Fiona Sampson

Image by Kitty Sullivan

Fiona Sampson

b. 1963

Paying attention - listening - to one kind of complexity tells us something about the complexity of experience in general. Fiona Sampson

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About Fiona Sampson

Fiona Sampson was born in London, and grew up in the West Country, on the west coast of Wales and in Gloucestershire. Her background in music forms an important part of her poetic voice – leaving school at sixteen to study the violin in Salzberg, Paris, Gstaad and London, she worked as a soloist and chamber musician until her mid twenties. She then took up residencies which pioneered writing in health and social care: - work for which she is now internationally recognised. She studied at the Universities of Oxford where she won the Newdigate Prize, and Nijmegen, gaining a PhD in the philosophy of language. This work led to a series of books on the writing process, from the academic – Writing: Self and Reflexivity, and Writing: Self on the Page, both with Celia Hunt – to the practical: Writing in Health and Social Care and The Healing Word.

She has been widely translated, with eight books in translation including Patuvachki Dnevnik (Travel Diary), which was awarded the 2004 Zlaten Prsten (Macedonia). Her own translations include books by Jaan Kaplinski and Amir Or. A specialist in the literatures of Eastern Europe, she co-edited A Fine Line, an anthology of young poets from Central and South-Eastern Europe, and founded and edited Orient Express (2002-5), a magazine of contemporary writing from that region. In 2005 she became the first female editor of Poetry Review for sixty years. As a critic, she contributes regularly to The Guardian, The Irish Times, The Independent, TLS and other publications.

Fiona Sampson’s second collection of poetry, Folding the Real appeared from Seren in 2001. She held a three-year Arts and Humanities Research Council/AHRC Fellowship at the Centre for modern and Contemporary Poetry, Oxford Brookes University (2002-2005) to write the dream-like verse novel The Distance Between Us, a journey through a long distance love affair. Here, distance isn’t purely geographical – the poems speak of the distances within a relationship; seeking for the truths that surface in the moments that syntax, language and even the shape of words on the page seem to dissolve. In her third collection Common Prayer, short-listed for the TS Eliot Prize in 2007, her precise and musical language meditates on the juxtaposition of everyday and inner landscapes. ‘Trumpledor Beach’, short-listed for the 2006 Forward Prize for best single poem, moves from deckchairs and coke-tins to the self’s awareness of itself, against the background sound of the sea. Sampson uses white space – varying degrees of silence to create, what she calls, "the stretched line of attention holding itself".

Fiona Sampson has said that while she enjoyed being a professional performer, she was not a composer; poetry enables her to ‘say more.’ From 2007-2008 she held a Fellowship in Performance and Creativity at the University of Warwick to work on the relationship between poetry and music. She has also collaborated extensively with visual artists, in commissions from ACE (Southern Arts) to Ledbury Poetry Festival, and has a special interest in artists’ books. In her most recent volume of essays, On Listening, she explores how that notion is important to her in all her work, from translation and community work to editing, reviewing and writing: - since when we are not speaking, we are aware of something beyond ourselves. The recordings she has made for the Poetry Archive bear this out. Using her voice as an instrument to release the music of her lines, and the charged spaces between them, Sampson lifts her words from the score of the page and allows them to live in our heads.

This recording was made on the 13th November, 2007 at the Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Selected bibliography

Percy Bysshe Shelley (editor) Poet to Poet, Faber, 2011

Music Lessons: The Newcastle Poetry Lectures Bloodaxe,...

A Century of Poetry Review (editor) Carcanet, 2009 (PBS...

Poetry Writing: The Expert Guide Robert Hale Ltd, 2009

Rough Music Carcanet Press, 2010

On Listening: selected essays Salt, 2007

Common Prayer Carcanet, 2007


Day/Amir Or (translator with Amir Or) Dedalus (Dublin...

Writing: Self and Reflexivity (with Celia Hunt)...


1992 Newdigate Prize Newdigate Prize ‘Green Thought’ 1992

Prize website

1999 Arts Council of Wales Writers' Award 1999 Arts Council of Wales Writers' Award

2002 K. Blundell Trust Award 2002 K. Blundell Trust Award

Prize website

2004 Zlaten Prsten prize (Macedonia) 2004 Zlaten Prsten prize (Macedonia) Patuvacki Dnevnik (Travel Diary)

2006 Charles Angoff Award (US) 2006 Charles Angoff Award (US) ('The Looking Glass'; 'Clay, Again')

Prize website

2006 Forward Poetry Prize (Best Single Poem) (shortlist) Trumpeldor Beach 2006 Forward Poetry Prize (Best Single Poem) (shortlist) 'Trumpeldor Beach'

Prize website

2007 T. S. Eliot Prize (shortlist) Common Prayer 2007 T. S. Eliot Prize (shortlist) <i>Common Prayer</i>

Prize website

2009 Cholmondeley Award 2009 Cholmondeley Award

Prize website

2010 Forward Poetry Collection Prize (shortlist) Rough Music 2010 Forward Best Poetry Collection Prize (shortlist) <i>Rough Music</i>

Prize website

2010 T. S. Eliot Prize (shortlist) Rough Music 2010 T. S. Eliot Prize (shortlist)<i>Rough Music</i>

Prize website

2009: elected a FRSL /Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature 2009, elected a FRSL /Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature

Prize website


Fiona Sampson

Fiona Sampson reading from her poems


2The Dream of the Monstrance

3The Plunge

4Attitudes of Prayer

5World Asleep

6Draft for a Short Fiction

7The Secret Flowers

8Fish Market Garrucha

9Shepherd's Delight

10Leda at the Lake

11 Common Prayer


13The Looking Glass

14Icarus in a Rainstorm (Six Views)

15La Source

16Folding the Real

17Trumpeldor Beach

18from The Velvet Shutter

19 A Walk to the Paradise Garden

20Night Fugue


22In Carinthia

A tour of the Archive with Mark Grist

Over the years I’ve become increasingly interested in the lyrical nature of poetry. I find that the more I’ve taken...

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