Image by Joanna Porter

About Steve Ellis

Born in York in 1952, Steve Ellis has published three collections of poetry, including West Pathway (1993) and Home and Away, as well as a verse translation of Dante’s Inferno and a number of academic monographs on writers such as Chaucer, T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf. He studied English and Art History at University College London, later completing a PhD there on the influence of Dante on nineteenth- and twentieth-century English poetry. He has been Professor of English Literature at the University of Birmingham since 1998 and is at present completing a translation of the entire Divine Comedy. Of his Dante translation, The Independent’s reviewer has noted: ‘Steve Ellis’s Hell removes the grime and returns the smut until Dante’s vision vibrates again in all its original colour. The effect is dazzling.’

Ellis’s poetry is warm and wryly humorous, firmly situated in the day-to-day, tenderly drawing out the epiphanic from the domestic – a traffic jam leads to an encounter with nature; a trip to the cattery is soundtracked by Cole Porter; while another poem is delivered in the voice of an old plate. The poet’s academic background is sometimes evident in his poetry, as when his domestic scenes occasionally take on a medieval edge, the underworld of family life brought up to the surface. ‘Rubbish’, for example, recalls the process of burning nappies in a stove – ‘I thought: purification. / Here’s this shitty nappy, lamb and carrot aftermath, / I touch it to the jewels’; or ‘Washing’, which mockingly notes the contrast between a ‘discreet suburb’ and the intimate disclosures of its washing lines – ‘But the lacrimae rerum of laundry! /…there, hoisted in shapeless surrender, / the vast flapping whites of old age.’

Childhood – the poet’s own, and that of his children – is a recurring theme, as can be seen from the poems available to listen to here. ‘The Age of Innocence’ recounts a primary-school drawing exercise, brilliantly capturing the busy colour of such a scene – and delivered by Ellis with great drama in his recording. His is a generous and emphatic reading style brings the poems very much to life. ‘Scenes from Childhood’, meanwhile, and ‘White horse’, take the perspective of a parent resigned to a child’s energy spinning off in unexpected and sometimes unwished-for directions. In ‘White Horse’, a disappointing trip to see a chalk hill figure prompts a meditation on nearness and distance, that ‘to grasp is to extinguish’ – it’s only from far away that the horse can be apprehended; up close, there is nothing to see: ‘To soothe you / I ran back down to take a photo: / it’s a splendid one of the horse / but you’re only a hurrahing speck / in a bobble-hat, almost invisible’ – a notion which, paradoxically, Ellis pins down perfectly.

This recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 9 November 2015 at The Soundhouse, Bristol, and was produced by Richard Carrington.

 

 

Dante's Inferno (Vintage Classics, 2013)

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Spring Collection: Eleven poems by Steve Ellis and Sandy...

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West Pathway (Bloodaxe Books, 1993)

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Home and Away (Bloodaxe, 1987)

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Prizes

Eric Gregory Award (1982)

Prize website

International Poetry Prize ‘Valle dei poeti’, Bagni di Lucca, Italy (1980)

Prize website

Recordings

Steve Ellis Downloads

1The Age of Innocence

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2Gardeners' Question Time

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3Recipe

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4Rubbish

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5Washing

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7Scenes From Childhood, parts 1, 2 and 4

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8The Holiday Jigsaw

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9United

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10St Francis’s ‘Cantico di frate sole’ done into Hollywood gangsterese

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11Milkman on winter mornings

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12Shoe

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13On Completing His Thirtieth Year

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14White horse

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15Genocide

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16To Ted Hughes

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17On a Royal Doulton figurine of Anne Boleyn

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19The land

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20An Old Plate’s Farewell to the Table

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21Cats listening to Cole Porter

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22Spring Collection: Crocuses / Spring Fayre / Daffodils at Baddesley

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23Slips

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24Letter to an editor

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25Wotox

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26Assembling the orrery

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27Summer ’84

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29Ancor non m’abbandona

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30Hols

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31Ad Patrem

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32On Re-Reading the Liverpool Poets

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33St Tropez: Yorkshire Impressions

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34The Bodybuilder

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35On the visible ageing of Steve Davis

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36Fish and Chips

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37Elegy on the Fishing Correspondent

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38Sending out Christmas cards

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38March 28

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40Inferno 3.22–136

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6Man of Sorrows

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18'The Angling Times'

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28The death of Joe Loss

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