Peter Carpenter

Peter Carpenter

I challenge you. I live alone
now in symbols: crossed
arrows through a crown. 

— from 'Sand Person'


Peter Carpenter has been a teacher of English from 1980, and has taught at Tonbridge School since 1992, where he was Head of English until 2002.  His poems have appeared many literary journals and magazines including the TLS, Poetry Review, Poetry Ireland, Agenda, Stand, The Rialto, the Independent and The Independent on Sunday.

Some poems in Just Like That have previously appeared in the following collections: Choosing an England (Worple, 1997), No Age (Shoestring, 2001), The Black-Out Book (Arc 2002), Catch (Shoestring, 2006), After the Gold Rush (Nine Arches, 2009).  His collections have been widely and favourably reviewed in, for example, Poetry London, the TLS, Ambit, The North, Leviathan, Poetry Ireland Review, Staple, English and The Use of English.

Peter has performed his poetry, mentored and run writing workshops for many organisations including the Arvon Foundation, Poetry Ireland, the Dartington, Wessex, Ledbury and Aldeburgh poetry festivals, and Survivors’ Poetry.  He was made a Teacher Trailblazer by the Poetry Society in 2009 in recognition of his services in the teaching of poetry.

He has lectured on a variety of topics and authors including Geoffrey Hill (Warwick University and Cambridge University Summer School), Thom Gunn (Agenda conference at UCL, 1999), Louis MacNeice (Aldeburgh, summer 2008) and Bernard Spencer (Reading University Conference: 2009).

Peter has worked in school projects including ‘Write Over London’ at Kenwood House in  June 2011, Canning School, Eastbourne College, Dulwich College, Wellington College, Eton College and Radley College (as writer in residence) and the Marsh Academy, for example.

His poems have been anthologised in A Mutual Friend: Poems for Charles Dickens (Two Rivers Press/English Association, 2012); The Captain’s Tower (Seren, 2011); The Voyage (Warwick-Monash, 2011); ‘Venice’ first appeared in Paper Planes (University of Reading, 2010), The Book of Hours (Duckworth, 2007), La Isla Tuerta, 49 poetas britanicos 1946-2006 and The Gift: New Writing for the NHS (Stride 2003), for example.

Peter was made a Visiting Fellow at the University of Warwick in 2001 and was Creative Writing Fellow at the University of Reading during 2007-08. He is a regular reviewer and essayist for London Magazine, Agenda, The North and other literary journals. He contributed to London: City of Disappearances (Penguin) edited by Iain Sinclair and is both contributor to and character in Sinclair’s classic study of the M25, London Orbital.

He has co-directed Worple Press since 1997 and published work by many major writers including Iain Sinclair, Clive Wilmer, Beverley Bie Brahic and Peter Robinson. 


‘A naturally restrained poet, most oblique when most autobiographical, Peter Carpenter is nevertheless deeply troubled by social injustice and so is prepared to risk a plain style; but he makes his plainness interesting’ — John Greening, The TLS


‘...threading its way through Peter Carpenter’s new work is a delicate, humorous and moving awareness of… the ways in which the self relates to the other…or exactly what’s going on ‘outside the room’’ — Ian Brinton, The Use of English


Carpenter’s idiosyncratic passions come through clearly: along with the importance of family he is a traditionalist deeply concerned about England’s ‘blessed plot’ disappearing rapidly before our eyes…a traditional poet built for modern times…’ — Belinda Cooke

‘Recognition of the ordinary is both testament to Carpenter’s humility and central to his poetic…Carpenter’s is a civilized, humane voice that puzzles over what we sometimes make of ourselves, but it is also a voice rooted in the grace of humour.’ — Paul McCloughlin, Critical Survey

‘Self-deprecating and unashamedly demotic… he writes engaging and effective poetry, By turns it is funny, lyrical and quietly moving. Inclined to debunk what he might consider pomposity, he seems to be, nonetheless, someone who ‘will forever be surprising/ A hunger in himself to be more serious.’ — David Cooke, Poetry London


Carpenter’s is a slightly difficult but original voice which leads you into expect a conventional view of human experience then duly shocks you out of it. It is a voice full of idiosyncrasy and idiomatic twists, encompassing ( and chronicling ) the poet’s own state of dislocation.’ — Tim Liardet, Leviathan Quarterly Number Seven

'Just Like That is a New and Selected Poems ... a selection of the best poems [that] communicates a sense of confident and growing literary power.' — PN Review


Through the miracle of the smokery,

it comes out fresh on the enamel plate

a full forty years on, stinking the place

to high heaven. I turn it from pipistrelle

to a woman’s leather gloves to giant insect –

a stag beetle, cleavered, legs in the air, opening up

like a good short story.

                                      Its armoury of bones

and deflector shields is surely cast in bronze.

A spine to work under and lift clear

with the line of the knife before the flesh

can be enjoyed: the intricacies  of a whole life,

worth taking time over.

                                      My long-dead grandfather

puts it there in front of me. Windows run

with condensation. The grill’s still on for toast.

I make a start as he’s creasing flat his Mirror


Peter on his work

My first published poem was written when I was eleven. It was called ‘Out there and in here’ and was put in ‘Ebba’s Scrip’, the school magazine. I was lucky at school, a suburban state grammar; I met an inspirational teacher (the late Kenneth Curtis, subject of the poem, ‘Killer’) who changed my life through his example, introducing me to contemporary poetry and helping me to develop my reading. Transformational in every way. He taught Geoffrey Hill at Bromsgrove, handed me a copy of Hill’s ‘King Log’ in the school library, with a quiet ‘I wonder what you’ll make of that’. Wow. That was it. Also, my parents read all the time and my father could quote great chunks of Shakespeare and Housman. And my friends were oddballs, originals; all of us were into ‘alternative’ music, through prog rock and Bowie to punk and beyond; there was a lot of informal, heated ‘practical criticism’ applied to lyrics from Camel, Genesis and others. At Cambridge we treated lyrics by Dylan with reverence, on a par with Milton, and again I was helped by great teachers, Eric Griffiths, for example, and brilliant companions, such as Kevin Jackson. 


I have a wide-ranging, eclectic and ever-growing list of favourite poets and poems. Among the first poems to get me going were Eliot’s early poems, those urban night-scapes, the sculpted imagist power of the lines, the echoey power of those ’certain half-deserted streets’ appealed to my adolescent sensibility. And then Keats, I used to learn chunks from the odes ( ‘She dwells with beauty, beauty that must die’); the music and the odd mix of openness, frailty and controlled power in all he writes. Shakespeare and then Milton, and enduring still, Wordsworth, especially ‘The Prelude’ (‘Fair seed-time had my soul..’). Abiding influences and loves: Thom Gunn, early Heaney, early Hill, Mandelstam. Poets I have published who have been partially ignored or sidelined: Peter Kane Dufault, Clive Wilmer, James Aitchison, for example, are all brilliant. European poetry has fascinated; the strategies of those poets writing under duress; I’m thinking of Vasko Popa, for example, and Wislawa Szymborska. She’s great, so apparently simple; I love poems like ‘Miracle Fair’, poems that celebrate the ordinary: ‘A miracle: just take a look around:/the inescapable earth.’ And I love the poems that come from workshops, especially younger groups – wildly good, they often don’t believe how good, and then they are screwed up and thrown in a bin. What I have learnt from teaching and reading poems? The original impulse has to be met with craft, and that very often form liberates writers rendered inarticulate by strong emotions. Be constantly surprised and in awe of what is out there, relish language for its own sake. And keep taking reading tips – Doris Kareva, a recent one, and Lyubomir Nikolov, another, and then R.F. Langley, and Menashe…and…


I write in spaces where there is either complete silence or great noise (music). I recently moved to a classroom right at the top of a building I love, Dry Hill House, home to the wonderful English Department at Tonbridge School. I’ve found the slant of the roofing, the view, out over a Steve Dilworth sculpture and the Bidborough Ridge, the aspect, the feel, all especially conducive to writing. The natural light’s good and I arrange a desk in the right place to get going. I do all my writing classes here too. It has a ‘happening’ feel.  Bliss.  And I have part of an office space at home, but that is more for rootling around and finding books off shelves and thinking, ‘aah, that’s how it’s done’. And I listen to music at maximum volume -- Jethro Tull, Divine Comedy and Steve Knightley today.

When I’m not writing, I teach or read, or catch up on both, but above all I try to see as much of my daughters, Zoe and Bea, and Amanda, my wife, as possible. And then a list of ‘ands’… And to do all those jobs in the garden that need doing. And we all love walking, especially with our dogs, Mister Darcy and Scrottle. And we love films and theatre and art and concerts, and I have a passion for football and cricket, past playing, but an avid fan and ‘coach’.


‘The Black-Out Book’ was my third collection; I still remember putting it together with the help of Tony Ward at Arc ( it still feels and looks good – lovely paper weight and cover) and David Morley, who edited the Arc list then and was never afraid to give brilliant and telling advice ( ‘your presence in this poem, Peter, is not required’). It is something of a concept album, all about navigation, and indirectly about things that fly, by both day and night (fireworks, planes, bats..). It’s in two parts, ‘Shrägmusik’  and ‘Ejects Stars’: the first part is centred around my father’s experiences as a navigator during the war and ‘Fix’ is a poem that has a raid on Köln on Christmas Eve, 1944 as its epicentre. My late father was one of a generation who were asked by their country to risk their lives, who saw companions die at hand, who lived life intensely under the shadow of likely death, and who were then just told to get back into ‘normal lives’ in Civvy Street, no counselling, no treatment for trauma. We had a rocky relationship, but one full of love, and part of the coming together were the times in the mid-seventies when he started talking about what he’d been through. We drove up to Elsham Wolds, a bleak flat-land in Lincolnshire, where his squadron was based, and I began to realise the extent of his heroism. ‘Fix’ is my longest and most ambitious poem; it follows a modernist path and is a series of voices and fragmented experiences from the war and my childhood; there is no overt narration and any reader is invited to ‘get lost’ in the nicest possible way of course. I wrote it very quickly in a form of musical composition, sifting through navigational argot, scraps of things said, notes and jottings to give it form, which developed into a cracked-into highly structured ‘free verse’. David really liked it, and although I fiddled a bit, I left the lines, the lengths, the spatial concerns of them, exactly as they were. It has a drifting, looping set of return rhymes and half rhymes throughout. This is how it starts:

‘Crewing up’

                        out of darkness

fifty years and more

of radio silence

                          I trace a course

visibility poor


I am currently working on a number of projects. A series of chapbooks for Worple Press over the next two years; editing the poems of William Hayward for a Selected Poems in 2013; co-writing a book about football with Dr Grant Bage. More immediately, I’ve just interviewed Clive Wilmer for PN Review, following the publication of his Collected Poems, I’m writing reviews for Ian Brinton at Tears in the Fence and for Sophie Bradford at London Magazine. That’s one side of things. Also, finding poems popping out, after a drought, and shaping a sequence with the working title The Show Trials. I have, I think, finished the chapter on creative writing (Singing Schools and Beyond) for the forthcoming Oxford University Press Handbook of Contemporary British and Irish Poetry due in 2013. 

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