About Greta Stoddart
Greta Stoddart was born in Henley-on-Thames, and grew up in Oxford and Belgium. She studied drama at Manchester University then trained as an actor in Paris, touring for five years with the theatre company she co-founded, Brouhaha, before settling in London to write, and now lives in Devon. Her first collection, At Home in the Dark, was published by Anvil in 2001 to considerable praise, winning the 2002 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, with several reviewers recognizing its careful balancing of paradoxes – her ‘mix of dramatic poise and control […] cool enough to warm the heart’ (TLS), and her ‘lucidly detached perspective’ maintained ‘without compromising the emotional complexity of her subjects’ (Metre). Her second collection, Salvation Jane, appeared in 2008, and was shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award in 2008. She was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem in 2012. Her third book, Alive Alive O, was published by Bloodaxe in 2015 and was shortlisted for the 2016 Roehampton Poetry Prize. Her latest work, Who’s there?, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2017. She is currently a tutor for the Poetry School and the Arvon Foundation.
In these recordings for the Poetry Archive, the poems’ simultaneous emotional charge and careful lyric attentiveness is brought to the fore. The development of each poem is various and unpredictable, as in ‘The Night We Stole a Full-length Mirror’, where the eponymous mirror is positioned to reflect the act of love-making, but rather than affirm the moment’s passionate fulfilment, it serves to disassociate the lovers from their bodies, and recalls a moment of palpable public detachment the speaker comes ‘back and back to’. It is these poems’ self-conscious embrace of what is elusive and mysterious, and of what can be connected within that mystery, which ensures the reading (and listening) experience is so compelling.
As the title of her first book suggests, her poems prefer to revel in the solace and indeterminacy of dark places. This is where she often locates her distinctly modern metaphysical; a self grappling to perceive, to make sense of a consciousness in flux. The taxidermist in ‘The Fitter’ is forced to sleep ‘with a tea-towel over the mirror’ since he is reminded that ‘Everything is always awake’, not least because he is the one re-awakening his creatures; and in a typical Stoddart paradox, she describes taxidermy in her introduction as appearing ‘both very dead and very alive’. The animal’s soul is to be located empathetically through the short history of its perceptions, and the evasive presence of the soul, or ‘even the idea of a soul’ (‘ICU’) is a recurrent fixture throughout her work. The shortest poem selected here, ‘Voicemail’, is one of lasting resonance – her careful, compassionate reading manages simultaneously to hold some of the ‘strange tone, very / slow and uninflected’ of the answerphone voice as it pre-empts the state of melancholy before its speaker registers the sad news. And through it, there is the noble, quiet realization that it can sometimes have been ‘in the not saying / [that] the truth rang clear’.
This recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 9th July 2014 at Attic Attack, Bristol, and was produced by Richard Carrington.
Greta Stoddart’s favourite poetry saying:
‘I am not mystical: it isn’t
As if I thought it had a spirit.
It is simply in its element.’ – ‘Pheasant’, Sylvia Plath