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Four Poems

Denise Riley, 1 July 2021

... Please supply a biographical note’A natal error.Steadied by pamphletsand brilliance of the babies.In leaping joy alone.Why do some will themselves to stone.Now is it time for night to fall.And home lamenting bore itHose down the bloody lamb.Shear its woolly skin to the bone.Penitential rain, cleanse my remembering.Mop me in blue scrubs.Mother of mercy, when we were thin!Be quickI’ve no companionbar a shadowpointing backwards ...

Listening for Lost People

Denise Riley, 22 May 2014

... Still looking for lost people – look unrelentingly. ‘They died’ is not an utterance in the syntax of life Where they belonged, no belong – reanimate them Not minding if the still living turn away, casually. Winds ruck up its skin so the sea tilts from red-blue To blue-red: into the puckering water go his ashes Who was steadier than these elements ...

Slow Burn

Denise Riley, 8 November 2018

... Happiness, I consider in my papery season, did zigzag toward me until later I got hated, in the guise of that demon I was held to be. Now I forget much, in my white fog pierced by rare if brilliant rays. My beard careens into spidery threads, long and light on the wind. Let these scant years keep lucid, unclouded by the familiar sorrows, and released from their rattle of verdicts, whether issued or received ...

A Part Song

Denise Riley, 9 February 2012

... In this podcast Denise Riley reads ‘A Part Song’. The full text is available for subscribers. i You principle of song, what are you for now Perking up under any spasmodic light To trot out your shadowed warblings? Mince, slight pillar. And sleek down Your furriness. Slim as a whippy wire Shall be your hope, and ultraflexible ...

Hands Down

Denise Riley: Naming the Canvas, 17 September 1998

Invisible Colours: A Visual History of Titles 
by John Welchman.
Yale, 416 pp., £35, October 1997, 0 300 06530 2
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... The literary strength of this country rests in the safe keeping of its advertising copywriters, a species properly deserving respect. In recent years a gin manufacturer ran a series of cinema commercials. The screen, shaded bottle-green to evoke the green-bottled gin, would be captioned something like ‘frogs leaping on a baize table on a grassy field ...

Echo is a fangirl

Ange Mlinko, 3 December 2020

Time Lived, without Its Flow 
by Denise Riley.
Picador, 85 pp., £9.99, October 2019, 978 1 5290 1710 6
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Selected Poems: 1976-2016 
by Denise Riley.
Picador, 210 pp., £14.99, October 2019, 978 1 5290 1712 0
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... of language, examining the dubiousness of words, but also a poet, keeping faith with a vocation? Denise Riley argues with her identities and ‘identity’ in general: she is unhappy with them, casts them off only to find them stuck on again in the morning. She is also our pre-eminent dialectician of vulnerability and scepticism, the first addressed in ...

Elective Outsiders

Jeremy Harding, 3 July 1997

Conductors of Chaos: A Poetry Anthology 
edited by Iain Sinclair.
Picador, 488 pp., £9.99, June 1996, 0 330 33135 3
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Nearly Too Much: The Poetry of J.H. Prynne 
by N.H. Reeve and Richard Kerridge.
Liverpool, 196 pp., £25, April 1996, 0 85323 840 5
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Carl Rakosi: Poems 1923-41 
edited by Andrew Crozier.
Sun & Moon, 209 pp., $12.99, August 1995, 1 55713 185 6
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The Objectivists 
edited by Andrew McAllister.
Bloodaxe, 156 pp., £8.95, May 1996, 1 85224 341 4
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... best of them began to publish – John James, Chris Torrance, Lee Harwood, Andrew Crozier, Peter Riley, J.H. Prynne, Michael Haslam, Douglas Oliver, Barry MacSweeney, Denise Riley – they must nonetheless wonder, from time to time, whether theirs is a case of having missed the boat which would only have been worth ...

On Sophie Collins

Stephanie Burt: Sophie Collins, 18 July 2019

... cats. She also saw herself, or found herself, in essays by Nuar Alsadir, Carolee Schneemann and Denise Riley, in a novel by Jean Rhys and a poem by Selima Hill. ‘I began to … believe,’ she wrote, ‘that [Hill’s poem] was speaking to me personally.’ Collins’s ‘earnest desire to consider’ these works ‘on their own terms’ sat uneasily ...

Promises, Promises

Erin Maglaque: The Love Plot, 21 April 2022

Love: A History in Five Fantasies 
by Barbara Rosenwein.
Polity, 220 pp., £20, October 2021, 978 1 5095 3183 7
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... of love and its realities. ‘To be in fantasy is to live “as if”,’ according to Denise Riley, but life may become intolerable when a metaphor collides with the facts.So love has a history. Does knowing that make it survivable? ‘In my view,’ Barbara Rosenwein writes, ‘knowing love’s history may also be – is – a kind of ...

Colloquially Speaking

Patrick McGuinness: Poetry from Britain and Ireland after 1945, 1 April 1999

The Penguin Book of Poetry from Britain and Ireland since 1945 
edited by Simon Armitage and Robert Crawford.
Viking, 480 pp., £10.99, September 1998, 0 670 86829 9
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The Firebox: Poetry from Britain and Ireland after 1945 
edited by Sean O’Brien.
Picador, 534 pp., £16.99, October 1998, 0 330 36918 0
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... Adcock, Carol Rumens, Medbh McGuckian, Penelope Shuttle and others. Geoffrey Hill, Dannie Abse, Denise Levertov, Peter Red-grove, U.A. Fanthorpe, Gillian Clarke, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Elaine Feinstein are all variously represented, opening out the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties as a time of diversity and imaginative enterprise. One poet who appears in ...

Post-War Memories

Danny Karlin, 19 December 1985

‘The Good War’: An Oral History of World War Two 
by Studs Terkel.
Hamish Hamilton, 589 pp., £12.95, March 1985, 0 241 11493 4
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Truth, Dare or Promise: Girls Growing up in the Fifties 
edited by Liz Heron.
Virago, 248 pp., £4.95, June 1985, 0 86068 596 9
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... does offer immediate access to the past, at least to the individual’s portion of it. But, as Denise Riley recognises, in the last and most powerful contribution to the volume, the womb of memory gives birth, not to time past itself, but to stories of time past; such stories may have their own force, but it is not the force of how it was or what ...

As Many Pairs of Shoes as She Likes

Jenny Turner: On Feminism, 15 December 2011

... always relative to other categories which themselves change.’ Thus the British poet-philosopher Denise Riley in Am I That Name? (1988), her short, playful, brilliant study of the many ways in which fixed identities never work. ‘That “women” is indeterminate and impossible … is what makes feminism,’ ...

Vermin Correspondence

Iain Sinclair, 20 October 1994

Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play 
by Ben Watson.
Quartet, 597 pp., £25, May 1994, 0 7043 7066 2
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Her Weasels Wild Returning 
by J.H. Prynne.
Equipage, 12 pp., £2, May 1994
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... a succès d’estime, quasi-academic projects with spin (such as the provocative series edited by Denise Riley for Macmillan). Poets who preferred to compose by assemblage, by having the ‘right’ books on their shelves, began to deal in the better class of used literature: with the attendant strangeness of honourable leftists peddling Wyndham Lewis ...

Old, Old, Old, Old, Old

John Kerrigan: Late Yeats, 3 March 2005

W.B. Yeats: A Life. Vol. II: The Arch-Poet 1915-39 
by Roy Foster.
Oxford, 822 pp., £16.99, March 2005, 0 19 280609 2
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... that will destroy the subjectivity he revokes. A recent essay on ‘Bad Words’ by the poet Denise Riley clarifies all this. ‘There’s nothing gratifyingly original,’ she notes, ‘about the language of attack, in which old speech plays through the accuser.’ Hate speech is so formulaic and repetitive that its user is more likely to be ...


Jacqueline Rose, 19 June 2014

The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women 
by Elisabeth Badinter, translated by Adriana Hunter.
Picador, 224 pp., £10.99, June 2013, 978 1 250 03209 6
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Are You My Mother? 
by Alison Bechdel.
Jonathan Cape, 304 pp., £16.99, May 2012, 978 0 224 09352 1
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A Child of One’s Own: Parental Stories 
by Rachel Bowlby.
Oxford, 256 pp., £20, June 2013, 978 0 19 960794 5
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Mothering and Motherhood in Ancient Greece and Rome 
by Lauren Hackworth Petersen and Patricia Salzman-Mitchell.
Texas, 274 pp., £16.99, April 2013, 978 0 292 75434 8
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Sinners? Scroungers? Saints? Unmarried Motherhood in 20th-Century England 
by Pat Thane and Tanya Evans.
Oxford, 240 pp., £24.99, August 2013, 978 0 19 968198 3
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I Don’t Know Why She Bothers: Guilt-Free Motherhood for Thoroughly Modern Womanhood 
by Daisy Waugh.
Weidenfeld, 240 pp., £12.99, July 2013, 978 0 297 86876 7
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... Adrienne Rich, once more way ahead of the game, writes in Of Woman Born. For the same reason, Denise Riley concluded in War in the Nursery (1983), her pathbreaking study of maternal social policy after the Second World War, that feminism has nothing to gain from a validation of motherhood in the name of female creativity or power. Women who are ...

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