About Robin Robertson
Robin Robertson (b. 1955) is a poet of austere and meticulous diction, tempered by a sensuous music. He was born in Scone, Perthshire, and brought up on the north-east coast of Scotland but has spent much of his professional life in London where he is currently Associate Publisher at Jonathan Cape. Robertson came late to publishing in terms of his own work, his debut collection A Painted Field appearing in 1997. However, the assuredness of his poetry made an immediate impression, winning the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival Prize, the Saltire Society First Book of the Year Award and the Forward Poetry Prize for Best First Collection. Subsequent books have also attracted acclaim, with Swithering winning the Forward Poetry Prize for Best Collection and his poem At Roane Head winning the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem in 2009. In 2004 he received the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and in 2008 he was named Editor of the Year at the British Book Awards. In 2010 Robertson was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Hirta Songs, his song cycle about St Kilda, written in collaboration with Alasdair Roberts, was released in 2013. The Long Take, his book-length narrative poem, won the 2018 Roehampton Poetry Prize and the Goldsmiths Prize for Fiction, and was the first poem to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
Swithering, a Scottish word meaning both hesitation and “things that are indeterminate…” illuminates that aspect of Robertson’s work in which the narrators of his poems are subject to contradictory impulses. One significant dilemma is whether to stay or to leave, as encapsulated in the final metaphor of ‘Swimming in the Woods’ where a damp imprint in the shape of a butterfly is the only trace of a woman’s presence. Elsewhere Robertson’s recourse to classical myth explores that transgressive territory between the human and the animal, for example Asterion, the minotaur, trapped in his labyrinth of bestial appetite and human loneliness. Underlying this indeterminacy is an inescapable sense of fall: Robertson’s work is “condemned to these patterns of love and loss” (‘Swimming in the Woods’), like the narrator of ‘Donegal’ who watches his daughter, knowing that she is going “where he could not follow”. However, this bleakness is often exhilarating, largely due to the intense physicality of Robertson’s poetry which can celebrate sensuous existence even whilst describing its decline, as in his evocation of peeling an artichoke. This joy in language as sound is clear in Robertson’s reading, for instance in the way he emphasises the alliteration of the ‘k’ sound in his beautiful sonnet, ‘Wedding the Locksmith’s Daughter’, an aural echo of a turning key. His deep voice with its relish for language is finely tuned to the rhythms of these “darkly chiselled poems” (Kazuo Ishiguro).
His recording was made on 25 January 2007 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.
Poems by Robin Robertson
Featured in the Archive
Books by Robin Robertson
Foward Prize for A Painted FieldPrize website
Scottish First Book of the Year Award for A Painted FieldPrize website
E M Forster AwardPrize website
Forward Prize for Best Collection for SwitheringPrize website
Forward Prize Best Single Poem for "At Roane Head"Prize website
Shorlisted for Forward Prize for The Wrecking LightPrize website
Shorlisted Costa Prize for The Wrecking LightPrize website
Shortlisted for T S Eliot Prize for The Wrecking LightPrize website
awarded the international, German Petrarca-PreisPrize website
Shorlisted Costa Prize for Hill of DoorsPrize website
Goldsmith Prize for The Long TakePrize website
10th Walter Scott Prize for The Long TakePrize website
Shorlisted Man Booker Prize for The Long TakePrize website