elizabeth Bartlett's Favourite Poetry Sayings:

"When a poet's mind is perfectly equipped for its work, it is constantly amalgamating disparate experience; the ordinary man's experience is chaotic, irregular, fragmentary." - T. S. Eliot

"Between them, Eliot, Frost and Owen cleared the way for a new kind of poetry in which the material of modern life could find a voice commensurate with the speaking voice." - Peter Forbes

Selected bibliography

Elizabeth Bartlett Reading from her Poems, CD, The...

Peterloo Poetry No. 2 (with William Scammell), Audio...

Mrs Perkins and Oedipus, Bloodaxe, 2005

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Appetites of Love, Bloodaxe, 2001

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Two Women Dancing: New and Selected Poems, Newcastle-...

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Look, No Face, Bradford, West Yorkshire, Redbeck Press,...

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Instead of a Mass, West Kirby, Wirral, Headland, 1991

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The Czar is Dead, Hungerford, Berkshire, Rivelin...

Strange Territory, Peterloo Poets, 1983 - out of print

Prizes

1995 Poetry Book Society Recommendation, Two Women Dancing: New & Selected Poems

Prize website

Links

Recordings

Elizabeth Bartlett Reading from her poems

1My Five Gentleman

2Painting of a Bedroom with Cats

3Design

4Disposing of Ashes

5The Visitors

6999 Call

7Charlotte, Her Book

8Stretch Marks

9To Tracy with Love

10Egg Tempera

11Art Class

12Entering Language

13Themes for Women

14The Limbo Line

15Notes for a Thesis on the Thirties

16The Winter Gardens

17North Terminal

18The Harrods of Porth

19Deutschmarks and Lemon Trees

20Legends and Realities

21Abstract

22The Winter's Tale

23Sunflower

24Mine

25The Lace Maker

26The Beautiful Knees of the Visiting Lay Preacher

27Schadenfreude

28Enemies

29The Geldings

30Vikings

A tour of the Archive with Clive James

The writer and broadcaster Clive James introduces a few of his favourite poems in the Poetry Archive.

Featured Guided Tours


Books & cds by Elizabeth Bartlett