Madeleine Wurzburger

Madeleine Wurzburger

Madeleine Wurzburger was born in Kingston-upon-Thames, UK and currently lives in Richmond, Surrey where she works as a private EFL teacher. Her poems have been published in The Rialto, Long Poem Magazine and included in the 2012 Flarestack Poets Pamphlet anthology. She was also a shortlisted poet in the 2015 Bridport Prize.


Q&A with Madeleine Wurzburger


When did you start writing?


I have always written – little stories, comics as a child, then poems, short stories and two unpublished children’s books. I was home-schooled for a year in 1980 and introduced to Keats, e.e cummings, William Carlos Williams and Emily Dickinson through a teacher-friend and the Penguin Book of English Verse. I started writing poems seriously in 1996, and was very interested in Jewish themes/identity. My medieval obsession came later!


Where did you grow up?


My parents are German-Jewish émigrés, from musical/artistic backgrounds and I grew up in a non-religious, artistic home near Kingston-upon-Thames. My composer-conductor father founded a local orchestra The Kingston Philharmonia in 1974; I played the violin in the orchestra for 10 years. Various schools include a Rudolph Steiner boarding school, Esher College (Thames Ditton) and a year of home schooling. I later studied English Literature at Birkbeck College, University of London, gaining my degree in 1995.


Do you have any poets or poems that you go back to?


Poets who inspire me: Gillian Allnutt, Michael Longley, Emily Dickinson, John Burnside, RS.Thomas, Pauline Stainer, Amy Clampitt, Jamie McKendrick, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, David Harsent, Jen Hadfield.  I also love Keats, e.e. cummings, William Carlos Williams, James Tate, Sharon Olds, Yehuda Amichai.

Favourite poems: ‘A Swarm of Gnats’ (‘Whole kingdoms...Have never known of so fierce a dancing’ Hermann Hesse),‘The Fieldmouse’s Prayer’ (Tua Forsström), ‘Plague Victims Catapulted over Walls into Besieged City’ (Thomas Lux), ‘Villa Stellar’ Poems (‘Snow is descending in the living-room’ George Barker), ‘The Sloe’ (Maurice Riordan), ‘The Moose’ (Elizabeth Bishop), ‘Lost’ (‘my lost lamb lovelier than all the wool’ Michael Longley), ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ (Coleridge). I also get lots of ideas from medieval nursery rhymes, songs, riddles, ballads etc.


Where do you usually write? And what do you do when you are not writing?


I write in my loft at the top of the house. I teach English as a Foreign Language in one-to-one lessons and am the mother of two school-age children.


How do you set about creating a collection?


‘Sleeve Catching Fire at Dawn’ will be my first collection, and forms part of my medieval ‘voices’ poems, with threads running through of light, animals, history, the new. For this collection human and animal expression formed the basis. Medieval dress and its paraphernalia (thread, yarn, spindle, distaff, wool) are incorporated. ‘Marriage’ is a typical poem in this respect. It is based on the shape of a distaff (the stick used to twist wool onto before winding it onto a spindle) as the threads of a relationship; the pulling together, the untwisting of quarrels, and so on, seemed to fit the physical object.


How would you describe the poems in Sleeve Catching Fire at Dawn?


The poems in this collection are part of an ongoing medieval ‘lives’ or ‘voices’ sequence which so far numbers 100! Lives of nuns, schoolboys, poor women, workers etc are explored, sometimes over a series of poems. I am also currently experimenting with shape poems.


Winner of the 2017/18 International Book & Pamphlet Competition 


Though Sleeve Catching Fire at Dawn is historical in one sense, exploring events such as the Black Death, the Reformation and the advent of passenger trains in 1830 from the perspective of cows, this extraordinary collection also highlights ideas that are very relevant today; injustice, intolerance and cruelty. The significance of light is also prevalent throughout illuminating a certain tension in these poems between dawns and sunsets, darknesses and enlightenment.


'An extraordinarily precise and effective deployment of sometimes quite arcane knowledge. There’s the shock of originality, followed by the more important realisation that things that matter are being said.' David Constantine on Madeleine's collection, 'Sleeve Catching Fire at Dawn'


'You sense Wurzburger’s need to honour the forgotten voices of the past throughout this impressive collection. She convinces by encouraging the reader to, as it were, eavesdrop on the social mores and idiosyncrasies of a world which is lost to us... Madeleine Wurzburger’s vision is uncommonly human, and uncommonly fragile... where the enchained continue to sing, in spite of everything.'The Yorkshire Times on 'Sleeve Catching Fire at Dawn' (read full review here).

Dark Ages

from Sleeve Catching Fire at Dawn (smith|doorstop, 2018)


Medieval lawyers could make a case for light -

the glare in the church glass, barley harvest. Beer

to quench England. Even a serf could see the glint

on a flail, his sleeve catching fire at dawn.

Torn from Islam – light stolen, yet freely given

by the Persians, for example, aligning the stars.

Undisputed: the mathematical brain of the infidel

transported by camel train. At the sloping desk

scribes, turning night into day, testify to lenti,

a pair, held by thumb and finger to the eye.

Incontestable: the centre-line rudder

rowing us to gold until the very rim of the world

and what brighter light - except silver griffins;

miraculous fruit; Jews of ten lineages closed

between mountains? What brighter light

than the sun in Bruges - lifting canal boats

through the short reach of water

so that the gates rise vertically, like dragon wings?


Titles by this author

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