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Jenny Lewis

  • About
  • Reviews
  • Jenny Lewis is a poet, playwright, translator and songwriter who teaches poetry at Oxford University. She was educated at the Royal Masonic School (Weybridge and Rickmansworth) and then at the Ruskin School of Art and, later, St Edmund Hall, Oxford. She gained an MPhil in Poetry from the University of South Wales and a PhD in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, London University where her dissertation was 'Translating epic poetry from an unfamiliar language.' Jenny has had seven plays and poetry cycles performed with music and dance at major UK theatres including the Royal Festival Hall and Pegasus Theatre, Oxford where she was a Core Writing Tutor for 20 years, working mainly with the flagship Pegasus Youth Theatre for which she wrote After Gilgamesh (2012) and, with Yasmin Sidhwa and Adnan Al-Sayegh, Journeys to Freedom: A Retelling of the 1001 Arabian Nights (2015). Jenny has published four collections including Taking Mesopotamia (Oxford Poets/ Carcanet 2014) and Gilgamesh Retold (Carcanet Classics, 2018) which was a New Statesman Book of the Year, a LRB Bookshop Book of the Week and Carcanet’s first ever audiobook. Jenny has also published three chapbooks from Mulfran Press in English and Arabic with the exiled Iraqi poet Adnan Al-Sayegh which are part of the award-winning, Arts Council-funded ‘ Writing Mesopotamia’ project aimed at building bridges between English and Arabic-speaking communities. The project included collaborations with artists, musicians and film-makers; seminars and readings at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, the British Museum and the Iraqi Embassy; and a song, ‘Anthem for Gilgamesh’ which has had over 100,000 hits on YouTube and Arab websites. Let me tell you what I saw, Jenny’s translation (with others) of extracts from Adnan’s work, was published by Seren in 2020.  Jenny’s first poetry book, When I Became an Amazon (Iron Press, 1996/ Bilingua, Russia, 2002) was made into an opera, with music by Gennadyi Shiroglazov, performed in English by the Tchaikovsky Opera and Ballet Company in 2017 and in Russian for International Women’s Day 2023, by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.  Jenny’s poems, reviews and articles have been published by leading journals, including The Cork Literary Review, The Financial Times, The Guardian, The Independent, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry London, Poetry Salzburg Review, PN Review, The Poetry Review and World Literature Today. Jenny’s album of her 1960’s songs, including ‘Seventeen Pink Sugar Elephants’ (co-written and arranged by Vashti Bunyan), is forthcoming in 2024.

    Praise for Jenny Lewis 'Jenny Lewis's exhilarating new collection is both fiercely lyrical and bravely innovative. From the tenderness of her long poem 'Love in Old Age' to the creative concrete poetry of 'Wake!', a 're-imagining' of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, she explores the frontiers of form and sense. To this end, she includes both translated and co-authored pieces alongside her own poetry, offering dexterous versions of Arabic, Russian, Japanese, Old Irish and ancient Babylonian, either as standalone pieces or embedded in her own verse. Above all, the collection is veined with a poet's concern for words and their slippery meaning; their playfulness, their treachery - and their danger: 'We can only push our spirits/through and hope for the best', Lewis notes in 'Words Are Made of Iron'. From Base Materials more than fulfills this mission, delivering the best with originality and poise.'
    Josephine Balmer
    'Deeply informed by a wide range of reading, From Base Materials explores its themes with wit, style and a wisdom born of experience. An impressive collection from a poet working at the height of her powers.'
    Jem Poster
    'Poems of great candour and beauty that address injustice, reckoning, and transformation.'
    Maya C. Popa
    'Jenny Lewis brings the ancient past with her into her poetry, skilfully weaving together history with narration, philosophy with religion and prose with verse. Her similes are in a class of their own.'
    Salah Niazi
    'An intense and informed love of language.'
    Mimi Khalvati
    'Jenny Lewis is a lyricist for the end times. Technically flawless and blunt, this collection is a fine example of how poetry helps humanity cope.'
    Claire Crowther
    '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.'
    David Cooke, London Grip
    '...a rich tapestry of wonder and excitement...her description of the Sky Bull, for instance, which is sent by the goddess Inanna to destroy Gilgamesh for rejecting her advances is absolutely something to marvel at...exceptionally beautiful poetry [that] makes these ancient worlds a little more accessible for a modern reader.'
    Canonball Read Review No.35, July 2019
     'Through the innovations described above, Lewis seems to claim the epic for our shared cultural consciousness, locating it in a fresh imaginative space between what we know today as separate mythic traditions'
    Theophilus Kwek, The North
    '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.'
    David Cooke, London Grip
    A 'vivid, even cinematic translation... Lewis's approach to her translation - an intuitive interpretation - gives her license to make room for the feminine... Lewis recalls those matriarchal goddesses of early religions who are now so frequently forgotten - or redacted.'
    Hetta Howes, TLS
    'These innovative tales are full of cosmic creation, dramatic battles, gods and grief. Lewis' evocative and exhilarating poems bring Gilgamesh to life for a whole new generation, discovering the resonance of ancient Mesopotamian myths in recent Middle Eastern conflicts and its enduring relevance today.'
    Poetry Book Society Winter Bulletin, 2018
     'Gilgamesh Retold by Jenny Lewis (Carcanet Classics) reworks the ancient epic - it's innovative, graceful, erudite and utterly unputdownable.'
    Gavin Francis, New Statesman (The best books of 2018)
    'Taking Mesopotamia is a truly memorable piece of work. Lewis is an acutely attentive observer, but this is more than a poetic documentary - it lives as much in the ear as in the imagination, so well acoustically arranged that we cannot forget any of the voices in it.'
    Jane Draycott
    'Taking Mesopotamia -- a brilliantly ironic title for our times -- controls its anger through an accomplished and flexible technique in verse and prose. It is [...] an eloquent rejoinder to those who say poetry can't, or shouldn't, concern itself with public matters.'
    Bernard O'Donoghue
    'Taking Mesopotamia is a stunning collection, one that sticks to you like a burr after you've read it. It is as if in writing it, Jenny Lewis has stumbled across one of the marvels contained within the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of its groves of jewels - and laid it out across the page for us to look at.'
    Laura Scott, The North
     'Taking Mesopotamia is easily the best collection of poetry I've read so far this year.'
    Gareth Prior
    'Her poems delve into her own past, recalling with powerful specificity...'
    Sarah Crown, Guardian
    'In this haunted and haunting collection, intuition leads cognition in a pas de deux of great power and beauty.'
    Jon Stallworthy, Oxford Times
    'Gilgamesh Retold is terrific - and very beautiful. It is the fullest version I have ever read, and the richest. It has the immediacy of dream. I've never felt from other versions just how precious the life is which Gilgamesh longs to keep.'
    Alison Brackenbury
    'Jenny Lewis's Gilgamesh Retold is not simply a retelling of the ancient epic; it is the spirited 'response' of a contemporary poet to the original legend. Using a variety of lively metrical forms and expanding the material where appropriate - notably regarding the goddess Inanna - Gilgamesh Retold is a vivacious reanimation of a timeless narrative for today's readers.'
    Theodore Ziolkowski, author of Gilgamesh Among Us: Modern Encounters with the Ancient Epic
    'Jenny Lewis' Taking Mesopotamia is a brilliantly conceived and executed, very moving book... This is a modernist route - we will see more poetry collections built on these lines.'
    Dilys Wood, Artemis
    'Gilgamesh Retold by Jenny Lewis rings with the strength of the original texts and sings with its own poetic originality.'
    Fran Hazelton, author of Stories from Ancient Iraq (2010) and Three Kings of Warka, Myths from Mesopotamia (2012)
    'While bringing back to life Gilgamesh and the immense cultural heritage of Mesopotamia-Iraq, Jenny Lewis also proves to us that poetry is, as it always has been, the best way to rekindle the past while capturing the essence of the times we live in.'
    Adnan al-Sayegh
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