Robin Robertson

Robin Robertson

b. 1955

We are drawn to edges, to our own/parapets and sea-walls: - 'Apart', Robin Robertson

The Park Drunk

Robin Robertson


Swimming in the Woods

Robin Robertson


Wedding the Locksmith's Daughter

Robin Robertson


What the Horses See at Night

Robin Robertson



Robin Robertson

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About Robin Robertson

Robin Robertson (b. 1955) is a poet of austere and meticulous diction, tempered by a sensuous music. He was born in Scone, Perthshire, and brought up on the north-east coast of Scotland but has spent much of his professional life in London where he is currently Poetry Editor at Jonathan Cape. Robertson came late to publishing in terms of his own work, his debut collection A Painted Field appearing in 1997. However, the assuredness of his poetry made an immediate impression, winning the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival Prize, the Saltire Society First Book of the Year Award and the Forward Poetry Prize for Best First Collection. His two subsequent books have also attracted acclaim, culminating in his most recent, Swithering, winning the Forward Poetry Prize for Best Collection. In 2004 he received the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Swithering, a Scottish word meaning both hesitation and "things that are indeterminate..." illuminates that aspect of Robertson's work in which the narrators of his poems are subject to contradictory impulses. One significant dilemma is whether to stay or to leave, as encapsulated in the final metaphor of 'Swimming in the Woods' where a damp imprint in the shape of a butterfly is the only trace of a woman's presence. Elsewhere Robertson's recourse to classical myth explores that transgressive territory between the human and the animal, for example Asterion, the minotaur, trapped in his labyrinth of bestial appetite and human loneliness. Underlying this indeterminacy is an inescapable sense of fall: Robertson's work is "condemned to these patterns of love and loss" ('Swimming in the Woods'), like the narrator of 'Donegal' who watches his daughter, knowing that she is going "where he could not follow". However, this bleakness is often exhilarating, largely due to the intense physicality of Robertson's poetry which can celebrate sensuous existence even whilst describing its decline, as in his evocation of peeling an artichoke. This joy in language as sound is clear in Robertson's reading, for instance in the way he emphasises the alliteration of the 'k' sound in his beautiful sonnet, 'Wedding the Locksmith's Daughter', an aural echo of a turning key. His deep voice with its relish for language is finely tuned to the rhythms of these "darkly chiselled poems" (Kazuo Ishiguro).

His recording was made on 25 January 2007 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Selected bibliography

Swithering, Bonnefant Press, Banholt/House of Anansi,...

The Wrecking Light Picador, 2010 Anansi (2010), Houghton...

Firebird 3: New Writing from Britain and Ireland (editor...

Firebird 4: New Writing from Britain and Ireland (editor...

The Moon Disposes: Poems 1954-1987 (editor), Peter...

32 Counties: Photographs of Ireland by Donovan Wylie...

Selected Poems (editor), Peter Redgrove, Jonathan Cape,...


Mortification: Writers' Stories of their Public Shame (...

Penguin Modern Poets 13 (contributor with Michael...



1995 Hawthornden Fellowship

Prize website

1995, Forward Poetry Prize (Best Single Poem - shortlist), 'The Flaying of Marsyas'

Prize website

1997 Poetry Book Society Recommendation, A Painted Field

Prize website

1997 Aldeburgh Poetry Festival First Collection Prize, A Painted Field

1997 Forward Poetry Prize (Best First Collection - winner), A Painted Field

Prize website

1997 Saltire Society Scottish First Book of the Year, A Painted Field

Prize website

1998 Arts Council Writers Award

Prize website

1998 New York Foundation for the Arts Award

Prize website

2000 Authors' Foundation Award, Society of Authors

Prize website

2002 Poetry Book Society Recommendation, Slow Air

Prize website

2004 E.M. Forster Award, American Academy of Arts and Letters

Prize website

2004 Next Generation Poets selection

Prize website

2006 Poetry Book Society Choice, Swithering

Prize website

2006 T.S. Eliot Prize (shortlist), Swithering

Prize website

2006 Forward Poetry Prize (Best Collection - winner), Swithering

Prize website


Robin Robertson

Robin Robertson Reading from his poems


2New Gravity

3The Flaying of Marsyas



6Five Views from the Camera Obscura

7The Flowers of the Forest 8Apart

9The Long home

10False Spring

11The Thermal Image


13Dream of the Huntress

14Asterion and the God

15Wedding the Locksmith's Daughter




19The Park Drunk


21At Dawn

22What the Horses See at Night

23The Death of Actaeon

24Swimming in the Woods

25Ghost of a Garden


27Wormwood 28The Glair



31Strindberg in London

32A Seagull Murmur

33La Stanza delle Mosche



36The Lake at Dusk

37Crossing the Archipelago



40Holding Proteus

A tour of the Archive with Julia Copus

I've avoided poems that other writers here have recommended, but which otherwise would certainly have been on my...

Featured Guided Tours

Books by Robin Robertson