© Image by Caroline Forbes

Denise Riley

(b. 1948)

"Who anyone is or I am is nothing to the work." (Denise Riley, from 'Dark Looks')

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These poems come from a special recording for the Poetry Archive:

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Select bibliography

  • Marxism for Infants, Street Editions 1977 - out of print
  • No Fee (Denise Riley / Wendy Mulford), Street Editions 1978 - out of print
  • Some Poems (Denise Riley / Wendy Mulford), CMR Press 1982 - out of print
  • Dry Air, Virago 1985 - out of print
  • Am I That Name?: Feminism and the Category of "Women" (prose), University of Minnesota Press 1989
  • Stair Spirit, Equipage 1992 - out of print
  • Poets on Writing: Britain 1970-1991 (editor), Macmillan 1992
  • Four Falling, Poetical Histories 1993 - out of print
  • Mop Mop Georgette, Reality Street 1993
  • War in the Nursery: Theories of the Child and Mother (prose), Virago 1983
  • Penguin Modern Poets 10 (Denise Riley, Ian Sinclair, Douglas Oliver), Penguin 1996
  • Denise Riley: Selected Poems, Reality Street Editions 2000
  • The Words of Selves: Identification, Solidarity, Irony (prose), Stanford University Press 2000
  • The Force of Language (Denise Riley & Jean-Jacques Lecercle; prose), Palgrave Macmillan 2004
  • The Force of Language (with Jean-Jacques Lecercle), Palgrave Macmillan 2004
  • Impersonal Passion: Language as Affect (prose), Duke University Press, 2005
  • Impersonal Passion: Language as Affect, Duke University Press 2005
  • Denise Riley Reading from her Poems, The Poetry Archive 2005
Denise Riley (b. 1948) is active across the full range of poetic life - poet, essayist, teacher, editor, researcher - and beyond, with her interests extending to politics, history, philosophy, feminist theory and visual art. She lectures at the University of East Anglia in several of these areas, and is attached to the London Consortium; she has also been Writer in Residence at the Tate Gallery.

Her poetry resists the idea of the "I" in the poem and the author being conflated; Riley opens 'Dark Looks' with the statement that "Who anyone is or I am is nothing to the work." This is, therefore, not a confessional poetry, giving open access to a poetic soul, but it is a poetry interested in how the illusion of that access is created. So the "I" of 'Dark Looks', when it turns out to be in reported speech, or in the voice of the poem itself, is able to hide the thing it refers to while it expands the range of things that it could refer to. Even when the "I" seems more personal, as when 'Curmudgeonly' grumbles about the modern usage of "partner", the speaker is less important to the poem than the fascination in details of language.

Thus the answers that are promised by the wristwatch in 'Shantung' are never spoken, as it is the phrasing of the way they are offered that provides the poem's music. But this does not make the poems relentlessly intellectual; the full range of language is here, so that there is still room for prelinguistic sighs ("Ouf, ouf") or references to half-remembered pop songs, such as when Riley writes about 'A Misremembered Lyric', and quotes "Come On Everybody" in 'Shantung'.

Riley's reading voice is clear and well projected, and that joy in the language means each word is valued enough to be allowed its full resonance; she also gives full vent to the wails and noises of the honking toads in 'The Castalian Spring'. This delivery makes accessible, if not the Romantic soul of the poet, the heart of poems described by the Guardian as "fascinating and often beautiful, and certainly more than usually thought-provoking."

Her recording was made on 24 March 2005 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Denise Riley's Favourite Poetry Sayings:

"I, too, dislike it. / Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in / it, after all, a place for the genuine. (from 'Poetry')" - Marianne Moore

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