Ann Gray

Ann Gray has a Creative writing MA from the University of Plymouth. Her most recent collection was At The Gate (Headland, 2008)


Her poems have been selected for the Forward Prize Anthology, commended for the National Poetry Competition, won the Ballymaloe poetry prize and shortlisted for the Forward prizes best single poem in 2015.


Poet in residence at Cambridge University Botanic Gardens for the Thresholds University Museums Project, curated by the Poet Laureate in 2013, she is co-director of the Bodmin Moor Poetry Festival, now in its 7th year. She lives in Cornwall where she cares for people with dementia.


Q&A with Ann Gray 


How did you start writing?


I have always loved poetry. I studied Thom Gunn and Ted Hughes in my sixth form, and when Penguin brought out their Penguin Poets Series,  I fell in love with Ferlinghetti. Later, in the 1990s, I started going to poetry readings, WEA classes and Arvon residential writing retreats, which changed my life.


What about your early life and writing?


I was born in London but grew up in Cambridge. I trained in London at Barts and much much later completed a Masters in Creative Writing at Plymouth. I didn’t have a first degree but I did have a portfolio of published work by then. I did a part-time MA over 7 years that took in a divorce, two deaths and a lot of poetry!


Do you have any favourite poets or poems?


I loved the American poets growing up, and still do. I find so many poets inspiring and exciting. The best moment is discovering someone new and finding you have books and books to catch up with. I love Matthew Dickman, WS Merwin, Marie Howe, Barbara Ras, Sinead Morrissey, Paul Durcan. Early on, Sharon Olds was a huge influence, as was Carol Ann Duffy. Whenever writing is difficult, I return to Merwin’s Invocation:


“The day hanging by its feet with a hole

In its voice

And the light running into the sand


Here I am once again with my dry mouth

At the fountain of thistles

Preparing to sing. “



Where do you mostly write? What do you do instead of writing?


I write in my head for hours before I write anywhere else, walking the dog, or ironing! I have a hardly-visited writing shed that is falling down in my orchard, but when I make the effort to go there I love it. In my day job, as a nurse,  I own and manage a home for people with dementia. I’m also co-director of the Bodmin Moor Poetry Festival with David Woolley


How did you go about creating your Book & Pamphlet Competition winning collection, I Wish I Had More Mothers


I thought the most difficult collection I put together was after my partner was killed in a road accident. I used 44 of the poems as my final MA dissertation and read every poem or prose that I could lay my hands on that dealt with loss. It was this reading and the support from my Tutor that made the work strong. Over the next 2 years I revised it again and again and wrote for each month of the year as a way of moving forward, so that the reader wasn’t left with just the bleak.

However, writing now about my mother’s dementia is just as hard, in a different way. Before the loss was about me, now the loss is also filled with sadness for her. The most difficult poem so far has been 'I wish I had more mothers'. I was inspired by a poem of Brenda Shaughnessy “I wish I had more sisters” where she talks about how they could have shared the hard stuff. I thought that having more mothers might have made life easier, perhaps! Maybe the loss would have been less too. I used her tone and flow and acknowledge this in the title.


What are you currently working on?


More poems about dementia and the wide circle of  difficulty that comes with it. My work informs my understanding, but my mother gives me the personal love and loss. Her journey informs the poems. I would love to work with an illustrator who could use brain scan film to mark the journey of the brain.


Winner of the 2017/18 International Book & Pamphlet Competition 


'We both loved this moving, tender collection of poems which explores what it means to have and to lose a mother. The poems in this pamphlet are lyrical, carefully crafted with a lightness of touch and, so importantly, "unafraid to be kind". At once a joyful and aching read.' - Liz Berry on Ann's Collection, 'I Wish I Had More Mothers'


'Ann Gray's work is a measured but sumptuous revelation, like the sun coming up a few inches at a time. Perception and emotional honesty aren't just connected, but share the same nervous system. The poet who can effortlessly name every kind of fish and flower can also identify all the stages of love and loss. Very few women, and no men at all, can write from a good soul and a bad conscience with quite her combination of tact and recklessness. This collection is the garden of the heart laid bare.' - Clive James


'Tender, true, heart-breaking in their accumulation of detail, these poems go right to the heart of the surreal, funny, painful business of dementia.' - Jackie Kay


'We respond to Ann Gray's poems because she writes from the heart, vividly, with intelligence and tact. It's as simple, and as rare, as that.' - Tony Lopez

I Wish I Had More Mothers

by Ann Gray (1st Sep 18 | 978-1-912196-12-8)


Winner of the 2017/18 Book & Pamphlet Competition


Would having more mothers make the loss of one less painful?  Following her mother on her dementia journey, Ann Gray shows us that in the chaos there can also be tenderness, humour and love.


We both loved this moving, tender collection of poems which explores what it means to have and to lose a mother. The poems in this pamphlet are lyrical, carefully crafted with a lightness of touch and, so importantly, "unafraid to be kind". At once a joyful and aching read. – Liz Berry

Not Fade Away  

from I wish I Had More Mothers (smith|doorstop, 2018)


It’s not the letters, the Scott to Zelda,

nor the dress, nor the shreds of feather

boa, the black silk cat-suit she wore

that night at Quaglino’s when she swore


she’d never drink again, not with men from

Oxford; it’s late afternoons, nights long gone

that went wrong, that’s what she’s left with.

Cradling a teapot, jiggling its lid


her fingers threaded through the wool,

the jolly orange wool of its cosy, she pulls

back the pages of an album to scan

faces she can’t place; or was that the man


who left the notes she found, folded in a drawer,

Can’t find the cat.  Have you fed her? love you more.



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