Anna Woodford

Anna Woodford lives in Newcastle upon Tyne. Her collection Birdhouse (Salt, 2010) was a winner of the international Crashaw Prize.  Her pamphlet Trailer (Five Leaves, 2007) was a Poetry Book Society Choice. And Party Piece (Smith/Doorstop, 2009) was a winner in the Book & Pamphlet Competition.

She has received a major Leverhulme Award, an Eric Gregory Award, an Arvon/Jerwood Apprenticeship, a Hawthorden Fellowship and a residency at the Blue Mountain Centre (New York). She has a PhD from Newcastle University.

 

 

 

 


Reviews

'Anna Woodford’s perfect pitch, control of suspense and capacity for surprise are everywhere in working order.' — Leah Fritz, Poetry Review

'Other impressive debuts this year included Anna Woodford's Birdhouse.' — Nicholas Wroe selects Birdhouse as one of his poetry books of the year in a roundup in The Guardian

'a series of elegies for the poet's grandparents, reveals Woodford's writing at its best: understated, genuine, and emotionally intelligent.' — Ben Wilkinson, The Guardian

'Finally this week, a mention for the beautiful poetry of Anna Woodford. I’ve had her award-winning debut collection Birdhouse on my to-read pile for ages and finally managed to steal an afternoon to enjoy it this week. It includes poems about sex, escaping school, pregnancy, nuns and a miniskirt scandalising a pit village. It is quite, quite wonderful.' - Lauren Laverne, Grazia

'She revisits her childhood and the fairytales she remembers — Goldilocks after her encounter with the bears — in lines which are clear and confident, colloquial and powerful.' - Keith Richmond, Tribune

'Though these poems are deeply personal, Woodford also engages the reader through universal themes of love, loss, childhood and family. There is darkness, but not bitterness, loss but also strength, emotion, celebration and wit. This heartfelt and intimate exploration of life lingers with the reader.' -Laura Kaye, Mslexia

WOOD END

 

was older than home. It was where Dad felt
at home. Its cupboards were full of puzzles
with missing pieces. It was for ever, for six weeks
one summer, when Dad played
Mum, and Mum visited at weekends. The rest
of the time Dad’s ancient aunties like Dorothy
were nearer. Tea was eggs and beans, and beans
and eggs and blackberries picked on canal walks
blighted by slugs and dark gaps between
stepping-stones. The nearby market was hung
with rabbits until Mum came on a Saturday
when it sold toys and records. 

 

Above Wood End, Stoodley Pike
perched on a hill like an early god
surrounded by sheep and sheep-
shit. Its obelisk daggered the air above Dad
as he walked towards it, bowed by the enormity
of the rucksack like three kids on his shoulders.
Sometimes our heads were knocked together.
In the evenings we wrote diaries for Dad to look
back on when he was stuck at work, and we were quiet
during the news. Susan Maxwell was always on telly
- her lost face flickered in a far-off corner of Wood End -
a girl from up the road, about my age, but dead.

 

— From Party Piece (2009)

 

 

Anna on her work

I started writing as a kid influenced by ‘speech and drama’ lessons at school where we read aloud poems by Eleanor Farjeon and AA Milne.  I was also lucky in having access to my Mum’s bookshelves where I discovered Ted Hughes, Yevgeny Yevtushenko and, err, Spike Milligan.

‘…if a lion/had you in its jaws I would attack it, if the ropes/binding your soul are your own wrists, I will cut them.’

These are the closing lines from Sharon Olds’s The Promise.  I came across the poem in The New Yorker in Newcastle’s Central Library when I was sixteen.  To borrow from the much-quoted Emily Dickinson, the experience took the top of my head off.  It alerted me to what poetry could do beyond rhymes and lambs.

I write at home in bed, or – when the walls start closing in – in the library with my earplugs in.  What do I do instead of writing?  All the usual stuff:  emails, internet shopping, navel-gazing, self hate, paperclip-arranging etc etc…

My Smith/Doorstop collection Party-Piece came out in 2009: it has got a very appropriate fresh green cover and is full of poems about growing things – babies (I was pregnant) and plants (I’d just finished a poetry residency in Alnwick Garden). Hidden in there is the title poem of my first full-length collection Birdhouse. The poem Party-Piece features my mother singing somewhat tipsily at a New Year’s Eve party. I am tone-deaf and dread party-pieces of any kind so was lost in admiration but also wanted to capture the chaos and fragility of the scene. A central image of the poem came from a memory of seeing statues being carried out of churches and through the streets of Madrid for an Easter procession – ‘the old idol of her body/sways like a Madonna/shouldered out of a Spanish cathedral.’- which I hope treats my mother with the right amount of reverence.

I recently finished a poetry residency at Durham University’s Law School where I was looking, with Professor Tom Allen, at the different ways poetry and law commemorate loss.  We explored public memorials including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the frescos of Bruno Schulz.  Now I’m interested in writing about more personal sites of memory such as the back garden, the park, the tree common to all our childhoods- influenced in part by the paintings of George Shaw.

Titles by this author

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