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.
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Robin Robertson Reading from his poems
3The Flaying of Marsyas
6Five Views from the Camera Obscura
9The Long home
11The Thermal Image
13Dream of the Huntress
14Asterion and the God
15Wedding the Locksmith's Daughter
19The Park Drunk
22What the Horses See at Night
23The Death of Actaeon
24Swimming in the Woods
25Ghost of a Garden
31Strindberg in London
33La Stanza delle Mosche
36The Lake at Dusk
37Crossing the Archipelago
The writer and broadcaster Clive James introduces a few of his favourite poems in the Poetry Archive.