In 2013 poet Sarah Hesketh spent 20 weeks visiting a residential care home for people with dementia. The result is The Hard Word Box, a book of poems and verbatim interviews that takes the reader on a surprising and enriching journey through memory and imagination. The agility of Hesketh’s poetic voice channels moments of tenderness, suffering and humour, revealing dementia as a negotiation with language and silence. The Hard Word Box is an inventive and compassionate meditation on the things that will be lost. Published in 2014 by Penned in the Margins. To buy, click here.
'The Hard Word Box is an exploration of language and through it, humanity. It shows what language can do. It is also in its wisdom, at peace with the limits of language.' – Anja Konig, Sabotage Reviews
'In The Hard Word Box’s mix of found poetry, prose transcripts of conversations that are fascinating and engrossing in their own right, and poetic insights, Hesketh as a detached observer has avoided sentimentality and sent back a despatch from the social care frontline – and at the same time produced a work that extends the boundaries of poetic investigation into a subject that is likely to affect nearly every one of us.' - Greg Freeman, Write Out Loud
'Through The Hard Word Box, Hesketh has given a voice to some of the most outspoken members of society. The individual stories and poems are so sad to read, but it is beautiful to see the words as these people have said them. For me, Hesketh’s work is ground-breaking not in what it says, but in how it says it.' - Jade the Obscure
'With great sensitivity – and at points, quite a bit of anxiety – Hesketh diligently represents the voices of the residents, and in so doing gives them something powerful: the present tense.’ - Learning to Interrupt
Napoleon's Travelling Bookshelf
Highly Commended by the Forward Prize 2010. At once erudite, humourous and stylishly contemporary, Sarah Hesketh’s debut collection invokes a world of frozen lakes, ‘snow-spun streets’ and people who have stayed too long. With formal control and precise, crafted language, these poems examine the ‘small relics of lives’: china horses in an old people’s home, a caged bird, the thighbone of a Saxon saint. Drawing from myth, history and a close reading of the present, Napoleon’s Travelling Bookshelf is an impressive and engaging journey into love, identity and what it is to be alone – ‘lost from sight / behind the ice-mapped waves’. Published in 2009 by Penned in the Margins. To buy, click here.
“What Sarah Hesketh’s poems do so remarkably is to string a row of images together in such a way that each keeps its distinct hardness while at the same time contributing to a crystalline whole. They are original and utterly convincing.” - Bernard O’Donoghue
“Sarah Hesketh writes superbly crafted poems with a very firm hand. Her poems are overflowing with intelligence and scorn for the easy and the clichéd, but her ear is as keen as her passion for the right word, the properly perceived state of affairs. When she writes lines like: ‘I am content to form / the small oh of glory, / to add a little polish / to your morning epaulettes’ (in ‘Faking’) you know that the irony you are dealing with is as intricate as lace but as sharp as daggers. Her terrain is not, to extend our analogies, exactly Jane Austen’s ‘two inches of ivory’ because Hesketh’s imagination ranges far and wide into some fairly exotic real and literary spaces, but the sense of ivory is there, as is the fierce, delicate carving. It is a melancholy but rigorously beautiful world her poems describe. We also know that every tiny part of every line has been fiercely fought for and that that is the source of the authority.” - George Szirtes
“Hesketh’s first collection is a striking debut, abounding in verve and rigour. In stark, lucid language, pared to the bone, summoning images that are sometimes cryptic yet always singing, Hesketh whirls us through a breathless breadth of forms, subjects and perspectives, from an old woman “forever remembering the waltz” in ‘The Ballroom at West Riding Asylum’ to ‘The Boy Who read Homer to His Cat’, juggling a giddying array of themes and allusions, often in the same poem, such as in ‘Chaconne for Ice’, where Roald Amundsen and Neil Diamond meet cheek by jowl for the first and probably only time. There is a real musicality to Hesketh’s writing, imbuing her whittled words with a rhythmic vitality that is utterly compelling. A fine first collection from an exciting new poet.” - Poetry Book Society Bulletin
“Hesketh is determined to fuse word and thing into an integrated experience… A voice that is distinctive, smart and reaching for a mode of expression both disciplined and elliptical.” - Graham High, Tears in the Fence
“Hesketh sees her role less as a creator than a researcher – or perhaps better, a revealer – scratching through the thin veneer of rational, enlightened, modernity to bring to the surface the dark currents, of neglected mythology, forgotten history and childhood influences, that shape our lives but which we most often choose to ignore. [...] Like Napoleon with his books, Hesketh with these poems is clearly amassing her intellectual armoury for future campaigns. So, onward and Vive l’Impératrice!” - Adam Biles, ekleksographia
“[Hesketh] fields lines which are beautiful and brittle … and crystal-sharp visions of lives defined by a mixture of desperation and hope, frailty and strength.”- Jon Stone, Dr Fulminare
The Emma Press Anthology of Age
We’re all ageing, all of the time. As a society we’re getting even older, but we seldom seem to stop and think about the huge mental and physical changes that happen to us as we get old, or what it’s like to live as an old person. The Emma Press Anthology of Age is a collection of poems which challenge, celebrate and give age a voice, finding humour amidst the heartbreak and comfort within the pain.
‘[…] few collections are more entertaining, well-judged and thought-provoking than this neat set stylishly produced by the Emma Press. […] Clever sequencing and juxtaposition encourage in the reader a simple but profound sense of the inevitability of age as a shared experience without sadness as the dominant feeling. It has a spring in its step throughout. This is an anthology rich in resonance and new imagery, where just about every poem is succinct, accessible and assured in tone and purpose.' – Mark Butler, DSDC, University of Stirling
‘The Emma Press Anthology of Age is a welcome, if stark, reminder of what it means to age, both for those experiencing it personally and the family around them. […] Poignant and wistful, The Emma Press Anthology of Age is as much a call to action as a recognition of the challenges ahead.’ – Jade Craddock, BookSmoke
'There are poems of illness, diagnosis and last rites, acceptance and denial, endnotes and last flourishes, timpani and harmony, ‘shadow-play through hearth-smoke’, as Jed Myers puts it in ‘Wood I Gather’. The Emma Press is going from strength to strength, and this is my favourite anthology of theirs so far.' - Angela Topping Sabotage Reviews
Anthologies and Magazines
Sarah's work has appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, including: