Michael Laskey

b. 1944


The Laskey effect...is of suddenly sensing that more meaning is inherent in 'ordinary' moments than we were expecting. - Mark Halliday

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About Michael Laskey

Michael Laskey (b. 1944) is a poet, editor and a tireless champion of contemporary poetry, particularly through the international Aldeburgh Poetry Festival which he co-founded in 1989 and which continues to be an important showcase for poets from around the world. Educated at St John's College, Cambridge, he taught in secondary schools for ten years. Since 1978 he has lived in Suffolk, working as a freelance writer and editor and as a creative writing tutor for both adults and children. Married to a GP, Laskey was also the main carer for the couple's three sons in their pre-school years, an experience which finds its way into a number of poems.

As well as founding the Aldeburgh Festival, in 1991 Laskey also set up the poetry magazine, Smiths Knoll, with the late Roy Blackman. His own poems have appeared in three pamphlets and four collections, his first full-length collection, Thinking of Happiness, appearing in 1991. This was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation as was his second collection, The Tightrope Wedding, which was also shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize. A new and selected poems, The Man Alone was published in 2008.

Like the page-turner of his poem of the same name, Laskey is an unobtrusive observer of detail and emotional nuance. The US critic, Mark Halliday, praises this restraint in his analysis of a typical Laskey poem, with its "sense of having arrived at the ending a bit sooner and more quietly than expected." It's a technique which sends the reader back to the start of a poem to see what he's missed. In 'Rain' for instance, the seemingly minor details about a leak in the pantry can be seen, in retrospect, as building up to a contrast with the narrator's children who've been absorbed in making canals and seas. Laskey's poems are particularly good at capturing this intersection of intimacy and distance, for example in the avoidance of illness in 'Picking Raspberries with My Mother'.

This is domestic territory but without a hint of the cosiness this term might imply: in 'Home Movies' what starts as comedy ends in "that slither of negatives" as the poet watches the film of his parents' wedding in reverse. Elsewhere the tone is more celebratory in poems which uphold the rituals of daily living, like the preparing and sharing of food, and which, in the words of fellow poet Craig Raine, "keep faith with actual experience."

The music of Laskey's poetry is also subtle and supple. Making use of half and slant rhymes, they proceed with what his colleague at Aldeburgh Festival, Naomi Jaffa, has described as "a glorious lack of fuss." This is evident in his Archive recording which, like the poems themselves, has a stealthy power.

Selected bibliography

Michael Laskey Reading from His Poems, The Poetry...

The Aldeburgh Poetry Festival Anthology 1989-1998 (...

The Man Alone: New and Selected Poems, Smith/Doorstop,...

Living by the Sea, Smith/Doorstop, 1997

Permission to Breathe, Smith/Doorstop, 2004

In the Fruit Cage, Smith/Doorstop, 1997

The Tightrope Wedding, Smith/Doorstop, 1999

Thinking of Happiness, Peterloo, 1991

Cloves of Garlic, Poetry Business, 1988

Prizes

1991 Poetry Book Society Recommendation Thinking of Happiness 1991 Poetry Book Society Recommendation, <i>Thinking of Happiness</i>

Prize website

1999 Poetry Book Society Recommendation The Tightrope Wedding 1999 Poetry Book Society Recommendation, <The Tightrope Wedding</i>

Prize website

1999 T. S. Eliot Prize (shortlist) The Tightrope Wedding 1999 T. S. Eliot Prize (shortlist), <i>The Tightrope Wedding</i>

Prize website

2005 Arts Council International Writing Fellowship, The Banff Centre, Canada 2005 Arts Council International Writing Fellowship, The Banff Centre, Canada

Prize website

Links

Recordings

Michael Laskey Reading from His Poems

1Cucumber

2Nowadays

3Family Planning

4Registers

5Living with the Doctor

6On My Own

7Between Two Lit Rooms

8The Clothes-peg

9Rain

10The Flat-warming

11Nobody

12Offering

13Not Before Time

14Fried Potatoes

15Picking Raspberries with My Mother

16Ratatouille

17Breakfast

18Service

19Laying the Fire

20Driving Home

21The Day After

22Afterlife

23Life After Death

24Home Movies

25Permission to Breathe

26The Tightrope Wedding

27Concert

28The Page Turner

29The Right Place

30Not That He Wrote Poems

31Tinkling Cymbal

32The Man Alone

33The Corpse

34The Last Swim

A tour of the Archive with Catherine Olver

I think it's defensible to say that there's something about any poem worth the title that asks to be read aloud....

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