Jo Shapcott

Poet Jo Shapcott was born in London in 1953. She was an undergraduate at Trinity College, Dublin. She is Professor of Creative Writing at Royal Holloway College, University of London, where she teaches on the MA in Creative Writing.  She is the current President of The Poetry Society.

Her Book: Poems 1988-1998 (2000), consists of a selection of poetry from her three earlier collections: Electroplating the Baby (1988), which won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for Best First Collection, Phrase Book (1992), and My Life Asleep (1998), which won the Forward Poetry Prize (Best Collection). She has also won the National Poetry Competition twice. Together with Matthew Sweeney she edited an anthology of contemporary poetry in English, but gathered from around the world, entitled Emergency Kit: Poems for Strange Times (1996).

Jo Shapcott has worked with a number of musicians on collaborative projects. She has written lyrics for, or had poems set to music by, composers such as John McCabe, Detlev Glamert, Nigel Osborne, Alec Roth, Erollyn Wallen, Peter Wiegold and John Woolrich. Her poems were set to music by composer Stephen Montague in The Creatures Indoors, premiered by the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican Centre in London in 1997. From 2001-2003, during the BBC Proms season, she presented the weekly 'Poetry Proms' on Radio 3.

Her book Tender Taxes, a collection of versions of Rainer Maria Rilke's poems in French, was published in 2002. The Transformers  is a collection of public lectures given by Jo Shapcott as part of her Professorship at Newcastle, and she is co-editor (with Linda Anderson) of a collection of essays about Elizabeth Bishop.  Her translation, with Narguess Farzad, of Poems by Farzaneh Khojandi was published in 2008.

Source: British Council of Contemporary Writers:

St Brides

There is a tower of the winds as tall
as this one in another city, a steeple
filled with fire by the incendiary raids
of a coalition of the unwilling. Nocturnal
shocks pound the citizens who survive,
blast them out of their beds into the streets,
children bundled under their arms. The gutters flame.
Dust is alight. I was born in a city

to come and go safely through the boroughs,
carrying inside me every morning's news: pictures
of soldiers in places they didn't want
to understand, made to fight for loose change,
for the hell of it, for a can of oil. I live here,
but the smell of print and ashes is in my nose.


Phrase Book

written about the Gulf War

I'm standing here inside my skin,
which will do for a Human Remains Pouch
for the moment. Look down there (up here).
Quickly. Slowly. This is my own front room
where I'm lost in the action, live from a war,
on screen. I am an Englishwoman, I don't understand you.
What's the matter? You are right. You are wrong.
Things are going well (badly). Am I disturbing you?
TV is showing bliss as taught to pilots:
Blend, Low silhouette, Irregular shape, Small,
Secluded. (Please write it down. Please speak slowly.)
Bliss is how it was in this very room.
when I raised my body to his mouth,
when he even balanced me in the air,
or at least I thought so and yes the pilots say
yes they have caught it through the Side-Looking
Airborne Radar, and through the J-Stars.
I am expecting a gentleman (a young gentleman,
two gentlemen, some gentlemen). Please send him
(them) up at once. This is really beautiful.
Yes they have seen us, the pilots, in the Kill Box
on their screens, and played the routine for
getting us Stealthed, that is, Cleansed, to you and me,
Taken Out. They know how to move into a single room
like that, to send in with Pinpoint Accuracy, a hundred Harms.
I have two cases and a cardboard box. There is another
bag there. I cannot open mv case - look out,
the lock is broken. Have I done enough?
Bliss the pilots say is for evasion
and escape. What's love in all this debris?
Just one person pounding another into dust,
into dust. I do not know the word for it yet.
Where is the British Consulate? Please explain.
What does it mean? What must I do? Where
can I find? What have I done? I have done
nothing. Let me pass please. I am an Englishwoman.