Neil Astley is editor of Bloodaxe Books, which he founded in 1978. His books include novels, poetry collections and anthologies, most notably those in Bloodaxe's Staying Alive anthology series: Staying Alive (2002), Being Alive (2004), Being Human (2011), and Staying Human (2020), a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation.
His other anthologies (all these from Bloodaxe) include Do Not Go Gentle: poems for funerals (2003), Passionfood: 100 Love Poems (2005/2014), Soul Food: nourishing poems for starved minds [with Pamela Robertson-Pearce] (2007), Earth Shattering: ecopoems (2007), the DVD-book In Person: 30 Poets (2008) [filmed by Pamela Robertson-Pearce], Essential Poems from the Staying Alive Trilogy (2012), The Hundred Years' War: modern war poems (2014), Funny Ha-Ha, Funny Peculiar: a book of strange & comic poems (2015), the DVD-book In Person: World Poets (2017) [filmed with Pamela Robertson-Pearce], Land of Three Rivers: the poetry of North-East England (2017) and [with Brendan Kennelly] The Heavy Bear Who Goes with Me (2022).
He has published two novels, The End of My Tether (Flambard, 2002; Scribner, 2003), which was shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award, and The Sheep Who Changed the World (Flambard, 2005), and two poetry collections, Darwin Survivor (Peterloo Poets, 1988), a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, and Biting My Tongue (1995). In 2012 Candlestick Press published his selection of Ten Poems About Sheep in its renowned pamphlet series.
He received an Eric Gregory Award for his poetry, was given a D.Litt from Newcastle University for his work with Bloodaxe Books, and in 2018 was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He lives in Northumberland.
Astley gave a controversial lecture on the state of British poetry – with far-reaching consequences – at StAnza, Scotland's international poetry festival, in St Andrews in 2005. After serving on the board of Ledbury Poetry Festival as a trustee for several years he is now one of its patrons; and he has been a member of the development committee of Cúirt International Literature Festival in Galway, Ireland. As a director for three years of the Poetry Book Society he was responsible for the addition of poetry in translation to the book club's remit. He also guest-edited the Spring 2015 issue of the American literary journal Ploughshares, the first all-poetry issue in its 44-year history.
In 2014 Astley's decade-long quest to find and publish Rosemary Tonks, "the poet who disappeared", was fulfilled with the posthumous publication by Bloodaxe of Bedouin of the London Evening: Collected Poems and Selected Prose. His earlier Guardian obituary of Tonks and subsequent Guardian feature gave the first full accounts of her life and work, but his continuing researches led to an even more comprehensive and more accurate version being presented as his introduction to the first edition of Bedouin of the London Evening (October 2014), which he was able to update further for the book's second expanded edition (May 2016), which remains the most authoritative account of Tonks's life and work, including a number of details substantially different from what was known when the Guardian pieces were published.
Author photo: Pamela Robertson-Pearce
Books by Neil Astley