Alison Brackenbury was born in 1953 in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. She read English at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, and has worked as a librarian in a technical college (1976-83), then as a part-time accounts and clerical assistant (1985-1989). From 1990 until her retirement in 2012, she was a director and manual worker in the family metal finishing business. She is married, with one daughter, and lives in Gloucestershire.

Her poetry collections include Dreams of Power (1981), Breaking Ground (1984), Christmas Roses (1988), Selected Poems (1991), 1829 (1995), After Beethoven (2000) and Bricks and Ballads (2004), all published by Carcanet. She has received a Cholmondeley Award and an Eric Gregory Award, and her poems have been featured many times on BBC Radio 3 and 4. Singing in the Dark, Brackenbury’s seventh book of poetry, was reviewed by Charles Bainbridge in The Guardian, who wrote that her work “is characterised by a concern with stillness and natural detail, by a closeness to the ballad form, and, most of all, by a quiet lyricism and delight that is constantly being challenged, constantly under threat.” Her later poems are deeply influenced by an amateur passion for Britain’s folksongs – She has scripted six programmes for BBC Radio 3, including Singing in the Dark, a celebration of the stubborn survival of Britain’s traditional songs. Her eighth collection, Then, was published in 2013, with Vidyan Ravinthiran writing of the collection in Poetry London that “the delicate particularity…of her style chimes with that of the world. ….One hopes that Brackenbury’s kind of distinctive formal sensibility won’t disappear any time soon.”

While this formal sensibility is certainly a defining aspect of Brackenbury’s poetry, it is not what is most striking about hearing her recite her work. These poems find their resonance in a clear plain-spokenness, their unhurried and careful construction revealed as the product of an unusual, close attention, which intensifies over the course of a poem, becoming rapt, and through their joyful watching and listening developing a power capable of astonishment and self-revelation. It is the centred and watchful outward gaze of Brackenbury’s poems that make their subjects such vivid presences, and has caused Gillian Clark to comment: “Alison Brackenbury loves, lives, hymns and rhymes the natural world and its people like no other poet.”

Alison Brackenbury’s favourite poetry sayings:

The angel appeared to shepherds, and to poets. – William Langland

This recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 28 August 2013 at DB Studios and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Poems by Alison Brackenbury

Honeycomb - Alison Brackenbury
Lapwings - Alison Brackenbury
The Trent rises, 1947 - Alison Brackenbury
Bookkeeping - Alison Brackenbury
Alison Brackenbury in the Poetry Store

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Books by Alison Brackenbury


Cholmondeley Award

Prize website

Eric Gregory Award

Prize website

Featured in the Archive