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Peter Scupham

Image by Caroline Forbes

Peter Scupham

b. 1933

I would like my poems to be windows not mirrors...A window cuts a shape, and I am fascinated by structure, harmony, balance - all those qualities which give definition to the view... - Peter Scupham

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About Peter Scupham

Peter Scupham (b. 1933) is a poet of formal distinction with a particular fascination for history and its bearing on his native country. This attention to the English experience puts him in company with other poets of the same generation - Ted Hughes, Geoffrey Hill, Peter Redgrove - but with his own unique music and sensibility.

Born in Liverpool, Scupham studied at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, his experience as a young man shaped by the 1950s and the Cold War as his childhood had been by actual war. Perhaps this close encounter with history is one reason his poems take the long view of time; his poem 'V.E. Day', for example, commemorates "Dresden, Ilium, London" while 'Prehistories' ends with an image of his children crouched under the shadow of a megalithic monument.

Since his first collection in 1972, Scupham has published a further ten, including a Collected Poems (Carcanet, 2003). He has also made literature his professional life, founding the Mandeville Press with John Mole and currently running an antiquarian book business. He was given a Cholmondeley Award in 1996 and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He lives in Norfolk with Margaret Steward.

His poem 'Night Kitchen' contains the comment "Everything that happens happens in passing." This sense of the transitory runs through many of the poems here, yet the impression is more often one of intense curiosity than solemn observation. Scupham, like the cat he describes so vividly in 'Cat's Cradle', has a "sharp look" at the world and sees both its beauty and ruin. However, the fleeting hour or life is counterbalanced by the way past and present co-exist in his poems, especially in the form of the dead who press their claims at the flimsy walls and windows of our houses. The intriguing poem 'Twist of Water' presents a beautiful metaphor for this duality, that sense that time is "pouring" itself away and yet holding steady.

The style of the poems also holds different qualities in balance: both formal and conversational they encompass lines of great beauty and gravitas with a tempering wit. Scupham's reading is a pleasure to listen to as he brings out these contrasting tones. The sequence of poems written in his father's voice is delivered with a particular warmth and energy. It succeeds in being simultaneously funny and elegiac, an appropriate note for a poet so adept at recording our "desolate and cosy" lives ('Night Kitchen').

Selected bibliography

The Small Containers, Phoenix Pamphlet Poets, Peterloo,...

Collected Poems, Carcanet, 2003


Night Watch, Anvil Press, 1999


The Ark, OUP, 1994


Selected Poems 1972-1990, OUP, 1990


Watching the Perseids, OUP, 1990


The Air Show, OUP, 1988


Out Late, OUP, 1986

Winter Quarters, OUP, 1983


Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature

Prize website

1996 Cholmondeley Award

Prize website


Peter Scupham

Peter Scupham Reading from his poems


2The Nondescript


4Four Fish

5The Gatehouse

6Song for Sophie

7Answers to Correspondents

8Cat’s Cradle

9When the Train Stops

10The Spanish Train


12Going Out, Lancasters

13Jacob's Ladder

14Under the Barrage

15V.E. Day


17The Web

18A Twist of Water


20Monet's Garden


22The Provisional Thing



25The Key

26First Things, Last Things

27The Clock and the Orange

28Young Ghost

29Dancing Shoes

30From Dying: november 24th 1989

31From Dying: 'I have lived in a world which makes intelligible certain older worlds...'

32From Dying: 'Look in the next room...'

33From Dying: 'Who do you say you are?'

34From Dying: January 10th, 1990

35Watching the Perseids: Remembering the Dead

36Faces Come Thicker at Night

37Night Kitchen

38Leave the Door Open

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Books by Peter Scupham