Ahead of the book launch for his next collection, Guises, we caught up with Lawrence Sail's publisher, Neil Astley of Bloodaxe Books. Here Neil tells us why Lawrence's poetry is unique.

Lawrence Sail’s poems balance dream and history, delight and unease: they weigh the art of the possible against the encroachment of time. His characteristic themes are the border country between belief and doubt; the interplay of memory and imagination; the possibilities of art; and the context of silence. Attentive to the often alluring details of the material and natural world, many of them reflecting a lifelong love of the sea, his poems also contemplate the relationship between appearance and essence.

He is a scrupulous and thoughtful writer, acutely observant in what he sees and conveys in his poems, which he renders with delicacy and attentiveness to the music of the language. It should be no surprise then that he is such a fine reader of his poems. It is always a pleasure to hear him read and to hear his fascinating introductions to the poems which give audiences an added dimension to the work.

I have been privileged to publish his books since 1992 when Bloodaxe brought out a selection from his previous collections called Out of Land. Lawrence started publishing with two national imprints which axed their poetry lists during the 1970s and 80s, Dent and Secker. Their loss was our gain. Following the publication of subsequent collections from Bloodaxe, Out of Land was superseded by a newer retrospective, Waking Dreams, in 2010, which received a Special Commendation from the Poetry Book Society. Two later collections followed, The Quick in 2015 and now his new collection, Guises.

Reviewing his work for PN Review, Peter Scupham wrote that ‘There is a shimmering quality to Sail’s sensibility which moves easily between sharply focused observations of the particulars of object and place, the play of light on the locally loved and known, and a constant alertness to larger climates and movements…close and subtle looking and a rich, playful use of language are the tools by which discoveries are made.’

Born in London and brought up in Exeter, Lawrence studied French and German at Oxford, then taught for some years in Kenya, before returning to teach in the UK. He has always loved to write a poem each Christmas, so that family and friends receive a new poem specially written for the occasion. These were brought together by Enitharmon Press in Songs of the Darkness (2010), beautifully illustrated by his artist daughter, Erica Sail. His other books include Cross-currents: essays (Enitharmon, 2005), a memoir of childhood, Sift (Impress Books, 2010), and several thematic anthologies.

Words by Neil Astley, Bloodaxe Books 2020.

If you would like to hear Lawrence read from his next collection, due for publication on 27th February, why not join us to celebrate the launch of Guises. On 20th February 2020, Lawrence will give a reading and will be signing copies of the book at Exeter Custom House as part of Quay Words Winter. Find out more and book your place, here.