River Wolton

‘In spite of all I know
I want to praise the road.’

— 'The Road'

River Wolton grew up in London and lived in Sheffield for twenty years before moving to north Derbyshire.

She recently completed two years as Derbyshire Poet Laureate and works as a writing facilitator, specialising in tailor-made writing projects for people of all ages and backgrounds. She is currently a Writer-in-Residence with Writing East Midlands and has a Hawthornden Fellowship for 2011.

She is a co-author of the Route anthology of stories about mothers and daughters, Some Girls' Mothers.

The Purpose of Your Visit was highly commended in the 2008 Book & Pamphlet Competiton. Leap was published by Smith|Doorstop in 2010.

Indoor Skydiving is due for publication in October 2013.




(Her) gift to us throughout this pamphlet is to allow us to better understand the personal challenges of sadness, conflict and even fear, by considering the global urgencies of war, poverty and violence. Her narratives use language and images that are strong, simple and clear, and they provide us with a stillness within which we can listen to her voice and share her experience.’ – Rosie Shepperd, Magma

She writes about the big subjects – life, love, death – in a gloriously easy and accessible style.’ - Tribune

... the real achievement is in the voice. There is no explication of opinion here, no sermonising, just brutally honest observation. This is conflict restrained by the poetic form and rendered all the more frightening for it.’ – Jane Bluett, Assent (formerly Poetry Nottingham)

‘She explores a palpable contemporary world, tilting it to view its planes and angles. She is alert to the experience of exile and displacement … Her writing is rhythmical and confident, the details telling. River Wolton is a poet to watch.’ — Moniza Alvi

‘Complex and thought-provoking… (She) knows that heavy subjects are best delivered in the lightest language. Her first collection is a single bullet, and its poems are shrapnel.’ — Mark Burnhope, Stride

RadioWaves interview for Cube Magazine by Katie Barker (August 2009)

River Wolton’s Indoor Skydiving was reviewed in Antiphon:



First prize, Chroma Queer Writing Competition (2008)

Highly Commended, Book & Pamphlet Competition (2007)

First prize, Red Pepper competition (2004)


River reading 'Indoor Skydiving' 


River reading with "Some Girls' Mothers"



Lisa, a Californian who’s cantor in her local synagogue 
and volunteers as paramedic in the occupied West Bank,
explains the etiquette of checkpoints:

how the ambulance waits to be ushered forward,
even with patients on the point of death
at all costs don’t move first.

One night she spent an hour edging towards
a silent jeep, tapping, then banging on the hood
while the boy inside lay by his gun, asleep.

– From The Purpose of Your Visit


River on her work

How did you start writing?

I was a keen writer at the age of 9. My first poem featured a mongoose and a snake in a fight to the death. Illustrating it was tricky, but I remember the delight at seeing the poem on the classroom wall.  Of the poets studied at school, the juicy language of DH Lawrence, Dylan Thomas and Hopkins immediately appealed, but I found the Eng Lit canon daunting and inaccessible.  In my teens I stopped writing, but started again at 24, after my mum died. It took another fifteen years or more to get really interested in how to make poems work.


Which are your favourite poets and poems?

Elizabeth Bishop for her craft:

‘He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested 
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.’ (The Fish)

Adrienne Rich for her heart:

‘No one sleeps in this room without
the dream of a common language.’ (Origins and History of Consciousness)

I have a soft spot for Billy Collins and for any poet who makes me laugh out loud.

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

I write best alongside others – the spirit of play, or of competition, perhaps. The re-writing happens, ideally, with a view of silver birches, buzzards, and happy people setting off on long walks. Instead of writing I sing, play Bananagrams, and run writing workshops.


On Leap (2010):
Leap started with double the poems needed. Read and re-read. Whittled and fettled. Took suggestions (tried to please everyone, dropped it, took one piece of advice per person). Shuffled. Ate cake. Let the unexpected emerge. Divided into sub-titled sections. Axed them. Re-read. Cut. Let poems speak to each other. Or not. Imagined them in long-term relationships. Re-read line by line backwards and from the middle out. Bred dispassion. Cut umbilical cords. Aimed to be true. Let loathing and pride take turns. Obsessed over grammar and punctuation. Gave in.


On 'Dying Well, An Experiment':

This poem was several years old, had received reasonable feedback in workshops, but hadn’t been taken by magazines and I had a gut feeling that it wasn’t quite right yet. I wasn’t ready to lose faith, mainly because of the people whose lives – and deaths – it touches on.  Under the imperative of finalising the collection, several changes became clear: in line 3, replacing ‘shed hazel, ash and oak’ with ‘named the trees’. I’m instinctively ‘pro-detail’, but there are times when it over-complicates, and ‘shed’ was the wrong verb here. On the other hand I felt the need to reinstate several things from an earlier draft, including the detail of ‘robin’s egg’ in the penultimate line, for the rhythm and shape. Other changes were made for simplicity and clarity e.g. ‘full tilt’ seemed more apt for rock-climbing than ‘full tide’; and ‘in the sealed night’ less pompous than ‘into the sealed night’. ‘To carry them to freedom’ (line 8) was reinstated after feedback that it didn’t make sense otherwise. Oh and the late-night punctuation-obsessing goblin nixed the hyphen in gritstone.


Dying Well, An Experiment (original version)

We hope the class will learn from observation.
Find examples: the one who lay above her grave
with open eyes, shed hazel, ash and oak by name,
left the house itemised; one who soloed grit-stone
at dawn, in the full tide of new love
and lost her footing; one who soothed her sons
into the sealed night of a ship she’d paid 
for freedom. No foolproof method, then, 
for breaking open like a pale-blue egg,
for taking leave of air and hands and water.


Dying Well, An Experiment (final version)

We hope the class will learn by observation.
Find evidence: the one who lay above her grave
with open eyes and named the trees for the last time,
left the house itemised; one who soloed gritstone
at midsummer dawn in the full tilt of new love
and lost her footing; one who soothed her sons
in the sealed darkness of a ship she’d paid
to carry them to freedom. No foolproof method, then,
for cracking open like a pale-blue robin’s egg,
for taking leave of air and hands and water.

What are you currently working on?
Making sideways steps towards a new collection that’s more cohesive, ambitious, challenging and playful (on a good day, with the wind behind me).


Titles by this author


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