SciPo 2022: New Poetry for a New Year

Sudeep Sen, Jane Draycott & Sarah Watkinson

Chaired by Jenny Lewis

Introduced by Stephen Paul Wren

Tuesday 18 January 2022 / 5.00-7.00pm

Help see in a new year of hope and recovery with distinguished poet & photographer SUDEEP SEN reading from Anthropocene; plant scientist and poet SARAH WATKINSON reading from Photovoltaic; and T. S. Eliot and Forward Prize-shortlisted poet and SciPo competition judge JANE DRAYCOTT reading from her forthcoming collection The Kingdom. Chaired by and in conversation with JENNY LEWIS of the Poet’s House, Oxford. Introduced by STEPHEN PAUL WREN. 

To register, please email

Launch of ‘A Field Guide to Wedding Guests’


A Field Guide to Wedding Guests, by the wonderful Helen Reid was launched by Poets House Pamphlets at Modern Art Oxford on Tuesday 7 December to rapturous applause from one of the best, most engaged and appreciative audiences I can remember. Helen’s reading was followed by pitch-perfect performances by fellow Poet’s House Pamphlets poets Lynn Thornton, Margot Myers and Catherine Atherton, reading from their acclaimed pamphlets (published last year). You can buy A Field Guide to Wedding Guests from Backwells or Blackwells online, or directly from Helen’s website 

Or go to for more news, reviews and purchasing details.


Announcing the launch of three new pamphlets from my new imprint, Poet’s House Pamphlets, 7.00pm, 23 October, 2020

I set up Poet’s House Pamphlets in 2019, as an imprint of Mulfran Press, in order to publish the work of a small selection of my long-term students whose work I felt reached a standard which equalled, and often exceeded, that of many other published and prize-winning poets. 

My aim in this project was to achieve excellence in every aspect – from the high calibre of the poems themselves and the outstanding design and typography by artist, Frances Kiernan, assisted by graphic designer Oliver Harrison – to the final production and printing by Dalton Printers, Cardiff using high specification papers and inks. 

I wanted these pamphlets to be beautiful and tactile, visually stunning, lovely to handle, exciting to pick up and read, and yet affordable. My thanks to everyone who has helped me in this wonderful venture. See more about it here

London Grip poetry review

David Cooke considers Jenny Lewis’s important new version of the Gilgamesh epic

Gilgamesh Retold 
Jenny Lewis. 
ISBN: 9781784106140
£12.99. Paperback.  . 
(Available also as an audiobook (Audible).  ISBN 9781784108779  £14.99).

It would hard to underestimate the importance of The Epic of Gilgameshand not to be in awe of the scholarship that has established something approaching a standard text since archaeologists discovered it on a set of twelve clay tablets in 1853. The most comprehensive version is written in the ancient semitic language Akkadian. It predates the earliest books of the Old Testament and is several centuries older than Homer. However, this text is itself based on earlier versions written in Sumerian that go back beyond the second millennium BC. Moreover, scholars are constantly discovering new clay tablets with further fragments of the story, which are often based on significantly different versions arising from an extensive oral tradition. Thus, there is no absolutely canonical version of The Epic of Gilgamesh as there is, say, for the Iliad or the earliest biblical texts. In her Afterword, Lewis explains the ways in which she has attempted to engage with this body of material and, as is implied in her title, Gilgamesh Retold, has written a ‘response’ rather than a strict ‘translation’.

Nevertheless, those readers familiar with the tale from other editions will recognize its broad outline. Moreover, in a variety of verse forms, Lewis has written a poem that is engaging, brisk and reader-friendly. It is likely that many an assiduous student of literature has found it pretty hard going to make much headway through some of the more academic translations that are like the ruins of an ancient city, where at every turn one is interrupted by footnotes, lacunae, conjectures. This is not in any way to underestimate their importance, but they are not always the easiest of reads. Of necessity, Lewis, like the earliest interpreters of this legend, has had to adapt and reconstruct it, while remaining true to its spirit.

In the Prologue, Lewis presents the bare bones of the story in that emphatic alliterative metre that is familiar to us from Anglo-Saxon verse, which is itself the original source of poetry in our own language:

He sensed secrets   guarded by gods
     wandered wide   told a tale
dreaded death   longed for light
     found and lost   his first love.

Once the reader is drawn in, the pace does not slacken as we follow the adventures of Gilgamesh, a great but flawed king, and his companion Enkidu. The narrative itself is gripping, but what is truly remarkable is how universal its themes are and how relevant they are to us today. Much of Western literature can be traced back to these themes: the responsibilities of power, self-aggrandisement and hubris, personal growth gained through suffering, the relations between the sexes, nature and civilisation. The Epic of Gilgamesh is the earliest recognizable great work of literature and one which has informed much that has come after it via the influence of the Greeks and Hebrews.

Gilgamesh, whose legend is based on the life of an historical king, is first presented as a man who is privy to great knowledge but one who is wilful and abuses his power:

A hurricane moved / the mind of Gilgamesh
Tornado of tantrums / he shattered the city
Even his mother / veiled her face
Even the gods / were goaded to gall.

In order to guide him along a path leading to wisdom, the Goddess Arura creates Enkidu, ‘a wild man from spit and mud.’ It will be Enkidu’s task ‘to tame him.’ Enkidu is first seen as a force of nature and in total harmony with it:

Out of the silence / out of the sunlight
Out of the shadows / that carpet the forest
Stepped a man, beautiful / strong like an eagle
Stepped a man, godlike / lithe as a lion.

It is particularly fascinating that a legend going back to the growth of cities and the birth of civilisation is already informed by a dichotomy that we have not yet resolved: the separation of civilised man from nature and, by extension, our responsibility towards it. Before too long, however, Enkidu is drawn into the city, where it will be his destiny to become Gilgamesh’s loyal friend and companion..

Not the least of the pleasures to be savoured in Lewis’s text is her skill in handling a range of different verse forms. In the second section ‘He Saw You in Dreams’, where the seductress, Shamhat, tells Enkidu that the king is waiting for him, she employs a capacious eight-lined rhymed stanza. In the second section, ‘Enkidu’s Decision’, she uses terza rima, a verse form associated with Dante and his own great epic of self-discovery:

Come to Uruk now and you will see
A world of wonder that will make you stare
At every turn; a hive a tapestry

Alive with colours; in the temple square
Exorcists, dancers, eunuchs, priestesses
Mix with more humble souls who travel there 

To offer sacrifice to the goddess …

In Section four ‘Enkidu and Gilgamesh’, ‘the wild man’ sets off for Uruk, an episode which is narrated in stately blank verse allowing Lewis plenty of scope to exercise her powers of description. Enkidu is immediately outraged by Gilgamesh’s abuse of power, exemplified by his sexual exploitation of a young bride. This is again a theme of the utmost contemporary significance. After a titanic struggle, in which the king acknowledges that Enkidu is his equal in strength, they treat each other as brothers.. The tension between civilisation and the world of nature is further developed when Gilgamesh takes Enkidu, against his better judgment, on a quest to seek out and kill the ogre Humbaba:

He hears each leaf detach itself and fall
And every raindrop tremble on its twig 
And every fawn open its new born-born eyes
Across the sixty leagues of wilderness.

The battle with Humbaba in the Cedar Grove is an atmospheric set piece whose full effect is best heard on the audio version. An impressionistic soundscape for various voices, it is analogous, perhaps, to some of the passages in Logue’s adaptations of Homer, but has an affinity also with the magic forests of medieval romance and the encounters with ogres which so frequently take place there. Ironically, the ogre Humbaba, who, in the end, is defeated, seems remarkably civil. It would seem at this point that Enkidu has severed his bond with nature. Hereafter, there are further acts of hubris for which a price has to be paid: the death of Enkidu and Gilgamesh’s subsequent grief. It is at this the point that Gilgamesh embarks on a quest by which he will achieve wisdom through suffering:

Gilgamesh cried / not just for Enkidu
Cried for himself / for having to follow
Follow his friend / into the underworld
Never again / to see the light of the sun.  

It is lines such as these that led Rainer Maria Rilke, an early admirer of the epic, to refer to it as ‘the epic of the fear of death’. A foundational text, The Epic of Gilgamesh has now, in both its printed and audio versions, been made more accessible than ever before to the general reader.. For this, both Lewis and her publisher deserve our thanks. Along with the themes outlined above, it contains the story of Uta-napishtim and the flood on which the biblical narrative is based. Moreover, this forerunner of both Noah and Deucalion laments, like Tithonus, another classical archetype, the curse of immortality. By any standard, Jenny Lewis’s Gilgamesh Retold is essential reading, not only for her magisterial synthesis of ancient myth, but for her impressive variety of metrical forms which in itself mirrors the evolution of literary traditions from the Dark Ages to the post-modern.

SciPo 2019 Poetry Competition Plants, Brain and Imagination. Judge: Jane Draycott

Prizes: 1st £100, 2nd £50, 3rd £25, plus invitation to read at SciPo2019 on 8th June.
The closing date is midnight on 17th April 2019.
One poem per person, on the broad subject ‘Plants, Brain and Imagination’
Please fill in this form and send it with your poem, by email or post, to arrive by
midnight on 17th April 2019.
By email (preferred), to
Or by post, to Sarah Watkinson, St Hilda’s College, Oxford OX4 1DY
Competition Rules
• Prizes: 1st £100, 2nd £50, 3rd £25, plus invitation to read at SciPo2019 on 8th June.
• The closing date is midnight on 17th April 2019.
• One poem per person, on the broad subject of ‘Plants, Brain and Imagination’.
• Poem no more than 30 lines.
• Send your poem as Word doc or doc.x attachment by email (or on one A4 sheet if by post).
• Entries are judged anonymously. The name of the poet must not appear on the manuscript.
• Give your name, postal address, phone number and poem title in the body of your email (on separate sheet if entering by post).
• Each poem must be the original work of the author, and must not have been previously published or broadcast.
• Winners will be notified by the end of April 2019.
• The copyright of each poem remains with the author. Authors of the winning poems will grant The Poet’s House at St Hilda’s permission to publish or broadcast the winning poems for a period of one year from 30th April 2019 on the college website.


Permissions (required)
Winners: St Hilda’s College Oxford would like to publish winners’ poems. This section must be filled in. Please fill in all tick boxes with a tick for ‘yes’ and X for ‘no’.
I give permission for publication of:
1. My winning poem
2.My first name
3. Last name
4.My photo
5. A 50-word note about me

An Egyptian Adventure: reading my poetry at the 50th Jubilee of the Cairo International Book Fair and Festival, 2019

Screen Shot 2019-02-18 at 14.09.13

A welcome invitation from my friend, the Egyptian novelist and academic, Dr. Bahaa Abdelmegid, led to my first visit to Egypt, a new poem, a chance to follow up my father’s story and the opportunity to read my poetry at the 50th Jubilee of the Cairo International Book Fair and Festival which ran from 23rd January to 5th February 2019.

Adnan, Jenny, reading with photo

Camel and photo

Bahaa, who teaches at Ain Shams University in Cairo  (his PhD was on the poetry of Seamus Heaney and he has written extensively on English Literature including on James Joyce and Sylvia Plath) arranged for me and Adnan al-Sayegh to go to the pyramids at Giza. This was especially exciting as I have a photo of my father on a camel in front of the Sphinx with the pyramids in the background. It was taken in August 1918 when my father, aged 20, was presumably on his way home from India, from where he had been invalided out of the Mesopotamian Campaign of the First World War in 1917. I showed the photo and read several poems from Taking Mesopotamia (Oxford Poets/ Carcanet, 2014) including my poem, ‘Father’,  at our reading on Sunday 3 February – much to the audience’s delight.

I had written a new poem for the festival – A Love Letter to Egypt – which was translated into Arabic by Ruba Abughaida and edited by Adnan – my first new poem since finishing my latest book, Gilgamesh Retold (Carcanet, 2018) and the start of my next book (hopefully). At an earlier event, I‘d had the chance to discuss poetry and translation with the hugely engaged and attentive audience who requested more such events in the future.

The Nile at night

The trip concluded with a magical evening in downtown Cairo (The City that Never Sleeps) with Bahaa and Adnan and several poets and friends that we bumped into as the evening progressed. Standing by the Nile in the moonlight I reflected on how poetry has changed and enriched my life beyond measure – and was grateful.


GILGAMESH, Lewis fcpI’ll be launching Gilgamesh Retold at the WOODSTOCK POETRY FESTIVAL, 7.30pm, Sunday 11 November. Tickets £5 to include a complimentary glass of wine and chance to read in the open mic (please book in advance). Do join me! More details about the fabulous festival and ways to book here – Woodstock Poetry Festival

Adnan with young poets
Adnan al-Sayegh snapped with some of the great young open mic readers in last year’s festival

BookBlast 10×10 Tour talk at Waterstones, Manchester plus interview


Meet Jenny Lewis in person at the tenth and final BookBlast 10×10 Tour talk at  Waterstones, Manchester, Deansgate @waterstonesMCR 6.30 p.m. Thursday 8 November. Theme: Claiming the Great Tradition: Women Recalibrate the Classics. In conversation with Michael Schmidt @Carcanet, chair, and poet & translator, Jane Draycott. Book Tickets

Follow this link for the full Bookblast interview online.