Denise Riley

Say Something Back by Denise Riley

Griffin Poetry Prize 2017
International Shortlist

Book: Say Something Back

Poet: Denise Riley

Publisher: Picador

Click here to read an excerpt.

Denise Riley


Denise Riley is a critically acclaimed writer of both philosophy and poetry. She is currently Professor of the History of Ideas and of Poetry at the University of East Anglia, and has taught and researched widely at many institutions in Europe and America.

Judges’ Citation

“The beauty of Denise Riley’s book lies in its rejection of the kind of beauty that is ready to hand. In it we meet a mind that scrupulously rejects the grandiose gesture but is not averse to play and tenderness. Or indeed to tragedy. The longest poem in the book, ‘A Part Song’ is about the loss of the poet’s son. In it she addresses poetry itself and questions its ability to give appropriate form to such loss. But what might appear to be the bare cupboard of grief is, in her poem, packed with voices, entrances and movements that doubt their own validity and are, marvellously, all the more valid for that. Beyond the loss there remains the close, firmly disciplined observation of the world, of the humour and pathos at its edges, and the lifelong attempt to allow it its own voice, the willingness, as the book’s title has it, to ‘say something back’. Riley’s work has always been substantial but this book is something very special, a full blossoming and gathering.”


Say Something Back will allow readers to see just why the name of Denise Riley has been held in such high regard by her fellow poets for so long. The book reproduces A Part Song, a profoundly moving document of grieving and loss, and one of the most widely admired long poems of recent years. Elsewhere Riley’s poetry becomes a space for contemplation of the natural world, of physical law, and for the deep consideration of what it is to invoke those who are absent. Finally, it extends our sense of what the act of human speech can be, and especially what is drawn forth from us when we address our dead. Lyric, intimate, acidly witty, unflinchingly brave, Say Something Back is destined to introduce one of our finest poets to a wide new readership.

Note: Summaries are taken from promotional materials supplied by the publisher, unless otherwise noted.


I’ve lived here dead for decades – now you
pitch up gaily among us shades, with your
freshly dead face all lit up, beaming – but
after my long years without you, don’t think
it will be easy. It’s we dead who should run
whispering at the heels of the living, yet you
you’d put the frighteners on me, ruining
the remains of your looks in bewailing me
not handling your own last days with spirit.
Next you’ll expect me to take you around
introducing some starry goners. So mother
do me proud and hold your white head high.
On earth you tried, try once again in Hades.

From Say Something Back by Denise Riley
Copyright © Denise Riley, 2016

More about Denise Riley

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Photo credit: Kevin Lake