She writes prose as well as poetry. "There are few women writing non-fiction today with such a sophisticated understanding of language, nuanced approach to style, and willingness to engage with the big issues, personal and political" (Guardian). The much-loved 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem is based on her Independent on Sunday column (in which she discussed one contemporary poem each week), and I'm A Man, on Greek myth, rock music and the "invention of the teenager", featured as a clue in Ian Rankin's thriller A Question of Blood. In Tigers in Red Weather she searches for wild tigers in Asian jungles.
Her poems draw unselfconsciously on an unusual breadth of cultural reference: high and low, humour and gravity, sit in strangely democratic balance in her work. 'Writing to Onegin' illustrates the Times Literary Supplement's account of her poetry as "Wallace Stevens hijacking Sylvia Plath with a dash of punk Sappho thrown in." In a free version of a passage from Pushkin it combines references to Charon and Darth Vader in dense, musical lines which celebrate the risk in writing anything, especially as a woman.
Art and creativity permeate her work. 'Shaping Up' and 'Kiss' show musician Tori Amos and painter Bridget Riley making new music and new painting, finding "a shape for pain." 'Pharoah's Cup' is celebrated for its beauty: "Who wouldn't be glad / To have made it?" In 'Icicles Round A Tree In Dumfriesshire' (winner of the 1997 National Poetry Competition), an ice-sculpture evokes meditation on love, creativity and truth.
Padel's expressive reading style matches the poems' rich texture. She provides illuminating introductions to each poem: even, endearingly, mentioning when a factual detail in a poem has turned out to be wrong. This recording shows her, in Jeanette Winterson's words, as "sexy, strong, rhythmic, passionate, fully alive and a whiz with words."
Her recording was made on 29 January 2003 at the Audio Workshop, London, and was produced by Richard Carrington.