Helen Farish was born in 1962 in Cumbria, where she now lives. She has been a Fellow at Hawthornden International Centre for Writers and was the first female Poet in Residence at the Wordsworth Trust (2004-5). She has also been a Visiting Lecturer at Sewanee University, Tennessee, and a Visiting Scholar at the University of New Hampshire. She lectures fulltime at Lancaster University in the department of English and Creative Writing.

In 2005 Intimates won her the Forward Prize for best first collection and was also short-listed for the TS Eliot Prize. The collection begins with the playfully seductive ‘Look at These’, which you can hear on this Archive recording. It is a flaunting of female sexuality – a self-conscious exposure performed by the narrator – and makes a lively opening to a book which goes on to be affected by grief, loss, and intimations of mortality. As Steven Earnshaw wrote: ‘So much is at stake in Farish’s poetry: relationships, self, the fragility in our construction and our passage in the world.’

The group of love poems which follow on from ‘Look at These’ make clear Farish’s interest in female identity. Sexuality and desire are explored in poems whose first person speakers are by turns ‘provocative and tender, passionate yet wary.’ In ‘Feathered Coyote’, for example, although the supine naked woman at first sees herself through male eyes as ‘a mythical creature, / flowers being made from my hair, / fine grass from my skin,’ in the drama which ensues she crucially wrests control of language and of labels which have historically confined her.

The lakes, rivers and fells of Cumbria’s Lake District dominate a significant number of the poems in this recording, as do private geographies of lakeland houses loved and lost. In ‘Resurrection’ the speaker declares: ‘Somehow it became everything – / the cobble stone house.’ ‘To Whiteside’ explores the power of childhood experiences of landscape and how they can shape adult longings and loves: ‘here was a day / so full of promise that the scent of it / is in me still.’

Farish’s language is lucid, musical as the poems open their doors for the reader to enter their softly lit rooms where startling truths are revealed. As Bernard O’Donoghue says: ‘Nobody else writes with quite this variety of intelligence.’ Farish’s voice is a beautiful medium for these deeply affecting poems.

Helen Farish’s Favourite Poetry Sayings:

“‘Or was the point always / to continue without a sign?’ ” – Louise Gluck, from ‘Matins’

“‘We felt the past; it was, somehow,/ in these things, the front lawn and the back lawn,/ suffusing them, giving the little quince tree/ a weight and meaning almost beyond enduring’ / ” – Louise Gluck, from ‘Quince Tree’

This recording was made on the 10th January, 2008 at the Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Poems by Helen Farish

Look at These - Helen Farish
Allington Cross - Helen Farish
Coffin Path Poem - Helen Farish
Newly Born Twins - Helen Farish
Dad’s Barn - Helen Farish
Helen Farish in the Poetry Store

The free tracks you can enjoy in the Poetry Archive are a selection of a poet’s work. Our catalogue store includes many more recordings which you can download to your device.

Books by Helen Farish



first female Poet in Residence at the Wordsworth Trust

Prize website

Intimates Forward best first collection

Prize website

Fellow at Hawthornden International Centre for Writers

Prize website

Visiting Lecturer at Sewanee University, Tennessee

Prize website

Visiting Scholar at the University of New Hampshire

Prize website