Robin Robertson

Acclaimed Scots Poet
Winner of the Forward Prize


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


Each poem comes to us so cleansed of excess, so concentrated and perfectly pared down to its essence we can only wonder at the adamantine sharpness of its edges....Robertson the poet is not fooling around.
—Billy Collins


Robin Robertson is instantly recognisable 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

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." A Painted Field (Harcourt) won a number of awards on first publication in the UK, including the 1997 Forward Prize for Best First Collection and the Saltire First Book of the Year Award. 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. His selected poems, Sailing the Forest, will be out in Fall 2014 - published simultaneously by Picador in the UK and Farrar Straus and Giroux in the States. 

Open Letters Monthly interview with Robin Robertson

Guardian on The Wrecking Light (2011) - Adam Newey

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 Anne Enright wrote, "The purpose of translation is to set a play free. This is just what Robin Robertson does. In his lucid, free-running verse, Medea's power is released into the world, fresh and appalling, in words that seem spoken for the first time." His translation of the Bacchae, just published in the UK by Vintage, will come out from Ecco in Fall 2014. Robertson also compiled and edited Mortification: Writers' Stories of the Public Shame (Fourth Estate, 2003). 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.

Swedish Book Review on THE DELETED WORLD: New Versions of Tranströmer (2006) - Anne Born 

Robin Robertson is from the Northeast coast of Scotland. He has published five collections of poetry–most recently Hill of Doors–and received a number of accolades, including the Petrarch Prize, the E.M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Cholmondeley Award, and all three Forward Prizes. He has also edited a collection of essays, Mortification: Writers’ Stories of Their Public Shame; translated two plays of Euripides, Medea and the Bacchae; and, in 2006, published The Deleted World, a selection of free English versions of poems by the Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer. His selected poems, Sailing the Forest, will be out from FSG in Fall 2014.

About SAILING THE FOREST (Poetry, 2014)
Filled with haunting and visionary poems, Sailing the Forest is a selection of the finest work from one of the most essential voices in contemporary poetry. Robin Robertson’s deceptively spare and mythically charged work is at once ancient and immediate, beautifully brutal, and capable of instilling menace and awe in our everyday landscape. These are poems drawn in shadow, tinged with salt and blood, that disarm the reader with their precise language and dreamlike illuminations. Robertson’s unique world is a place of forked storms where “Rain . . . is silence turned up high” and we can see “the hay marry the fire / and the fire walk.”

About HILL OF DOORS (Poetry, 2013)
Charged with strangeness and beauty, Hill of Doors is a haunted and haunting book, where each successive poem seems a shape conjured from the shadows, and where the uncanny is made physically present. The collection sees the return of some familiar members of the Robertson company, including Strindberg – heading, as usual, towards calamity – and the shape-shifter, Dionysus. Four loose retellings of stories of the Greek god form pillars for the book, alongside four short Ovid versions. Threaded through these are a series of pieces about the poet’s childhood on the Northeast coast, his fascination with the sea and the islands of Scotland. However the reader will also discover a distinct new note in Robertson’s austere but ravishing poetry: towards the possibility of contentment – a house, a door, a key – finding, at last, a "happiness of the hand and heart." Magisterial in its command and range, indelibly moving and memorable in its speech, Hill of Doors is Robin Robertson’s most powerful book to date.

About THE WRECKING LIGHT (Poetry, 2011)

"There's an oneiric charge and intensity to many of these poems that builds to a fabular clarity of thought, which is at once precise in its particularity and placeless. Whether in his extraordinarily fresh renderings of Ovid or his own imaginings, Robertson's lines have the luminosity of myth. The Wrecking Light is a work of extraordinary visionary power, its music bleak and beautiful, spare and unsparing. If there were justice in the world, it would win every prize going." —The Guardian

Robin Robertson’s fourth collection is, if anything, an even more moving, bleakly lyrical, and at times shocking book than Swithering, winner of the Forward Prize. Alongside deft translations from Neruda and Montale, and dynamic—at times horrific—retellings of stories from Ovid, the poems in The Wrecking Light pitch the power and wonder of nature against the frailty and failure of the human, their utter seriousness leavened by a wry, dry, and disarming humour. Ghosts sift through these poems; certainties become volatile, and the simplest situations thicken with strangeness and threat. All of these poems are haunted by the presence and pressure of the primitive world against our own, and are written with the kind of dream-like intensity of description that has become Robertson’s trademark. The Wrecking Light is a book of considerable grandeur and sweep from one of the most powerful poets at work today.

About MEDEA (Translation, 2008) 

“One of the main virtues of this fine translation is Robertson’s ear for the verbal brutality committed by the estranged Medea and Jason on one another during their confrontations. Another is Robertson’s sensitivity to the seascapes and imagery of Euripides that dominate the play… Closer examination reveals how much thought has gone into its making…These subtleties support Robertson’s claim, in the introduction, that his main concern was ‘to provide an English version that is as true to the Greek as it is to the way that English is spoken now’… It certainly deserves to be staged. It would provide a more attractive basis for a performance text of the original play than anything else currently on offer.” -Times Literary Supplement

Medea has been betrayed. Her husband Jason has left her for a younger woman. He has forgotten all the promises he made and is even prepared to abandon their two sons. But Medea is not a woman to accept such disrespect passively. Strong-willed and fiercely intelligent, she turns her formidable energies to working out the greatest, and most horrifying, revenge possible....Euripides' devastating tragedy is shockingly modern in the sharp psychological exploration of the characters and the gripping interactions between them. Award-winning poet, Robin Robertson, has captured both the pace and vitality of the drama and the power and beauty of the poetry and has reinvigorated this masterpiece for the twenty-first century.

About THE DELETED WORLD: New Versions of Tranströmer (Translation, 2006) 

"He has captured the tone of the oeuvre in the poem, and the work, as a whole, shows his meticulous use of language which conveys the poet’s thought subtly and faultlessly… This wonderful book has much to teach other translators in its immense concentration and daring accuracy. -Anne Born

About SWITHERING (Poetry, 2006) 

‘What a marvel the volume is…[Swithering] displays admirably 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. But it is above all his firm grasp of the way in which language works that gives his poetry its authority and classical poise. 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.’ - New York Review of Books

To "swither" means to suffer indecision or doubt, but there is no faltering in these poems; any uncertainty is not in the line or the sound or the image, but only in the themes of flux and change and transformation that thread through this powerful third collection. Robin Robertson has written a book of remarkable cohesion and range that calls on his knowledge of folklore and myth to fuse the old ways with the new. From raw, exposed poems about the end of childhood to erotically charged lyrics about the ends of desire, from a brilliant re-telling of the metamorphosis and death of Actaeon to the final freeing of the waters in “Holding Proteus,” these are close examinations of nature—of the bright epiphanies of passion and loss. At times somber, at times exultant, Robertson's poems are always firmly rooted in the world we see, the life we experience: original, precise, and startlingly clear.


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