Elizabeth Bartlett (1924 – 2008) grew up in Deal, Kent. Her childhood was one of hardship and although she gained a grammar school scholarship she left education at fifteen. At nineteen she married and had one son. She worked for a long time in the health service, as a doctor’s receptionist, and for the Home Care Service, an environment which provided her with material for some of her most moving poems. She published eight collections including in 1995 the acclaimed retrospective Two Women Dancing: New & Selected Poems which was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation.

Elizabeth Bartlett lived in the same house in West Sussex for fifty years and in her poem ‘Painting of a Bedroom with Cats’ she describes the room where she wrote throughout that time. It was a space where figures from the arts and history were as much living presences as the cats snoozing on the quilt, and in its hushed atmosphere and scrupulous observation the poem suggests a lifetime of dedication to poetry. Not that her poems have an air of seclusion: on the contrary they are fully engaged in life, her own and those of others. There are powerful poems borne out of the deprivations she suffered growing up, her experience of motherhood and marriage, and of the five years she spent in psychoanalysis. In particular, Bartlett has an affinity for the lost and lonely, like the hallucinating patient in ‘The Visitors’ or the man who embraces a sunflower in the absence of a woman. Throughout her work, there is a refusal to rely on the vision of others, expressed with defiance in poems like ‘Art Class’ in which the meddling teacher criticises the student’s work because “it seems to have a life of its own.” Moments of satire aside, the abiding impression is of a poet prepared to chronicle damaged and disregarded lives, of a “night-nurse of the soul” (John Mole, Encounter).

Bartlett reads her work in a measured way, allowing each word its weight, without being ponderous. Her voice shares the humane quality of her poetry, its steady gaze on a sometimes dismaying world.

Elizabeth Bartlett’s Favourite Poetry Sayings:

“When a poet’s mind is perfectly equipped for its work, it is constantly amalgamating disparate experience; the ordinary man’s experience is chaotic, irregular, fragmentary.” – T. S. Eliot

“Between them, Eliot, Frost and Owen cleared the way for a new kind of poetry in which the material of modern life could find a voice commensurate with the speaking voice.” – Peter Forbes

Her recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 14 August 2001 at the poet's home in Sussex, UK and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Poems by Elizabeth Bartlett

Art Class - Elizabeth Bartlett
Painting of a Bedroom with Cats - Elizabeth Bartlett
The Visitors - Elizabeth Bartlett
Enemies - Elizabeth Bartlett
Elizabeth Bartlett in the Poetry Store

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Books by Elizabeth Bartlett



Cholmondeley Award

Prize website