Sheenagh Pugh: Later Selected Poems

Sheenagh Pugh
Publication Date: 
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
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A poet renowned for the clarity of her style, the originality of her subject matter, and for her erudite and spiky online presence, Sheenagh Pugh is a poet at the height of her career. This book is a companion to her popular earlier Selected Poems, originally published in 1990 and now a GCSE set text. 

This volume collects a wide selection of the later poems of Sheenagh Pugh, from five individual collections: Sing for the Taxman (1993), Id’s Hospit (1997), Stonelight (1999), The Beautiful Lie (2002), and The Movement of Bodies(2005).

A sample of titles will tempt the reader to find out about ‘The Last Wolf in Scotland’, ‘The Tormented Censor’, why ‘Captain Roberts Goes Looting’, who the ‘Best Jesus in Show’ is, and why we are ‘Envying Owen Beattie’. Themes are often subverted, truisms reversed, clichés overthrown. Her technique is highly skilled, but unobtrusive, and therefore, in the best sense, invisible. She frequently uses traditional metre and cleverly deploys rhyme and half-rhyme. The tone is always un-strident, apt and subtly persuasive.

This collection highlights the ambitious sequences that have featured in the last decade of the poet’s work. A day mountain climbing inspires the three-part pastoral ‘Climbing Hermaness’ which opens the book, we also have ‘Five Voices’ which, characteristically, dramatises an otherwise curious and obscure historical anecdote about the tragic execution of Lieutenant Hans Hermann von Kattte in 1730. ‘Voices in Mousa Broch’ is an atmospheric four-part sequence about the Shetland Isles. ‘The Arctic Chart’ describes the icy landscapes of the North and the aftermath of the often tragic expeditions to explore the polar region is embodied in the moving ‘Lady Franklin’s Man’ series, where the eponymous heroine is seen searching for many years for her lost explorer spouse. The final sequence, ‘The Curious Drawer’ is altogether different and might be called a series of erotic meditations on the miniature Tudor portraits of Nicholas Hilliard.

User Reviews

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Review from Artemis Poetry

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Why do we read Sheenagh Pugh? Not because she is feisty, funny, attuned to the modern world and bares her soul (through, on occasion, she does some or all of these things) but because what really fires her (and inspires us) is a good story. The emphasis is on the 'telling' : she lays out her narratives with surgical elegance and with a full, clinical exposure of the significant for her in each tall tale. And it is tall tales that particularly interest her, though with the focus on historical truth. The publication of 'Later Selected Poems', including poems from 'Sing for the Taxman' (1993), 'Id's Hospit' (1997), 'Stonelight' (1999), 'The Beautiful Lie' (2002) and 'The Movement of Bodies' (2005), offers a good opportunity to relate to her approach. This has to be of interest to women poets because she make no real concessions to being a woman. There are a few confessional poems here about a woman role. I don't mean she ignores this - her decision to write a series of Franklin poems focused on Lady Franklin suggests that the subliminal interest is there (The Beautiful Lie).

Dylis Wood, Artemis Poetry Issue 5

21/12/2010 - 11:48
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Review from Planet

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Hidden Craft

Sheenagh Pugh’s wok is widely celebrated for its “accessibility”, and user-friendliness is very much a touchstone throughout Later Selected Poems. The items in this handsome Seren volume – the companion to Selected Poems (1990), an A’ Level set text – range from 1993’s Sing for the Taxman to The Movement of Bodies (2005). They include Pugh’s Forward Prize winning poem “Envying Owen Beatie”, a striking meditation on the recovery of arctic explorer John Torrington’s body from the permafrost, and the sequence that expands Pugh’s fascination with doomed 1845 North West Passage expedition, Lady Franklin’s Man.

The arctic sequence is a good place to begin assessing Pugh’s accomplishment. In many ways, the nine Franklin poems are a model for researched poetry. Bookended by a brief paragraph of contextualising information and some short footnotes on names, everything else the reader needs in order to relish the poem are contained within them. Pugh offers no tricksy postmodern games: no language allegorizing its own situation, no distancing irony. Rather, a pared-down, plangent account of a wife’s emotional transition from nagging doubts about her husband’s well being to growing misgivings narrated at the “last lighthouse” (“Lady Franklin at Muckle Flugga”) – and finally to displaced grief.

What I most admire about Pugh is her lyric facility, dazzlingly muted – this paradox is at the heart of Pugh’s distinctive voice – with wryness and living speech. Her work is cadential, rhetorically ingenious, precisely spun, but the craft is kept hidden. That’s “accessibility” in the best sense of the word. Equally, in a few of these poems, the register drops down into more familiar, at times clichéd registers; indeed, even in stand-out poems such as the supremely dislocating “Comfort” we encounter a “vast” sky and a “breathtaking” sweep of hills, descriptions that are too easily won.

Later Selected Poems is readable, humane, welcoming, intelligent.

Richard Marggraf-Turley, Planet, Issue No. 199

23/07/2010 - 20:16
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Review from Poetry Review

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Almost any poetry reader – indeed any reader – would be pushed not to find something to enjoy in Sheenagh Pugh's Later Selected Poems. The companion volume to her 1990 Selected Poems, it contains work from five collections published since then, and is testament to the muscular, plainspoken style Pugh has developed, capable of addressing myriad subject matters in diverse manners. Life, love, death and all the usual subjects are here, of course – though typically revivified – but so too are censorship, fan fiction, HTML, cartoon characters, and renowned anthropoligist Owen Beattie; even the extra in a film, seen "waving his farewells/to the extras on shore/ among whom,// with a rather distinctive hat,/ by some continuity cock-up/ he also stands." Pugh's poems are full of subtle details and double takes: mundanity may often be the order of our days, but if we pay close attention, surprise lurks just out of sight. It is this marrying of the world's bustle and growing complexity with a miniaturist's eye for detail that makes Pugh such an accomplished poet; as adept at longer, discursive pieces as following, say, the brief lives of "flakes of ash scudding seawards":"the wind full/ of waste paper,// brief wordless messages,/ fluttering out unread." Because, level-headedly, she speaks of and to our modern, manifold world, Pugh's is a voice worth listening to. Ben Wilkinson, Poetry Review, Summer 2010

05/07/2010 - 13:13