New York Head Shop and Museum

Audre Lorde (Broadside Press, 1975)

Recommended by Rona Cran

Audre Lorde- New York Head Shop and MuseumSara Ahmed observes that Lorde’s writing is ‘personal testimony as well as political speech’ and that she ‘made life itself a political art, an art which you must craft from the resources that you have available’. One of her most crucial resources was New York, the place where she was born and where she lived for significant periods of time. Her 1975 collection New York Head Shop and Museum (now out of print but available as part of her Collected Poems),  is both a portrait of the city as it slid into dereliction in the 1970s and a metaphorical act of taking to the streets in order to reclaim space and assert the existence of the marginalised. A glance at the contents list indicates the extent of New York’s critical role in the collection –titles include ‘New York City 1970’, ‘To Desi as Joe as Smoky the Lover of 115th Street’, ‘A Sewerplant Grows in Harlem’, ‘A Birthday Memorial to Seventh Street’, ‘A Year to Life on the Grand Central Shuttle’, ‘A Trip on the Staten Island Ferry’ and ‘Memorial III from a Phone Booth on Broadway’. The poems themselves are filled with references to a wide range of identifiable places all over New York, including the subway, the Staten Island Ferry, East Side Drive, Wall Street, Fourteenth Street, Riverside Drive, Brighton Beach Brooklyn and 125th Street and Lenox. The city that emerges from New York Head Shop is overwhelmingly deficient but richly lived, containing occurrences of horror, heartbreak and sometimes happiness.


Jen Hadfield (Bloodaxe Books, 2008)

Recommended by Isabel Galleymore

Nigh-No-Place by Jen HadfieldAs in all of Jen Hadfield’s poetry collections, Nigh-No-Place explores the Shetland landscape in an intimate and yet estranging manner. Her eye for detail and ear for sound brings us the more curious and overlooked parts of the landscape. Inventive and often curious images lead the writing, as well as her sensitive use of the Shetland dialect. My favourite poem is ‘Daed-traa’ (a Shetland word used for ‘the slack of the tide’) that is an extraordinary feat of mixed metaphor in which a manifesto for poetry is entangled within the landscape itself and its inhabiting creatures: ‘I go to the rockpool at the slack of the tide / to mind me what my poetry’s for… It has its Little Shop of Horrors. / It has its crossed and dotted monsters’.

‘Beachy Head’

Charlotte Smith, Beachy Head and Other Poems (London, 1807)

Beachy Head with Other Poems by Charlotte SmithRecommended by Bethan Roberts

This is a poem about a place like no other. It opens ‘On thy stupendous summit, rock sublime!’, atop the vast East Sussex chalk headland it takes as its subject, before roving through a startling range of aspects pertaining to Beachy Head: its light, its weather, its geology, its flora and fauna, its inhabitants (largely hermits and shepherds). Smith zooms in and out not only on the landscape itself but the various histories that are embedded within it (personal, geological, European, global). The contexts, parameters and timescales of the poem – and of place – are ever-shifting, and diversify further (and are complicated) through Smith’s huge footnotes to the poem. The poem is incomplete (it was published posthumously), and at its end appears, peculiarly, to have been chiseled into the chalk headland itself by a hermit who lives beneath it.

The Poetry of Clare, Hopkins, Thomas, and Gurney: Lyric Individualism

Andrew Hodgson (Basingstoke, 2020)

Andrew Hodgson, The Poetry of Clare, Hopkins, Thomas, and Gurney: Lyric IndividualismRecommended by Jessica Fay

This book will be of interest to anyone who enjoys attending closely to the intricate methods poets use to express what they perceive and how they perceive it. We all see the world in different ways, observing different things, and our sense of identity and sense of home is channelled through those unique experiences. Subjective encounters with specific places, local events, and minute aspects of nature are at the centre of Romantic poetics. But while the aim of Wordsworth’s self-consciousness, for example, is to discover and communicate universal truths, this book shows—through a series of close readings—how four poets struggled with and against language, syntax, and form to achieve extreme lyric integrity, communicating the singularity of their embodied perception of the world for its own sake. Clare, Hopkins, Thomas, and Gurney emerge as proponents of a newly isolated and intricately defined poetic style that will nuance thinking about the spectrum of approaches to lyric subjectivity traceable within the Romantic tradition.

The White Doe of Rylstone: Or, The Fate of the Nortons (1815)

William Wordsworth ed. Kristine Dugas (Ithaca and London, 1988)

The White Doe of Rylstone: Or, The Fate of the Nortons (1815) by William WordsworthRecommended by Jessica Fay

This narrative poem was written by Wordsworth in 1807 but withheld from the press until 1815 because of fears it wouldn’t be well received. And it wasn’t. It’s an austere poem that tricks the reader into expecting an exciting romance narrative of the kind at which Walter Scott excelled, only to disappoint those expectations when nothing much happens. It tells the story of the Norton family during the Rising of the North, a Roman Catholic rebellion aimed at dethroning Elizabeth I, but Wordsworth refuses to describe combat scenes and the most violent act performed by the rebels comprises treading on a Bible and saying Mass. Instead, the emphasis is on Norton’s Protestant daughter, Emily, who waits in the medieval garden at Rylstone Hall to hear news that her father and brothers have been killed. In her grief, Emily is comforted by the companionship of a milk-white doe, which continues to visit her grave in the churchyard at Bolton Abbey for many years afterwards. The garden and the churchyard are presented by Wordsworth as places enriched by the fact that they have witnessed centuries of human pain—from the medieval period through to the early nineteenth century—but for that reason, these are also places enriched by hope. This little-read Wordsworth poem gets to the root of his thinking about the consolation that can be gained from quietude, openness to lessons of sympathy from the animal world, and deep connections between people and the places in which they suffer and overcome that suffering.

The Idea of Landscape and the Sense of Place, 1730–1840

John Barrell (Cambridge, 1972)

John Barrell, The Idea of Landscape and the Sense of Place, 1730–1840 (Cambridge, 1972)Recommended by Jessica Fay

This book gives a lot. It taught me how to recognize and describe the compositional patterns of seventeenth-century landscape painting (which were epitomized in the work of Claude Lorrain), how these patterns became standardized in English landscape art, and how, in turn, they inflected the structures of eighteenth-century topographical poetry. Barrell’s close reading, showing how the syntax of James Thomson’s The Seasons encourages the reader’s eye to move across the page in the way that the eye surveys a landscape painting, reveals how eighteenth-century readers looked at real landscapes. This builds to a foundational study of John Clare’s unique poetic representation of place.


Local Attachments

Fiona StaffordFiona Stafford - Local Attachments (Oxford, 2010)

Recommended by Alexandra Harris

One of the many remarkable things that happened towards the end of the eighteenth century was that local feeling and the life of particular places became great literary subjects. You wouldn’t expect to find a Jacobean poet writing about the River Duddon (unless perhaps it was a symbol of national prosperity), but of Wordsworth you would expect nothing less. Paying close attention to the changing cultural status of local particularity, Stafford asks how and why this came about, and how Romantic writers, poem by poem, made places matter.

Read the introduction on the OUP website