Syntactically complex, discursive, lyrically rich, yet threaded through with a demotic swagger - Gerard Woodward
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About Carol Rumens
Carol Rumens, nee Lumley, was born in Forest Hill, South London. She won a scholarship to grammar school, and later studied Philosophy at London University, but left before completing her degree. She later gained a Postgraduate Diploma in Writing for the Stage from City College Manchester. She has taught at the University of Kent at Canterbury, Queen’s University Belfast, University College Cork, University of Stockholm, and the University of Hull; she is currently Visiting Professor in Creative Writing at the Universities of Hull and Bangor. She has held the position of Poetry Editor for the publisher Quarto, and for the Literary Review, and she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1984.
The author of fourteen collections of poems, as well as occasional fiction, drama and translation, Rumens has received the Cholmondeley Award and the Prudence Farmer Prize for her poetry, and was joint recipient of an Alice Hunt Bartlett Award. In 2007 Bloodaxe published a collection of her lectures on poetry, Self into Song, originally delivered in the Bloodaxe-Newcastle University Lecture Series. Her work has appeared regularly in publications such as The Guardian and Harper’s, and she currently writes the hugely popular ‘Poem of the Week’ feature for The Guardian. Her most recent poetry collection is De Chirico’s Threads (2010), published by Seren.
Rumens, while permanently based in London, has taught Creative Writing in various parts of the UK, most extensively in Belfast and Bangor, North Wales. She has a particular interest in the literary cultures of Central and Eastern Europe. One of her early inspirations was the work of Philip Larkin; she too emphasises ‘the importance of elsewhere’ in the writing of poetry – finding in foreign customs, cultures and languages the sites for her poetic development. Rumens’s engagement with the poetry of Russia has extended to an on-going investment in translation: she has published translations of many Russian poets, contributing to collections such as Pencil Letter by Irina Ratushinskaya (1988), The Poetry of Perestroika (1990), and Yevgenii Rein: Selected Poems (2001). Although the subjects of her own poetry are often unapologetically those of femininity and the domains of domesticity (Anne Stevenson has described her as a writer ‘who retains her feminine voice but extends her sympathies beyond feminism’), Larkin is a felt presence, particularly in Rumens’s early work, though never an overpowering influence; it is rather in the spareness and precision of her imagery, as well as in her sudden, tonal drops to the demotic, that readers can sense his echo – a debt described by Rumens as ‘musical’. It is arguable that her pairing of a strain of British formalism with a spaciousness and energy more reminiscent of European tradition has become the hallmark of Rumens’s poetic output. The proximity of history is also experienced with a power that remains unusual in UK poetry, notably in her sequence ‘Outside Oswiecim’ (1985), which John Greening described in the Times Literary Supplement as Rumens ‘tackling the twentieth century’s darkest hour […] and doing so with authority’.
In these recordings for The Poetry Archive, Rumens has selected work that best presents her intensely musical use of rhyme and form. ‘Rules for Beginners’ is a variant sestina, and the repetitions demanded by the form create a weaving of natural speech into a tender, understated narrative of love and nostalgia, set against the backdrop of England in the 1960s. ‘The Grandmother’s Tale’ has a similar eye for the past, and deploys rhyme in a tight-knitted and inventive structure. ‘White Night’ exhibits this same careful relish of sound, while ‘London Stone’ imagines her parents’ courtship during the blitz in a lasting, songlike poem, and homage to ‘the city of her heart’.
Carol Rumens’s favourite poetry sayings:
The one who writes a poem writes it above all because verse writing is an extraordinary acceleration of consciousness… Having experienced this acceleration once, one is no longer capable of abandoning the chance to repeat this experience; one falls into dependency, the way others fall into dependency on drugs or alcohol. One who finds himself in this sort of dependency on language is, I suppose, a poet. – Joseph Brodsky, tr. Barry Rubin
This recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 9 January 2012 at The Soundhouse and was produced by Anne Rosenfeld.
Poems by Carol Rumens
Featured in the Archive
Books by Carol Rumens
De Chirico's Threads
Self into Song
Newcastle/Bloodaxe Poetry Lectures,...