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


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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