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Robin Robertson: ‘The poetry world is polarised. I’m in the middle, vaguely appalled’

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The Man Booker shortlisted writer on his love for Jane Bowles and biographies, and why he never gives books as presents

The book I’m currently reading
As always, I have submissions to read (I work in publishing). When I’m allowed to read for pleasure, it’s usually non-fiction – or something ancient and Greek.

The book that changed my life
I was brought up within earshot of north-east Scottish dialect, folklore and music, in what remained of a fishing community with its oral tradition, superstitions and legends. Tending to the solitary, I fell naturally towards books and read indiscriminately. The stories I remember were Scottish folk tales, the Greek myths (in some hopelessly expurgated edition, upgraded slowly through the years) and Grimm. As a teenager I found Mervyn Peake’s Titus books intoxicating, and those novels, probably, started my passion for fiction, while Yeats and Hughes and Heaney were making poetry crucial to me. I’m not sure a book has changed my life, but all great art jolts your perspective and enlarges your gaze.

The world of poetry is small and currently polarised: it’s often either simplistic or incomprehensible

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