Sail, Lawrence (Richard)

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SAIL, Lawrence (Richard)

Nationality: British. Born: London, 29 October 1942. Education: Sherborne School, Dorset, 1956–61; St John's College. Oxford, 1961–64, B.A. in French and German 1964. Family: Married 1) Teresa Luke in 1965 (divorced 1981); one son and one daughter; 2) Helen Bird in 1994. Career: Administration officer, Greater London Council, 1965–66; head of modern languages, Lenana School, Nairobi, 1966–70; part-time teacher, Millfield School, Somerset, 1973–74; teacher, 1976–80, and visiting writer, 1980–81, Blundells School, Devon; teacher, Exeter School, Devon, 1982–91. Since 1991 freelance writer. Editor, South West Review, Exeter, 1980–85. Chair, Arvon Foundation, 1990–94. Program director, 1991, and co-director, 1999, Cheltenham Festival of Literature. Awards: Hawthornden Fellow, 1992; Arts Council Writer's Bursary, 1993. Member: Fellow, Royal Society of Literature. Address: Richmond Villa, 7 Wonford Road, Exeter, Devon EX2 4LF, England.



Opposite Views. London, Dent, 1974.

The Drowned River. Hitchin, Hertfordshire, Mandeville Press, 1978.

The Kingdom of Atlas. London, Secker and Warburg, 1980.

Devotions. London, Secker and Warburg, 1987.

Aquamarine. Sidcot, Somerset, Gruffyground Press, 1988.

Out of Land: New & Selected Poems. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1992.

Building into Air. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1995.


Radio Play: Death of an Echo, 1980.


Children in Hospital, with Teresa Sail. Gloucester, Thornhill Press, 1976.

Editor, South West Review: A Celebration. Exeter, South West Arts, 1985.

Editor, First and Always: Poems for the Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital. London, Faber, 1988.

Editor, 100 Voices. Exeter, Wheaton, 1989.

Editor, with Kevin Crossley-Holland, The New Exeter Book of Riddles. London, Enitharmon, 1999.


Critical Study: By John Lucas, in Poetry Review, 83(2), summer 1993.

Lawrence Sail comments:

Auden ("In Memory of W.B. Yeats") says it all: "In the prison of his days / Teach the free man how to praise."

*  *  *
Do it once more. Lob the stone
you have just chosen—a layered chip
of Siena cathedral, green and whitish,
pummelled by pressures greater than Gothic—
and see it slither, mix to the mile-long
shelf of the foreshore.

This stanza from "On Porlock Beach" is typical Lawrence Sail. Verses seem to rise like the tide or a wave and then fall or subside. The next stanza is another "breath" start. The tone of subdued elegance pervades poem after poem. Sail certainly crafts and constructs his work with precision. While his language appears robust, the rhythm of rise and fall tends to lull the reader.

Sail examines the natural world; we read about roses climbing, autumn closures, beech trees, "a vivid crescent of gorse." Only occasionally do people intrude on these pastorals, although they do appear more frequently in his collection Devotions. The careful approach is everywhere evident, as is a sense of genuine concern for the world and its minor inhabitants. Sail offers a variety of forms; stanzas can be three, four, five lines or more, and line lengths vary pleasingly. Yet there is still that similar rhythm whatever the shape of the poem on the page, as in "Wild Buddleia":

One gust released them
to shed the purple perfume
on facades, city traffic:
Imperial messengers, bearing
prophylactic annunciations.

Ted Hughes is a ghostly figure behind some of Sail's work. The occasional move into taut, tough language is followed by a sense of cathedral calm. He is the considered poet, intent and watching, just now and then finding a subject worthy of his attention. Like Philip Larkin, he is careful with his output, niggardly as regards quantity. The reader invariably nods with satisfaction at the end of a Sail poem. Everything is in its place, the artifact is complete, but it is less than sufficient to satisfy the hunger for greater sustenance.

—Wes Magee

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Sail, Lawrence (Richard)

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