British poet, Elizabeth Bartlett, passed away in 2008 at the age of 84. Her first collection appeared when she was well into her 50’s and drew high praise for her skill in evoking the lives and faces of the ordinary people she ran across in her work with the National Health Services. Critic Adam Thorpe, described her as “a kind of weird cross between Anne Sexton and Philip Larkin,” and editor Peter Forbes called her a chronicler of “damaged Britain”.
Each of her poems has a very physical presence that any student of poetry would do well to examine. “The Visitors,” written about a patient who suffered from hallucinations, is perhaps one of her best examples. Find both the text and a lovely sound file of the poet reading at The Poetry Archive.
Listen to it several times and then skip on over to the Poetry Book Society (UK) and read her more tender “Surgery,” which with its deep vein of emotion opens Bartlett’s work up to even those that would snub poetry.
If you do not already own one of her collections, I suggest you start with Two Women Dancing (Bloodaxe), which is perhaps my favorite sampling, as it touches on broader issues as well as her own motherhood and marriage.
*If you’d like to explore more great women’s poetry, visit the Women’s Poetry List-Serv and search for “Foremother Friday”.