Jacqueline Saphra

Listening in on the Oscars for Poetry, T S Eliot Prize

Without even the pressure to dress up, you can listen with the leaders in UK poetry to the annual prestigious award ceremony for the T S Eliot prize – audio recordings now available here.

Thanks to the time machinery of your internet device, you are present to hear a master class in reading and presenting your own poetry.  Each poet has 8 minutes to read their work.  This is poets under pressure, reading to a roomful of experts in writing and performing poetry – with a leading prize of £25,000 at stake.

  1.  Ian MacMillan introduces the shortlisted readings.  (2 minutes 29 secs)
  2. (Second track, although this clearly happened before Ian spoke) Bill Herbert, Chair of this year’s judges, reads one of T S Eliot’s own poems – this year a particularly political one “The Difficulties of a Statesman” (5.16)
  3. Leontia Flynn (originally from Northern Ireland)
  4. James Sheard (good at explaining the personal starting point for the poems and engaging with the audience)
  5. Tara Bergin (originally from Ireland) reads from her collection based on the death of Eleanor Marx, daughter of Karl Marx, who committed suicide after her lover married someone else
  6. Robert Minhinnick (Wales) reads from “Diary of the Last Man”.  He edits “Poetry Wales” and writes with passion about the environment
  7. Roddy Lumsden reads from “So glad to be me”
  8. Jacqueline Saphra “All my mad mothers” – reads short poems with humour and insight about family and art and motherhood (her grownup kids in the audience)
  9. Ocean Vuong (Vietnam/America) reads with intenseness and drama of the fall of Saigon (his mother is Vietnamese/American) and a poem speaking to himself
  10. Douglas Dunn (Scotland) reads from his collection “The sound of a fly”
  11. Caroline Bird reads from her collection “In these days of Prohibition” – which Ian MacMillan describes as being about the surreallness of real life.  7 minutes into the reading, she reads a fantastic poem – which I’ve heard her perform, live – and it’s so vivid and funny, it’s like you join her in the scene
  12. Michael Symmons Roberts reads from his collection “Mancunia” – things to do with Manchester (an English city) are described as “Mancunian”


All in one place, we hear ten poets, current, contemporary, performing – selected by the poetry community as important at this moment in time.  We hear different accents and varieties of ages and styles of poetry.  It will forever be on these poets’ c.v.s that they were shortlisted for the T S Eliot prize.  One will win.  (The result is out now, but I’ll let you find it out for yourself.  Can you guess who it is?)

The Poets talk about their work

If some of these readings made you interested to hear more of these poets and how they work at poetry, the T S Eliot Society has made brief video interviews with them on that theme.  (Thank you, T S Eliot Society!)

Leontia Flynn talks about her work

James Sheard

Tara Bergin

Robert Minhinnick

Roddy Lumsden

Jacqueline Saphra

Ocean Vuong

Douglas Dunn

Caroline Bird

Michael Symmons Roberts



Poems about Photographer Lee Miller

Jacqueline Saphra has written a series of sonnets about the colourful (even in black and white) life of Lee Miller: “A bargain with the Light, poems after Lee Miller”.  This book has 17 days left to sell a few more copies to raise the sum to publish it.  It will be in a limited edition of 300, each signed by the poet, and containing photographs by and about Lee herself.

Jacqueline Saphra explains what inspired her to write the book – unfortunately the still frame chosen does not reflect the interest of what she says!

Who is Lee Miller?

Lee was a pioneer – a New York model who went to Paris to learn how to photograph with Surrealist pioneer Man Ray (whose muse she became), a Surrealist artist in her own right, together with her husband Roland Penrose they were friends of Picasso, indeed hosting him on rare visits to Britain (where their young son famously bit the artist).  Lee also knew dark times as a survivor of childhood abuse, the obssessive love of an artist and her own work as war photographer including the liberation of Dachau concentration camp whose horror marked her.  An extraordinary woman in extraordinary times.  She both observed and recorded it in her camera but lived through it in a way only she could.

War Photographer

This video (below) takes you round the very exhibition which inspired Jacqueline Saphra to write the book of poems.  Our guide for this is none other than Katie Adie, BBC war correspondent, a TV broadcast journalist with a lifetime of reporting war and its atrocities.  She was a byword for covering the most difficult and dangerous overseas assignments – “They’re sending Kate Adie in” was a jokey expression in common use –  meaning that things in an area must now have become incredibly violent and dangerous if Kate was being despatched.  Because of her own career, it’s very appropriate that Kate Adie shows us around the War Museum’s exhibition.

Lee Miller’s house and Photographic partnership with Man Ray

Anthony Penrose, son of Lee Miller, takes us around parts of the family home and explains the photographic and personal partnership of Lee and Man Ray (he is recording this specifically for a forthcoming exhibition of Man Ray’s works).


Further Creativities:


I hope that by this point you are seriously considering purchasing a copy of the book “Bargain with the Light”.  If the poems and photos intrigue you to find out more, there are a few biographies of Lee Miller


Visit Farley Farm House in Sussex, where Lee Miller lived with her husband Roland Penrose – it has a wonderful address: Farleys House & Gallery, Farley Farm, Muddles Green, Chiddingly, East Sussex, BN8 6HW

Their house had many famous artist visitors who were also friends:Max Ernst, Joan Miro, Man Ray, Leonora Carrington, Antoni Tapies, Eileen Agar, Kenneth Armitage, William Turnbull, John Craxton and Richard Hamilton  – and the house is full of paintings and photographs by not only Lee and Roland but by their visitors.  There is also a sculpture garden.

“For the most part the house is just as it was when it was occupied by the Penrose family. Lee Miller’s kitchen looks as though she has just popped out to gather vegetables from the garden and Roland Penrose’s study only lacks the aroma of his cigar smoke.” – House website   http://bit.ly/2llmO00



There will be a surrealist picnic at Farley House on Sunday 27th August 2017, 4-7 pm  – limited availability so you must book (£10 each) and you are encouraged to dress in a Surrealist way and bring surreal food:

Bring your own picnic, bubbly, blankets & chairs for a late summer’s evening in our beautiful sculpture garden with stunning views of the South Downs. Advance booking is necessary as tickets are limited.

Picnic Suggestions: Pink cauliflower breasts, blue pasta salad & Muddles Green green chicken.

Or what dish could you invent which would be suitably Surrealist?




You may want to feast your eyes on the house, to get inspiration for your own interior decor, colours and art.  Certainly the house is a great example of living with vast quantities of visual art and books in an interesting yet informal and at-home way.

Even if you live too far away to visit the house, Anthony Penrose has written a book The Home of the Surrealists: Lee Miller, Roland Penrose and Their Circle at Farley Farm House” (published last year, 2016)

Try writing a sonnet about someone whose life you greatly admire?

Make a Surrealist photo of a friend or a family get-together