Robin Robertson

Acclaimed Scots Poet
Forward Prize-winner
Man Booker Prize Finalist

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  • An Evening with Robin Robertson

Biography

“The genius of this Scots poet is for finding the sensually charged moment—in a raked northern seascape, in a sexual or gustatory encounter—and depicting it in language that is simultaneously spare and ample, and reminiscent of early Heaney or Hughes.” —New Yorker

“The visceral language of a Robin Robertson poem has a way of feeling simultaneously luxurious and spartan. To put it bluntly, he writes lines that you want to read again and again.” —NY Times Book Review

“Robin Robertson is instantly recognizable as a poet of vivid authority, commanding a surprised, accurate language of his own. The evocative truth and the crystalline ring of his words, line by line, make a kind of hope in themselves.” —W.S. Merwin

Poet and translator Robin Robertson is from the Northeast coast of Scotland and now lives in London. The Poetry Archive calls him “a poet of austere and meticulous diction, tempered by a sensuous music.”

Robertson’s most recent novel, The Long Take (UK Picador 2018 & Knopf 2019), mixes verse, prose, and photographs to follow the story of a World War II veteran across the United States in the golden era of Hollywood. The Long Take won the fourth annual Roehampton Poetry Prize and is the first book of poetry/prose to be short-listed for a Man Booker Fiction prize. One of the judges, the feminist critic and writer Jacqueline Rose, described it as “a genre-defying novel that offers a wholly unique literary voice and form.” The Man Booker Judges comment elucidates: “The Long Take is like a film noir on the page. A book about a man and a city in shock, it’s an extraordinary evocation of the debris and the ongoing destruction of war even in times of peace. In taking a scenario we think we know from the movies but offering a completely different perspective, Robin Robertson shows the flexibility a poet can bring to form and style.” In the extended narrative poem, we follow Walker, a young Canadian recently demobilized after war and his active service in the Normandy landings and subsequent European operations. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and unable to face a return to his family home in rural Nova Scotia, he goes in search of freedom, change, anonymity and repair, moving through post-war American cities of New York, Los Angles and San Francisco. Renowned author Val McDermid praised its characters, language, and the insight it gave into the world. She said, “I’m not sure what else a novel is meant to do.”

His first book, A Painted Field (Harcourt) won a number of awards in the UK, including the 1997 Forward Prize for Best First Collection and the Saltire First Book of the Year Award. His other books include Sailing the Forest, a collection of his selected poems published simultaneously by Picador in the UK and Farrar Straus and Giroux in the States. His second book, Slow Air, was published in 2002. His third collection, Swithering (Harcourt, 2006), won the 2006 Forward Prize and the Scottish Arts Council Poetry Award. This was followed by The Wrecking Light, (UK: Picador, 2010; USA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011) and, in 2013, Picador UK published his fifth collection Hill of Doors. The same year, Hanser Verlag brought out a German selected, Am Robbenkap.

Shortlisted twice for the Costa Poetry Award and three times for the T.S. Eliot Prize, Robertson is the first poet to have won the other major British poetry award, the Forward Prize, in all three categories: Best Single Poem in 2009 (‘At Roane Head’), Best First Collection (A Painted Field, 1997) and Best Collection (Swithering, 2006). A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, his poetry appears regularly in the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books. In 2004 he received the E.M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, in 2012 the Cholmondeley Award from the Society of Authors, and in 2013 the Petrarch Prize.

Robertson is also a translator. He published The Deleted World, a selection of new versions of the Nobel Prize-winning Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer’s poems, in 2006. In 2008 he released a bold translation of Euripides’s classic work, Medea (Free Press), about which Kevin Powers wrote, “With his new translation of Medea, Robin Robertson uses his extraordinary gifts as a poet to match the depth and complexity of the play with an absolute clarity of expression. This is, for me, the essential Medea in English.” His translation of the Bacchae, published in the UK by Vintage, was also released by Ecco in the Fall of 2014. Robertson also compiled and edited Mortification: Writers’ Stories of the Public Shame (Fourth Estate, 2003).

Short Bio

“Robertson’s genius for exact and gorgeous imagery, his dazzling metaphorical gift, and the knottiness of his thinking, which runs through the syntax like a bead of Metaphysical quicksilver. Few poets at work now have his unerring control of the line. The poems teem with images and metaphors that give the chime of a struck glass.” —John Banville, New York Review of Books

Robin Robertson is from the north-east coast of Scotland. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he has published six books of poetry and received a number of accolades, including the Petrarca-Preis, the E.M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and all three Forward Prizes. His selected poems, Sailing the Forest, came out in 2014. The Long Take (2018) was the first poem to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and it won the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, the Goldsmiths Prize for innovative fiction and the Roehampton Poetry Prize.

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