Robert Hamberger

Robert Hamberger

'What animals we are! Dipping to feed
off each other’s skin, lick each other dry.'

— From 'Each Other’s Skin'  (& The Rule of Earth)


Robert Hamberger’s poetry has been broadcast on Radio 4 and published in The Observer, New Statesman, The Spectator, Poetry Review and Gay Times. Robert has been awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship, chosen for the Alternative Generation promotion and has been shortlisted for a Forward prize. He has been featured on the Guardian Poem of the Week website. Recently his poems have been published in The North 51 and 52 and have appeared in British, American and Japanese anthologies.

He was first prizewinner in Chroma’sInternational Queer Writing Competition, 2006.

He has published six poetry pamphlets, including The Rule of Earth (Smith/Doorstop) and Heading North (Flarestack, 2007), a sequence about John Clare. His full-length collections are Warpaint Angel (Blackwater, 1997),The Smug Bridegroom (Five Leaves, 2002) and Torso (Redbeck Press, 2007). His fourth collection Blue Wallpaper is forthcoming from Waterloo Press.In 2020 Robert's memoir A Length of Road will be published by John Murray. It has been described by the publisher as 'a deeply profound and poetic exploration of class, gender, grief and sexuality through the author's own experiences and through the autobiographical writing of John Clare.'

Robert lives in Brighton.

Find audio of Robert reading his work at PoetCasting here and read two of his poems in Magma here.

Below are links for Robert's collections.

A Length of Road:


Guardian Poem of the Week:


Words for the Wild:

Litter (Leafe Press), in the collection Blue Wallpaper:



Photograph credit, John Murray.



'Robert Hamberger writes in a deceptively simple manner. His sequence of twenty-one poems evoke the complexities of domestic intimacy…As this sequence evolves, the reader is given a uniquely personal, although incredibly universal, insight into the pleasures and pitfalls of a modern gay marriage. A must for poetry readers and a perfect introduction for the curious' — Gay Times 

'The Rule of Earth is no ordinary collection of love poems. Without reflecting abstractly on the condition of love and being in love, these one strophe poems seek to understand it with the help of life’s unique and overwhelming moments: the gestures, the words/confessions, the weight of adversity, the time spent together. In Hamberger, the reader finds a continuous awareness of the crucial elements in the bond between the two beings: “The pressure of your fingers can insist/This is what matters: us. Here. Today.” One of the best poetry pamphlets in recent times' — Chapman

'I found these poems to be very moving – a series of sonnets celebrating physical and homosexual love with extreme delicacy and in ‘everyday’ language, if the language of good poetry can ever be so described. I am reminded of Auden’s beautiful ‘Lay your sleeping head, my love…’ Thoroughly recommended' — New Hope International

Robert reading at Poets & Players


The Shellfish Eater published in the LGBTQ American anthology Collective Brightness (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2011): 



Driving to meet the children by the sea
we enter a tunnel of leaves. Sunlight
dabbles the windscreen, our sight
dazed, squinted, assuming we can see
the same dazzle. Striped by shadows, you beside me,
becoming the music we’re hearing: this flight
of wings a waterfall, green over white
on our upturned faces. We barely
remember where we’re heading. Only
that we’re driving to meet them, speeding
through minutes, trees or tarmac, nearly
forgetting which: asking the wrong thing
if we want this to stand still, its beauty
being always in the moving.




Robert on his work  

I’m from solid working-class part-Jewish stock from Whitechapel in London’s East End. A family of strong women, with two brothers, loads of cousins and three amazing aunts, all of us living a stone’s throw from each other in three blocks of flats. I wrote stories as a child, and grew into an arty teenager aiming to write the Great British Novel, but poetry waylaid me, and I’ve concentrated on poems for the past twenty-something years since I won a competition judged by Liz Lochhead.

The poets I return to get to the core of poetry for me in their turns of phrase, their startling images, always diving to the heart of the matter. I think of Sylvia Plath of course: Love set you going like a fat gold watch; Edna St Vincent Millay: I will put Chaos into fourteen lines/And keep him there (a fabulous description of writing sonnets); Gerard Manley Hopkins: I am soft sift/In an hourglass; Adrienne Rich: I came to explore the wreck./The words are purposes./The words are maps; John Clare: And broad old cesspools glittered in the sun.

For me, there’s something in each of these disparate poets, and others I admire, about having the courage of their convictions, their original voice or vision, whether they’ve been ignored critically or celebrated: I have to feel a poem on my pulses - whether writing or reading - and these do it for me.

My most recent collection Torso was several years in the making, but I don’t consciously plan a collection. It’s only when I have enough poems to fill seventy-something pages that I begin to examine more consciously how any themes and poems answer or speak to each other. That collection moved into four sections: the first a cluster of memory poems, changing into my life as it is now; the second section versions of Lorca’s Dark Love sonnets, which were a collaboration with my partner Keith Rainger who speaks Spanish, where I attempted almost to blend my voice with Lorca’s and celebrate his sensuous images, his proud absence of narrative; the third section nine sonnets for a dear friend who died; the fourth section a sequence of twenty one poems called Bible Studies, some of which spoke in the voices of people from the Bible who loved their own gender. In relation to the poem Gethsemane Nude I imagined myself into the voice of the young man in the linen cloth from St Mark’s Gospel who followed Christ to Gethsemane. Writing in another’s voice can be a liberation, as I find I become absorbed into whatever rhythms and images blossom from the character. That poem also allowed me to luxuriate a little in the King James’ Bible rhythms, which I suppose were some of the first ‘poetic’ sounds I enjoyed as a boy at Sunday School.

I’m in the process of finishing my fourth collection: the nips and tucks to various poems, as previously private poems begin to take their stand in the market-place. There’s also that pleasure I mentioned earlier of working out how the poems relate to each other, what themes, images and obsessions have developed since the previous collection appeared, and how the poems address the issues that are important to me. I’ve loved working with the sonnet form for several years – it’s a puzzle I return to -  but recently, since I moved to be closer to the sea, I’ve been working on free verse and exploring my voice wherever it takes me.

Titles by this author

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