Episode 18: Ana Sampson

Ana Sampson

In this episode, the poetry anthologist Ana Sampson talks to Niall Munro about her extensive experience of editing poetry anthologies. The episode also features a very special guest reader: the internationally-acclaimed actress Romola Garai.

Ana is Deputy Publicity Editor at Quercus Books and a poetry anthologist. By the end of 2021, she will have edited eleven poetry anthologies, including I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud, that came out in 2009 and was the third bestselling poetry title that year; Ten Poems for Breakfast, a pamphlet published by Candlestick Press; Poems to Learn by Heart, published by Michael O'Mara Books in 2013; and - most recently - two anthologies of poems by women, published by Pan Macmillan: She is Fierce: Brave, Bold and Beautiful Poems by Women, which contains 150 poems and came out in 2018, and She Will Soar: Bright, Brave Poems about Freedom by Women, which was published in September this year and includes 130 poems. Ana's books have sold over 230,000 copies and she makes frequent appearances in the media and at book festivals to talk about poetry and women's writing. Ana lives with her husband, two young daughters and two middle-aged cats.

In the podcast, Ana discusses how she got into editing anthologies, how she goes about putting her anthologies together and making tough decisions about which poems to keep in and leave out, and why she thinks her most recent anthologies featuring only women poets - She Is Fierce and She Will Soar, both published by Pan Macmillan - are particularly important. You can find out more about Ana's work on her website and follow her on Twitter.

Ana and Niall discuss three poems from She Will Soar: 'The Sea-Shore' by Letitia Elizabeth Landon, an excerpt from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's verse novel Aurora Leigh, and 'Sonnet XXXI' by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

To read these poems, we are absolutely delighted to say that we've been lucky enough to involve the acclaimed actress-writer-director Romola Garai. Romola has worked extensively in film, television and theatre, and you will very likely have seen her in films like AtonementAngelI Capture the Castle, and Suffragette. She was nominated for a BAFTA for her performance in The Crimson Petal and the White, and has also appeared in The Hour and The Miniaturist. Her debut directorial feature, a horror film called Amulet, was released earlier this year and Romola will shortly be appearing in a film with a poetry connection when she plays Dylan Thomas's wife, Caitlin, in a movie about the poet called Last Call. As you'll find out by listening to the podcast, she is also an exceptional reader of poetry. We'd like to thank Romola very much indeed for taking the time to read these poems so beautifully for us, and extend our thanks also to the actor and teacher Michelle Duncan for putting us in touch with Romola and making the reading possible.

The Sea-Shore

I should like to dwell where the deep blue sea
Rock’d to and fro as tranquilly,
As if it were willing the halcyon’s nest
Should shelter through summer its beautiful guest.
When a plaining murmur like that of a song,
And a silvery line come the waves along:
Now bathing – now leaving the gentle shore,
Where shining sea-shells lay scattered o’er.

And children wandering along the strand,
With the eager eye and the busy hand,
Heaping the pebbles and green sea-weed,
Like treasures laid up for a time of need.
Or tempting the waves with their daring feet,
To launch, perhaps, some tiny fleet:
Mimicking those which bear afar
The wealth of trade – and the strength of war.

I should love, when the sun-set reddened the foam,
To watch the fisherman’s boat come home,
With his well-filled net and glittering spoil:
Well has the noon-tide repaid its toil.
While the ships that lie in the distance away
Catch on their canvas the crimsoning ray,
Like fairy ships in the tales of old,
When the sails they spread were purple and gold.

Then the deep delight of the starry night,
With its shadowy depths and dreamy light:
When far away spreads the boundless sea,
As if it imagined infinity.
Let me hear the waves go singing by,
Lulling the waves with their melody:
While the moon like a mother watches their sleep,
And I ask no home but beside the deep.

by Letitia Elizabeth Landon

from Aurora Leigh

Books, books, books!
I had found the secret of a garret-room
Piled high with cases in my father’s name;
Piled high, packed large, – where, creeping in and out
Among the giant fossils of my past,
Like some small nimble mouse between the ribs
Of a mastodon, I nibbled here and there
At this or that box, pulling through the gap,
In heats of terror, haste, victorious joy,
The first book first. And how I felt it beat
Under my pillow, in the morning’s dark,
An hour before the sun would let me read!
My books! At last, because the time was ripe,
I chanced upon the poets.
As the earth
Plunges in fury, when the internal fires
Have reached and pricked her heart, and, throwing flat
The marts and temples, the triumphal gates
And towers of observation, clears herself
To elemental freedom – thus, my soul,
At poetry’s divine first finger touch,
Let go conventions and sprang up surprised,
Convicted of the great eternities
Before two worlds.

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Sonnet XXXI

Oh, oh, you will be sorry for that word!
Give back my book and take my kiss instead.
Was it my enemy or my friend I heard,
‘What a big book for such a little head!’
Come, I will show you now my newest hat,
And you may watch me purse my mouth and prink!
Oh, I shall love you still, and all of that.
I never again shall tell you what I think.
I shall be sweet and crafty, soft and sly;
You will not catch me reading any more:
I shall be called a wife to pattern by;
And some day when you knock and push the door,
Some sane day, not too bright and not too stormy,
I shall be gone, and you may whistle for me.

by Edna St. Vincent Millay