Jane Routh

'A narrow path changes the way you see

the land, draws your eye deeper in.'     

from ‘To Mow a Meadow’


Jane Routh has published three poetry collections with smith|doorstop. Her first, Circumnavigation, won the Poetry Business Competition and was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for best first collection; Teach Yourself Mapmaking received a Poetry Book Society Recommendation.  She has taken first prize in the Academi Cardiff International Poetry Competition (with the title poem of The Gift of Boats) and in the Strokestown International Poetry Competition. She contributes reviews and non-fiction to several publications.

A former photography lecturer, Jane has lived in north Lancashire for forty years – looking after an Ancient Semi Natural Woodland, planting new woodlands and keeping geese for the last twenty. 


On Circumnavigation:

'In language as bright as it is meticulous, Jane Routh’s poems startle us time and again with their vivid evocations of the actuality of places and things, but then it is her challenging imagination (especially in the sequence ‘Signal Flags’) which shows us the spiritual and emotional elements that underlie them. Circumnavigation is and assured and accomplished collection.' — Neil Curry


'Routh’s lines…have an unforced rhythm and are beautifully measured. This is the assured, original voice of a poet who can give her poems a charge of energy by taking risks with language.' — Elizabeth Burns, Stride


'Her landscape has the clean starkness of Anglo-Saxon poetry where humans have yet fully to imprint their presence.' — Joe Sheerin, Poetry London


'Her poems build people into landscapes and difficult emotions into people.' — SLAB


'The great pleasure of Routh’s writing is that her sensibilities are as specific as her environment.' — Vic Allen



On Teach Yourself Mapmaking:

'a beautifully balanced collection' — PBS Selectors


'She is a characterful poet, her work freely espoused, crafted, roiling, sucked along by mysterious tides and undercurrent, full of changes of light and weather, and framed by a sense of hazardous voyaging…I strongly recommend this book: it is rural, traditional in a way, but Jane Routh is a modern woman. She never falls into inert pastoral, is a fine musician, and her places are always alive with the voices of the people who have inhabited them.' — John Muckle, Shearsman


'Many of the poems are like walks through fields or woods or along beaches in the company of someone who knows and makes you see things with a more careful and considerate eye.  For example in 'The Half', a poem about fishing which can stand up beside Elizabeth Bishop's celebrated 'The Fish' and Ted Hughes's 'Pike', Routh confides in us as if we were sitting there in the boat with her.

This is a very rich and intensely rewarding collection… What I've said so far is only part of the story, part of the extraordinary range of pleasures afforded by this book… There are tender poems too exploring the weathers of the heart  Teach Yourself Mapmaking is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, deservedly so. Its range is impressive, its vivid language recreates the physical sensation of what is being described, ranging from the gritty and muscular to the tender and deeply thoughtful. Smith/Doorstop have a star on their list...' — Matt Simpson, Stride


'Routh’s haunted pastoral is enlarged by its sense of proximity to the here and now… ‘The Reedbed’ offers a great example of how well she can synthesise diction and description, moving easily from Biblical to the colloquial to find elegy in a kind of weekday, shut-down backwater.' — Paul Farley, Poetry London


'Routh really comes into her own when conjuring up the elements…Like no other contemporary poet I have read, she has the ability to make you feel you know what it is like to be taking soundings in the rain off a squally Scottish coast…these poems also map out psychological patterns, family heritage, dry land and the airspace above it as well as exploring the charting of our sea. Routh tackles topics rarely found in contemporary poetry.' — Robyn Bolam, Magma


'This is a very strong collection from a confident, distinctive poet who has definitely arrived where she should be.' — Helena Nelson, Ambit


'Thoroughly grounded, and yet reaching for the stars, this is a book to return to again and again.' — Lynn Moir, Second Light

On The Gift of Boats:

'Routh’s poems ask to be read aloud' — TLS


'There is an attentiveness to the world of things that eventually dissolves the barriers between self and other, and some of Routh’s best moments…are poems on animals where she enters into their experience brilliantly…In the terrific opening poems on boats, boatmen and the perils of the sea, Routh achieves an enviable balancing act between the attentive mind and the life of objects.'Martin Crucefix, Magma


'What really sets her apart, however, is her combination of an accessible approach with acute perception and depths of sympathy also with a considerable lyric gift… So often, as in Routh’s case, it is our sense of an integrated personality and of the integrity of long experience in a writer which, added to skill, makes the work so attractive. Even when Routh – a questioning poet – is telling us that she doesn’t understand, we feel that she does, a great deal.' — Dilys Wood, Artemis


'…the strength of imagery, quality of line and rhythm, and sheer exuberance of language at work in Jane Routh's third collection The Gift of Boats, hit me immediately…The collection's strength can be summed up in the final quatrain of 'They Visit Their Dead': visual, sensual and physical.' — Mark Burnhope, Stride


'She writes movingly, simply and utterly convincingly.' — Keith Richmond


 Jane Routh reads 'Fortune' and 'A beautiful art'




I love slipping from the bed to the silence of the kitchen

in the nearly-dark of winter mornings, sitting at the table

with a teacup in my hands – always the same one,

an old chip opposite the handle – and watching skies:

rosy dapples fading over Cowkins or today’s

something-and-nothing of a lit edge beyond Helks,

but mostly greys, these slowly lifting shades of grey.


You come in, flip the switch, floods of yellow light.

I love this too, your turning the page on the calendar

and reading the day’s poem aloud – Read it again,

that bit about fortune and earthly things –

and the talk after. I love them both: the silence

and your voice reading; the yellow brightness

and the greys out there thrown suddenly to purple.


Then there is more tea and more talk and the earthly things

have assumed their daylight raiment and though at times

it still comes to mind, I have not used the word tomorrow.


— From The Gift of Boats

On writing

I write in a yellow and white upstairs room. Most of the building is awash with papers and books, but this room is relatively clear. There are binoculars on the windowsill: it has the only north-facing window and much of the time I’m looking across the garden to a young woodland beyond. When the trees are bare, Ingleborough looms through the branches – today just a pale grey smudge through the rain. I often see roe deer, partridge, rabbits, hares, owls – sometimes walkers too.

In fact, if I’m not actually doing things outdoors, I’m usually watching what’s out there. The writing – typing the words out – is the least of it: it’s probably more accurate to say I write ‘in my head’ because I type nothing until I’ve a rhythm and cadence that can pull ideas together. My best poems are those I’ve held in my head for a long while before writing them out, like ‘All my dead’ – though I’ve also ‘lost’ poems that way too, holding on to them so long they sound overcooked.

That mess of books and papers? There’s no room for more bookshelves, so most horizontal surfaces have their piles. There are too many new poetry books. (I remember Alastair Reid saying that if we would all limit ourselves to six poems a year, poetry would be the better for it.) But there are also piles of art books, environmental books, Scottish books, botany, wildlife, the Arctic, sailing…all those shelves are full too. The pile under my bed is mainly Charles Wright’s poetry – I’ve just re-read the Snake Eyes collection Stride put together. Sleeping it off in Rapid City (August Kleinzahler) is there. (Uncomfortable bedfellows you might think, but both deliver a faultless music when you read them aloud.) Mike’s poems are also under the bed: I sleep surrounded by friends.

Like everyone else, writers studied in my teens stick with me. ‘My’ poets were Donne, Hopkins and Arnold. I don’t re-read them – they’re as complete in my mind as school hymns and times-tables. I wish my brain could still learn and hold on to new work: I’d like to have Michael Donaghy on tap, some Heaney, some Iain Crichton Smith, Ann Carson’s Glass Irony and God, Eavan Boland, oh and another Arnold – Bob this time, and … this line of thought fills several pages.

I write less than I once did, in part because I spent more time with my father this past few years. And I write more erratically: long silences, and then a rush of ideas. A group of poems relating to Franklin and the North West Passage (a subject I always said I’d never write about, it seemed so obvious) was one recent rush. (See here.)  

Falling into Place is off-piste, something I originally wrote entirely for myself. I’ve had to consider the difference between writing prose and writing poems and it’s been surprising. My prose is condensed like poems and revised maybe even more – perhaps because I don’t have the white space of a page to work with or the shape of stanzas and the impact of line breaks, only the continuous flow of words to carry attention. But I’ve enjoyed the ease of working on something developing and changing over years, rather than trying to deliver regular page-sized insights.

So what next? Time for some more white space, I think; at the moment, I’m drawing on it!  (31.xii.13)

Titles by this author

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