Ruth Padel

b. 1947

Go for it, petal. Nothing's as real as what you write. (from Writing to Onegin, Ruth Padel)

Indian Princess Picks Lover out from Gods

Ruth Padel

Mary's Elephant, Elizabeth's Spinet

Ruth Padel

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About Ruth Padel

Ruth Padel (b. 1947) has won the National Poetry Competition and written six collections of poetry, several shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot or Whitbread Prize; taught Greek at Oxford, sung in an Istanbul nightclub, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Zoological Society of London, and a great great grand-daughter of Charles Darwin.

She writes prose as well as poetry. "There are few women writing non-fiction today with such a sophisticated understanding of language, nuanced approach to style, and willingness to engage with the big issues, personal and political" (Guardian). The much-loved 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem is based on her Independent on Sunday column (in which she discussed one contemporary poem each week), and I'm A Man, on Greek myth, rock music and the "invention of the teenager", featured as a clue in Ian Rankin's thriller A Question of Blood. In Tigers in Red Weather she searches for wild tigers in Asian jungles.

Her poems draw unselfconsciously on an unusual breadth of cultural reference: high and low, humour and gravity, sit in strangely democratic balance in her work. 'Writing to Onegin' illustrates the Times Literary Supplement's account of her poetry as "Wallace Stevens hijacking Sylvia Plath with a dash of punk Sappho thrown in." In a free version of a passage from Pushkin it combines references to Charon and Darth Vader in dense, musical lines which celebrate the risk in writing anything, especially as a woman.

Art and creativity permeate her work. 'Shaping Up' and 'Kiss' show musician Tori Amos and painter Bridget Riley making new music and new painting, finding "a shape for pain." 'Pharoah's Cup' is celebrated for its beauty: "Who wouldn't be glad / To have made it?" In 'Icicles Round A Tree In Dumfriesshire' (winner of the 1997 National Poetry Competition), an ice-sculpture evokes meditation on love, creativity and truth.

Padel's expressive reading style matches the poems' rich texture. She provides illuminating introductions to each poem: even, endearingly, mentioning when a factual detail in a poem has turned out to be wrong. This recording shows her, in Jeanette Winterson's words, as "sexy, strong, rhythmic, passionate, fully alive and a whiz with words."

Her recording was made on 29 January 2003 at the Audio Workshop, London, and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Additional material and useful links

Ruth Padel in Conversation with Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow and Ruth Padel talk about literature and science fiction, poets and worldliness, and material and metaphysical innovation.

Ruth Padel in Conversation with Lewis Wolpert

Ruth Padel and Lewis Wolpert talk about the evolution of poets and species, on the origins of religion and exotic travels.

Selected bibliography

The Mara Crossing, Chatto and Windus 2012

Silent Letters of the Alphabet, Bloodaxe 2010

Where the Serpent Lives, Little Brown, 2010

The Poem and the Journey Vintage, 2008

Darwin - A Life in Poems, Chatto & Windus 2008


Tigers in Red Weather, Little-Brown 2005

52 Ways of Looking at a Poem, Vintage, 2004


I'm a Man: Sex, Gods and Rock 'n' Roll, Faber and Faber...

Whom Gods Destroy: Elements of Greek and Tragic Madness...

In and Out the Mind: Tragic Ideas of Mind and Body,...

The Soho Leopard, Chatto 2004


Voodoo Shop, Chatto 2002


Rembrandt Would Have Loved You, Chatto 1998


Fusewire, Chatto 1996


Angel, Bloodaxe 1993 - out of print

Summer Snow, Hutchinson 1990 - out of print

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