About Sarah Maguire

Few other contemporary British poets combine the intensity of Sarah Maguire's lyrical imagination with the breadth of her geopolitical reach. From the first poem ('May Day, 1986') of her first collection (Spilt Milk), her searchingly intelligent poems interrogated how even the most intimate of experiences ('the inaudible fizz/in the cells' of cancer) is refracted through the lens of history (the Chernobyl disaster).

Maguire's poems, written in often sumptuous language, are always grounded in the precisely realised material world. From specific, sensual observations, they open out, as Robert Potts noted in The Guardian, into a 'vast context of interconnections: of labour, trade, traffic; the movement of moon and tides; of chemicals, landscapes, weather, people, buildings, machines; and of time and distance crossed by longing, love and loss.'

Born in west London in 1957, Maguire left school early to train as a gardener. Her poems about flowers (many of which are recorded here) typically examine how they come to be 'cargoed across continents/to fade far from home' (The Florist's at Midnight); challenge traditional floral gender relations ('Hibiscus', uniquely, addresses a man using the metaphor of a flower); contextualise her experiences as a municipal gardener ('The Tree Bank at Ten'); and explore the explosive politics of the Palestinian thyme plant ('Zaatar').

Maguire's poems characteristically face difficulty without self-pity. In The Invisible Mender, a profoundly moving poem about her birth mother, she confesses, 'I know that I'll not know/…/if your hands…/lie still now, clasped together, underground.' And in 'Cloves and Oranges', she openly accepts the finality of mortality: 'I will never come back'. As John Burnside observed, 'Maguire is outstanding: no other poet of her generation writes quite so well, or so poignantly, about the body'.

Founder of the Poetry Translation Centre, responsible for introducing a wide range of international poets into English, Maguire was the only contemporary English-language poet to have a book in print in Arabic, or in Malayalam. In 'Europe' Maguire views the continent from the perspective of outsiders, would-be immigrants staring northwards from the Moroccan coast. As Robert Potts noticed, 'through unrushed, unegotistical contemplation…she integrates herself with the environments she observes.'

Sarah Maguire's reading style is unusually clear and expressive. The title poems of her four collections are among those included in this special Archive recording.

This recording was made on Feb 11th 2009 at the Audio Workshop, London, and was produced by Anne Rosenfeld.

Poems by Sarah Maguire

The Invisible Mender - Sarah Maguire
The Pomegranates of Kandahar - Sarah Maguire
The Grass Church at Dilston Grove - Sarah Maguire
Spilt Milk - Sarah Maguire
The Florist’s at Midnight - Sarah Maguire
Sarah Maguire 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.

Featured in the Archive


(shortlisted) 2005 Forward Poetry Prize (Best Single Poem) 'Passages'

Prize website

(shortlisted) 2007 TS Eliot Prize

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2008 Cholmondeley Award

Prize website