Who wants to know / a story's end, or where a road will go? - Sheenagh Pugh, 'What If This Road'
About Sheenagh Pugh
Born in Birmingham in 1950, Sheenagh Pugh lived in Wales for many years before moving to Shetland, where she currently resides. She is the author of nine poetry collections (with a tenth forthcoming in 2013) and two novels, as well as translations of poetry (mainly from German) and a study of fan-fiction. She studied German and Russian at Bristol University and until her retirement in 2008 she taught Creative Writing at the University of Glamorgan. She is a twice winner of both the Bridport Prize (2003 and 1997) and the Cardiff International Poetry Prize (1984 and 1988). Other accolades include the Forward Prize for best individual poem in 1997, the Wales Book of the Year Award in 2000 for her 1999 collection Stonelight, and a Cholmondeley Award for services to poetry in 1999. The Beautiful Lie (2002) was shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Prize and The Movement of Bodies (2004) for the T. S. Eliot Award.
Sheenagh Pugh’s poems are devoted to the project of storytelling, employing a beguiling simplicity of language to navigate the no man’s land between the real and the fictional. The poems convey a strong sense of history, on both a human and geological scale; historical characters and events mingle with more contemporary references, as seen in ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’, a riff on the famous injunction from the American Declaration of Independence, involving Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner. Meanwhile the world’s underground workings are exposed in poems such as ‘Extremophile’ and ‘Stonelight’, and the sea and the weather are often shown to be powerful forces behind the lives of the protagonists – as in ‘The Pause’, in which the 2004 tsunami provides a man with the opportunity to reinvent himself.
Pugh has written: ‘I have been accused of being “populist” and “too accessible”, both of which I hope are true’, while John Greening has described her work as combining ‘accessibility with profundity, clarity and sophistication’. As these quotes imply, the poet’s direct, economical style is key to the poems’ intent – to pinpoint the places where the everyday takes on a deeper resonance. This resonance is powerfully conveyed by the tender, measured quality of Pugh’s recording, which makes space for the listener as much as for the poems themselves.
Although the spectre of death is never far from Pugh’s work, the poems are fundamentally concerned with life as it is lived, its tenaciousness and exuberance even in the toughest circumstances. This is perhaps most evident in the recent, as yet uncollected poem ‘Extremophile’, which celebrates the life of organisms thriving in adverse locations, ‘two miles below the light’. In keeping with much of Pugh’s work, this poem is an affirmation of life and the drive to go on living, of the ‘urge / to cling on in the cracks / of the world’, reminding us that ‘There is nowhere / life cannot take hold’.
Sheenagh Pugh’s Favourite Poetry Sayings:
“The poet of the people nowhere occupies himself with casting about for a fine subject; he writes of what he feels and what he sees” – Countess Evelyn Martinengo-Cesaresco
“In composing, as a general rule, run your pen through every other word you have written; you have no idea what vigour it will give your style” – Sydney Smith
“People who say they love poetry and never buy any are a bunch of cheap sons-of-bitches” – Kenneth Patchen
Sheenagh Pugh's recording was made at Attic Attack Studios, Bristol, England on March 19th 2012. It was produced by Richard Carrington.
Poems by Sheenagh Pugh
Featured in the Archive
Books by Sheenagh Pugh
Crowded by Shadows
What a Place to Grow Flowers
Earth Studies and Other Voyages
Beware Falling Tortoises
Sing for the Taxman
The Beautiful Lie
What If This Road and Other Poems
The Movement of Bodies
Later Selected Poems
Short Days, Long Shadows
Afternoons Go Nowhere
1997 and 2003
Cardiff International Poetry PrizePrize website
1984 and 1988
Forward Prize for Best Individual PoemPrize website
Wales Book of the Year - StonelightPrize website
Cholmondeley Award for Services to PoetryPrize website
Whitbread Prize - shortlist for Beautiful LiePrize website
T S Eliot Prize for The Movement of BodiesPrize website