Ruth Padel

August 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Interview with Ruth Padel by Mary White

Ruth’s website.

1. What is the first poem you remember engaging with emotionally, and what made that particular poem stand out at the time?

Probably ‘Tyger Tyger’ by William Blake when I was seven or so, in my favourite book called The Book of a Thousand Poems,  in which I only read the animal section called All Creatures Great and Small. I loved the mysterious exciting language, and the sense of the animal’s power.

2When did you decide to pursue poetry as a career? What did you want to be before making that decision? 

Before I decided to write full time freelance I was teaching Greek in Birkbeck College London. I had assumed I’d be a classicist.

3. Where and when do you write, especially when writing about strong emotions – is it immediate, or on reflection/from memory?

I write at home in the mornings, as soon as I wake up. Every poem is both immediate and uses memory.

4. Have other poets influenced your work in anyway? If so who and what is it about their poetry you find inspiring?

Of course. An uninfluenced poet would be a weird and probably boring one. So many poets – from Greek poets, Homer, Sophocles, Sappho, Seferis, Cavafy to American ones, Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Robert Lowell to the whole tradition of English poems except the 18th century. Gerard Manley Hopkins and Tennyson and Keats are very important to me; Donne and Yeats; and among contemporaries Heaney, Muldoon, Donaghy, Shapcott, Paterson, early Geoffrey Hill, Selima Hill, Greenlaw,  Kathleen Jamie, Ian Duhig, David Harsent…

5. What do you feel can be expressed through poetry that cannot be communicated in any other literary form?

Fresh, condensed and memorable insights and language, which together make you see your own life newly, stay in the mind, and always yield new meanings when you return to them.

6. What is the most rewarding thing about being a well-known and respected poet?

You are glad you reach people.

7. I am aware that you have made a number of programmes for Radio Four, are you encouraged to know there is still a large audience for poetry?


8. How do you see poetry evolving so that it remains relevant and engaging to a 21st Century audience?  

Staying true to itself, not pandering to demands that it be “accessible”.

9. For me the poem ‘Trial’ seems to have a particularly strong political message, was this your intention when writing it?

Partly. But any “message” is only worthwhile if the poet is thinking first about the poem as poetry.

10. If poetry has one particular responsibility to the world or society, what would you say it is?

To make as good a poem as possible each time.


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