Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Kathryn Gray's route to a second full collection

Ever since the publication of her first full collection, The Never-Never (Seren Books), back in 2004, I've been a firm fan of Kathryn Gray's poetry. In fact, I'd go as far as to state that The Never-Never bolstered my poetic beliefs at a crucial moment of self-doubt. Here, finally, was excellent contemporary work that hit my sweet spot. Moreover, it was recognised by a many critics and shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. For me, it represented the first hint of a pivotal sea change in British poetry that showed me my own approach might finally be welcomed in certain quarters.

And since then, I've always kept a keen eye out for more poems from Kathryn Gray. How would her work develop? The problem was that none seemed to emerge. By reading her blog, I discovered that she'd hit a "hiatus" or "block", as she fought to find a way to move her poetry forward. This admission of (and wrestling with) such matters is in itself an act of bravery! Furthermore, it's also a reminder for struggling poets that public anointing of initial success doesn't automatically bring with it an easy path to the process of writing. What does, however, mark Gray out, is her ability to recognise the problem and refuse to churn out a quick second collection that would have been a pale reflection/reworking of what had come before.

Instead, she waited. And waited. And that was even braver! As a consequence, I was absolutely delighted to see the publication of her new Rack Press pamphlet, Flowers, earlier this year, and then her latest blog post, titled Love Again. It's a terrific reflection on her struggle back into writing poetry, on her own complicated relationship with the genre. What's more, a second full collection does now seem in the offing. That's a book I'd queue up to buy.


  1. When I saw Katherine Pierpoint's name in the recent NPC long-list, I was delighted. I was impressed by her "Truffle Beds" (Faber, 1995), and recommended it to people, but she seems to have fallen into the background. There are of course many good reasons why poets change course or hesitate - lack of self-belief being one. I feel that nowadays there's a non-stop stream of younger, committed/ambitious writers ready to trample over people who decide to take a break, and once you stop, it can be hard to start again.

    Several of the Next Generation Poets of 2004 who wrote prose as well as poetry have decided to focus on prose. Given the economics, you can hardly blame them.

    1. Yes, lots of people being left behind if they view things as a careerist sprint. On the other hand, the long haul can be immensely rewarding if taken as a lifelong project.

      Of course, you're also right that initial quick success can be a huge problem, as momentum is easily lost and the poet in question isn't used to struggling.

  2. Dear Matthew

    I think it was Camille Paglia who said that neglect was good for a writer. I didn't agree with her then but I do now. If your first book has been a great critical or commercial success, a repeat performance is highly improbable.

    Best wishes from Simon R Gladdish