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Denise Riley is a critically acclaimed writer of both philosophy and poetry. She is currently Professor of the History of Ideas and of Poetry at the University of East Anglia, and has taught and researched widely at many institutions in Europe and America.

Say Something Back

Picador Poetry
2017 Shortlist
United Kingdom

Judges’ Citation

The beauty of Denise Riley’s book lies in its rejection of the kind of beauty that is ready to hand.

The beauty of Denise Riley’s book lies in its rejection of the kind of beauty that is ready to hand. In it we meet a mind that scrupulously rejects the grandiose gesture but is not averse to play and tenderness. Or indeed to tragedy. The longest poem in the book, ‘A Part Song’ is about the loss of the poet’s son. In it she addresses poetry itself and questions its ability to give appropriate form to such loss. But what might appear to be the bare cupboard of grief is, in her poem, packed with voices, entrances and movements that doubt their own validity and are, marvellously, all the more valid for that. Beyond the loss there remains the close, firmly disciplined observation of the world, of the humour and pathos at its edges, and the lifelong attempt to allow it its own voice, the willingness, as the book’s title has it, to ‘say something back’. Riley’s work has always been substantial but this book is something very special, a full blossoming and gathering.