Winner of an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors in 2001, Sally Read is one of a new generation of younger poets shaping the future of British poetry. Her work is notable for its coupling of a sensitive, closely observant lyric style with often difficult, uncomfortable, and even painful subject matters; what the poet Kathryn Gray has described as “violence and elegance walk[ing] hand in hand – her style not unlike that of Sylvia Plath’s middle period”. Much of this material – including clinical yet poignant examinations of our emotional and physical lives – may have been drawn from Read’s time as a psychiatric nurse in London. But her debut collection, The Point of Splitting (2005), nonetheless includes poems as diverse as ‘Soldier’, an exploration of the line between passion and violence; ‘I Waited the Afternoon in Your Room’, a deft articulation of the longing in solitude; and the clipped directives of ‘Instruction’, detailing the hospital preparation of a deceased man’s body with subtle elegance and a hint of the spiritual.

This recording of Read’s work for the Archive draws both from her first book and a sequential second collection, Broken Sleep (2009). Given her recurrent interest in the blurred boundaries between the tender and the visceral, it is perhaps unsurprising to find Read turning to the vicissitudes of childbirth and motherhood in her more recent work. The manner in which she addresses these subjects, however, is far from predictable. Often they serve as a stepping stone to broader themes: in ‘Toddler’, for instance, the position of a child asleep in the poet’s arms recalls “new-shot pheasant / in the gentle mouths of dogs”, while ‘Gestation’, a poem which can be heard in the online selection from this Archive reading, conjures the anticipation and anxiety before childbirth by linking the experience with the mysterious, beautiful Koi fish in “the fumy stomach of [an] old pond”.

Elsewhere in the recording, a number of poems address the Italian landscape; Read having divided her time for many years between Suffolk and Italy. ‘Castelsardo, Sardegna’ and ‘The Death Bell’ in particular display something of Read’s gift for suggestive, atmospheric description of the region; inviting the reader into the complex psychological experiences at the core of many of her poems. But it is in an impressive long poem, ‘Kriah’, that Read’s poetry can be heard at its most ambitious: telling in first-person narrative the complex testimony of an elderly woman’s ongoing emotional trauma. Here, as throughout her Archive recording, Read’s voice is by turns delicate, precise and assured: confirming playwright Bonnie Greer’s description of her work as “direct, searing, and very, very truthful”.

Sally Read’s Favourite Poetry Saying:

“Every authentic poem contributes to the labor of poetry… to bring together what life has separated or violence torn apart… Poetry can repair no loss, but it defies the space which separates. And it does this by its continual labor of reassembling what has been scattered.” – John Berger

Sally Read's recording was made on 9th October 2009 at the Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Anne Rosenfeld.

Poems by Sally Read

Sally Read 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 Sally Read