On Robert Hamberger

Not for the first time, I’m indebted to Mat Riches’s ever-excellent blog – and in this case, an especially brilliant and poignant post, here – for alerting me to something which I may otherwise have overlooked: Peter Kenny’s interview with Robert Hamberger in the latest edition of the Planet Poetry podcast, available here. I’m a big fan of Robert’s poetry, so it was a sheer delight to listen to the interview, not only because of his insights but also because it was interspersed by him reading poems from his latest (2019) collection Blue Wallpaper – available to buy here – which I reviewed for The North, here, and absolutely loved.

Robert aired so many quotable reflections on poetic practice that I had to keep pausing the podcast to write them down. His poetry is often concerned with the past and how it interacts with the present, and I nodded furiously in agreement with his conviction that, “I am preserving experiences or people I loved, or even the person I was at that particular point in my history.” The gist of that is a common enough motivation, but it’s the careful choice of the word ‘preserving’ which is particularly noteworthy; that the poet is as much of an archivist as – if not more than – someone who digitises old photographs or curates items in a museum.

I was struck too by Roberts thoughts on sonnets – he is a superb sonneteer – and his statement that, “rhyme can nudge you onto something in the way that unrhymed poems don’t”. Of course, Robert’s not the first person to point out the paradox that tight rhymed forms can be liberating for a poet. My own experience is that, having come from a position of being dismissive of rhyme and strict(-ish) forms, I was completely won over by a hugely inspiring and enjoyable year-long course in forms taught by Clare Pollard at the Poetry School about 13 years ago.

Robert was also very articulate about the mysteries of drafting poems: “I really like [the] dialogue with a poem during the drafting process; that issue of being attentive to what the poem is not only trying to say but what shape it’s trying to form as it says it.” Robert hints at the mystical aspect of that process, and I certainly share that sense of the poem having a life of its own which I somehow have to charm onto the page.

So, in all, I can’t recommend listening to the interview, and buying and reading Robert’s poetry, enough. Robert’s website, which features his other books, including the marvellous A Length of Road, is here.


Much of my poetry reading of late has been the collected works of the two Janes, Hirshfield and Kenyon, whose poems are and were invariably beautiful, bit so much so that I needed a wholly different voice to read as well. That’s where Luke Samuel Yates’s new, first collection, Dynamo, published by Smith Doorstop and available here, came in: it’s a hugely entertaining book and highly recommended.

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