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Fiona Sampson

On Listening

On Listening


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On Listening is a collection of essays on poetry, written for various occasions over the last few years. Ranging from scholarly papers to literary non-fiction, critical writing to lectures, each allows a different way in to the book’s central preoccupation. On Listening is concerned, centrally, with the nature of poetic practice. Using both philosophy of language and an editor’s literary ear, theory and the author’s own experience as a poet, this book examines good writing practice from the inside out; and asks how it can be developed: by teaching and community facilitation, by reading and travelling and, where those two interests come together, in translation.

After an introductory essay which sets the scene by looking at contemporary British poet-critics, the book is divided into four sections – ‘Translating’, ‘Travelling’, ‘Teaching’ and ‘Reading’ – though its thesis suggests these categories are linked. An Epilogue reflects on ‘The Ephemeral’. ‘Translating’ looks at the nature of that practice and its context, with particular reference to the writer’s work with Central European literature. Included is a set of ‘reviews’ of exemplary translations. ‘Travelling’ explores issues of cultural translation: whether those originate in the geographical or between discursive cultures. ‘Teaching’ draws on more than a dozen years’ experience in universities, schools and, particularly, in pioneering writing in health and social care, to explore the differences between community and education practice. It looks closely at questions of evaluation, ethics and purpose. ‘Reading’ surveys some of the writer’s personal poetic enthusiasms, with particular stress on writing from beyond Britain and by women.

On Listening is an indispensable vade mecum for teachers and students of creative writing; it is also, however, a topical read for anyone concerned with the state of poetry in Britain today.

Reviews of this Book

‘[…] the urgent final poem in which the lovers make love in luminous detail […] Words and phrases detach from each other to become free-floating, sensory. The poem concludes in a flurry of colliding impressions. […] Sampson is working on the very outer edges of language here, seeking for the truths that emerge at the instant when syntax, vocabulary and even the shape of words on the page dissolves. Her mellifluous verse-novel provides a compelling exploration of the points at which language and love intersect, and draws a conclusion that is, in its way, as experimental as the rest of her collection.’ —The Guardian

‘Consistently and strikingly lyrical [….] sensual passion.’ —TLS

‘This book arcs memorably across a continent […] charts with a thrillingly original touch the blind hope and bitter helplessness of two people trapped in a deadening love. […] Sampson’s eye for the memories buried in apparently mundane sights, her instinct for the fresh and perfect metaphor, was already in evidence in Folding the Real (2001) and here it appears again, well honed […] Recurring motifs […] are folded into the evolving narrative like memories trailing through dream landscapes […] And the final poem… a dazzling, dizzying plunge into the realm of the id. [..] Meaning, in Sampson’s best poetry, doesn’t come to rest at all; it storms its way on, at once poignantly and brutally, through love and its losses.’ —The Irish Times

‘Sampson’s flawless ear comes first; the imagery comes second. But when the imagery does come […] it delivers an ecstatic hit.’ —Poetry London

‘The most generous thing the poet can do is to give us some vivid, piercing memories that become our experience. The author here, dangerously and marvellously, comes close to revealing herself as a symbol. She reminds me of Nerval, travelling east.’ —Tomaz Salamun

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