Sally Goldsmith

Inside a fusty cupboard, the word
is curled on a blue sky tin

— from 'Cerebos'

Sally is a songwriter and broadcaster as well as a poet.

Her pamphlet Singer was chosen by Michael Longley to be a first stage winner in the 2008 Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition. She has also published poems in Poetry Review, Poetry News, The North and Magma and the 2006 Arvon International Poetry Competition anthology.

She has won many prizes too for her radio work and songwriting, including two Sony Radio Awards.

Are We There Yet? (2013) is her first full-length collection.



'This is a very fine book. There are delightful, exuberant poems of presence and recollection. Sally Goldsmith is a poet-naturalist with a wonderful eye, but also a fine ear for the language of the living world.' – David Morley

'…an acute eye for the visual with a sure sense of music….Goldsmith is an accomplished poet, one whose first full collection must surely be imminent.' — Orbis 150

'There’s an intriguing tension about this pamphlet. It starts with the understated design which is nevertheless wrapped in a glowing orange/gold cover, and this tension continues in the straightforward and yet often gleaming lines of poetry – one thing pulling against something else.' — Eleanor Livingstone, Sphinx

'This is a gentle, lyrical, at all times good and at some times great collection.' — Nick Asbury, Sphinx

'Sophisticated, crafted and tightly composed, this writing is quite simply, music.' — Sarah Jackson, Assent


‘For all the work’s gravity, its plangent soulfulness, there is plenty of play here too, a girlishness even that feels completely winning. Here is the aching fragility of things, our world in all its gorgeous, tactile, actuality.’ – Conor O’Callaghan


‘With a keen eye and a sure touch, she has developed a wholly original slant on the quotidian. This is the world as we almost know it: risky and seductive.’ – David Harsent



'When Goldsmith unites her skills of observation, musical language and image, with a hint of a more profound commentary, such as in ‘Thaw’, the work really soars. Overall, a delightful, varied and sensitive collection which demonstrates the growth in range and ability since her original pamphlet.' — Rosemary Badcoe, Orbis



On Sally's songs:

'What really gave the play legs were the songs especially written for the piece by Sally Goldsmith. “I’m Ernestine Flowers, I don’t like to complain…” sang one of the inmates in a tremulous voice and it wrung the heart.' — Sue Arnold, The Observer

'Sally is, first and foremost, in love with language, especially the language of real people in real places ... [T]he vocabulary and language use in these poems is wide-ranging and rich. Sally seems particularly fond of grounded, earthy, physical vocab, especially words that seem to belong in oral tradition or which have a lively, sing-song movement.' — Noel Williams, Antiphon


'Thaw' — highly commended in the 2013 National Poetry Competition


Fleet footed and solitary, makes a shallow scrape or hollow
in clumps of long grass. Does not burrow for hare

is leaping, zigzagging, doubling back. Somehow it all feels random,
unfocussed, the way you sit at the screen but can’t settle. You’re harebrained,

mad as, lolloping from one damn thing to another,
hopping and boxing yourself into this clumsy metaphor.

You think of dusk and the path in a moonscape of dunes,
still your mind, make a noose of it and call her, draw her

Bawty, Malkin, Scavernick, Skyper, Katie, Laverock,
Caproun, Whiddie, Cuttie, Wintail, Puss – 
yes, draw her, Poor Hare,

to where you first started her. She held herself in a stitchery of marram,
her glassy eye a window, perhaps a funnel. You pour, hourglass

yourself back into rank grass, trust that after the running
you will find your form and name: Old Sally; your creature: hare.



Sally on her work

I always did well at “composition” at primary school — teachers read stuff out and praised me —  but for some reason I never quite believed in myself. I was shy then, not given to pushing myself forward. Even as I grew older I thought there was some mystery to being a writer and someone like me couldn’t do it. Oh yes, I wrote essays at university, funding reports and proposals for arts projects in my work, but it was out of music and songwriting that I found myself as a writer in the creative sense - and found that people liked what I did. Several people said that I appeared to be a really a poet who wrote songs and that got me started. And of course, it is always friends and colleagues who really encourage you, other writers who help you. I’m more grateful than I can say to them all.

I gravitate towards poets who love sound, who relish the music of poetry – Basil Bunting, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Les Murray, Amy Clampitt among many others. There’s that famous bit in Bunting’s long poem Briggflatts:

pens are too light
take a chisel to write

I love that – that sometimes you have to carve your words, that they can be spare with weight. 

Poets like Clampitt and Murray have almost swallowed a dictionary. They take arcane and specialist words, taste them, sound them. I aspire to that.

And the presence, the attention and of course that rhythm of Hopkins. That’s my kind of guy.


I still haven’t found my ideal place to write. Sometimes it’s in my ‘office” but then I feel oppressed by all the other work there. Sometimes it’s in the attic but that’s my partner’s place to write and I don’t want to crowd him. Sometimes it’s on the kitchen table but then you have to eat. Sometimes it’s in bed but I fall asleep.

Walking is good, but only for taking notes or thinking. Cafes always have music playing. Excuses, excuses. The best place was in my own owl haunted room on a Hawthornden retreat with my lunch left outside it in a little basket and no distractions. Even when it was cold it was marvellous.


I can’t quite remember how I put together my pamphlet, Singer, now. It all seems so along ago. But I’m sure there was lots of laying stuff out on the floor, piles, ditchings and fetchings.  But it felt right to position Cerebos, a poem about opening a cupboard and finding something strange there, at the beginning. Hare Ghazal is a sort of signature poem with literally a traditional ghazal signing off, ‘Old Sally” on the last line. So this went naturally at the end of the collection. In between I tried to put poems near that spoke to each other in some way. But discovering the way poems found companions, was often a surprise. It was not until I had harvested and gathered in that I had sufficient distance to see some themes and preoccupations emerging, or some particular sound worlds.


Sometimes poems come very quickly, almost complete. Others take ages. Hare Ghazal was a struggle but then at the end, came quite quickly. I tried for months to tell of an important encounter with a hare. I’d read lots about hares, fiddled with notes, scraps of found language from field guides. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to say - though I knew it was important that I did. When I read about the ghazal, an ancient Persian form – the strict rules, the way it can bring together a theme but how each couplet is complete in itself, that the poet signs off playfully at the end with her/his name - suddenly it became a way of bringing together this casting about. In the process, I found how things can gell if you wait, that you can be brought home to a form which helps you (and of course here the form is also the hare’s home – a rough shape in the grass). It helped me to realise something about the importance of stilling, waiting in order to reveal a sort of Hopkins-ish ‘inscape,’ an essence of hare, of me, of the process that helps me with a poem. It acted as a guide into ways of connecting and dealing with the wildness in creation. Along the way, I disobeyed, some of the strict rules– I didn’t end each couplet with the same word, instead using slant rhymes, enjambed across couplets rather than keeping the separate beads. But something worked.


As I came to poetry through songwriting – the ghazal, appropriately, is still often sung.  Later I found that mine at fourteen lines was perhaps a sonnet – little song - too. I realised sometime afterwards that it might also be my Thought Fox. It felt right in so many ways. I included found names for hare – dialect, folk names and vernacular culture being a passion. I suddenly seemed able to link the magic of the encounter, the magic of finding my form and the folk magic of the hare itself. And it was great to discover that Old Sally is another name for hare.


I am currently almost there with a full collection’s worth and so I’m tinkering with that. But while on the Hawthornden retreat, I found myself spontaneously working on a sequence, which I have never really done before and things were coming quickly. That felt great – like a novelist, you always have something to go back to.

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