Sheenagh Pugh’s poems are devoted to the project of storytelling, employing a beguiling simplicity of language to navigate the no man’s land between the real and the fictional. The poems convey a strong sense of history, on both a human and geological scale; historical characters and events mingle with more contemporary references, as seen in ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’, a riff on the famous injunction from the American Declaration of Independence, involving Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner. Meanwhile the world’s underground workings are exposed in poems such as ‘Extremophile’ and ‘Stonelight’, and the sea and the weather are often shown to be powerful forces behind the lives of the protagonists – as in ‘The Pause’, in which the 2004 tsunami provides a man with the opportunity to reinvent himself.
Pugh has written: ‘I have been accused of being “populist” and “too accessible”, both of which I hope are true’, while John Greening has described her work as combining ‘accessibility with profundity, clarity and sophistication’. As these quotes imply, the poet’s direct, economical style is key to the poems’ intent – to pinpoint the places where the everyday takes on a deeper resonance. This resonance is powerfully conveyed by the tender, measured quality of Pugh’s recording, which makes space for the listener as much as for the poems themselves.
Although the spectre of death is never far from Pugh’s work, the poems are fundamentally concerned with life as it is lived, its tenaciousness and exuberance even in the toughest circumstances. This is perhaps most evident in the recent, as yet uncollected poem ‘Extremophile’, which celebrates the life of organisms thriving in adverse locations, ‘two miles below the light’. In keeping with much of Pugh’s work, this poem is an affirmation of life and the drive to go on living, of the ‘urge / to cling on in the cracks / of the world’, reminding us that ‘There is nowhere / life cannot take hold’.
Sheenagh Pugh's recording was made at Attic Attack Studios, Bristol, England on March 19th 2012. It was produced by Richard Carrington.