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Poetry Archive: Sheenagh Pugh Reading from her Poems

Sheenagh Pugh

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The Poetry Archive

May 2012


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Born in Birmingham in 1950, Sheenagh Pugh lived in Wales for many years before moving to Shetland, where she currently resides. She is the author of nine poetry collections (with a tenth forthcoming in 2013) and two novels, as well as translations of poetry (mainly from German) and a study of fan-fiction. She studied German and Russian at Bristol University and until her retirement in 2008 she taught Creative Writing at the University of Glamorgan. She is a twice winner of both the Bridport Prize (2003 and 1997) and the Cardiff International Poetry Prize (1984 and 1988). Other accolades include the Forward Prize for best individual poem in 1997, the Wales Book of the Year Award in 2000 for her 1999 collection Stonelight, and a Cholmondeley Award for services to poetry in 1999. The Beautiful Lie (2002) was shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Prize and The Movement of Bodies (2004) for the T. S. Eliot Award.

Sheenagh Pugh's poems are devoted to the project of storytelling, employing a beguiling simplicity of language to navigate the no man's land between the real and the fictional. The poems convey a strong sense of history, on both a human and geological scale; historical characters and events mingle with more contemporary references, as seen in ‘The Pursuit of Happiness', a riff on the famous injunction from the American Declaration of Independence, involving Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner. Meanwhile the world's underground workings are exposed in poems such as ‘Extremophile' and ‘Stonelight', and the sea and the weather are often shown to be powerful forces behind the lives of the protagonists - as in ‘The Pause', in which the 2004 tsunami provides a man with the opportunity to reinvent himself.

Pugh has written: ‘I have been accused of being "populist" and "too accessible",both of which I hope are true', while John Greening has described her work as combining ‘accessibility with profundity, clarity and sophistication'. As these quotes imply, the poet's direct, economical style is key to the poems' intent - to pinpoint the places where the everyday takes on a deeper resonance. This resonance is powerfully conveyed by the tender, measured quality of Pugh's recording, which makes space for the listener as much as for the poems themselves. Although the spectre of death is never far from Pugh's work, the poems are fundamentally concerned with life as it is lived, its tenaciousness and exuberance even in the toughest circumstances. This is perhaps most evident in the recent, as yet uncollected poem ‘Extremophile', which celebrates the life of organisms thriving in adverse locations, ‘two miles below the light'. In keeping with much of Pugh's work, this poem is an affirmation of life and the drive to go on living, of the ‘urge / to cling on in the cracks / of the world', reminding us that ‘There is nowhere / life cannot take hold'.

1. The Beautiful Lie 2.59
2. The Pause 1.25
3. Webcam Sonnet 3: Contact 1.25
4. Webcam Sonnet 4: Now 1.02
5. Wedding Night in the Snow Hotel 2.16
6. Travelling with Ashes 1.38
7. The Bereavement of the Lion-Keeper 1.34
8. Stonelight 1.40
9. Lockerbie Butter 4.12
10. What If This Road 1.26
11. Josephine 2.01
12. Golden Boy 1.48
13. Extremophile 1.41
14. Days of November 2009 1.12
15. Return 1.26
16. The Viceroy of India 1.24
17. Trondheim: January 1.16
18. The Woodcarver of Stendal 2.51
19. The Pursuit of Happiness 1.38
20. Interviewing the Two Last Speakers 2.05
21. Regina 1.46
22. Times Like Places 2.08
23. The Movement of Bodies 1.49
24. Bioluminescent 1.08
25. The Art of Packing 1.19
26. The Opportune Moment 2.37

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