Claire Askew on BBC Radio 4's Start the Week

Claire Askew on BBC Radio 4's Start the Week

‘In this book of spells, Askew stirs together smart, modern poems about whisky, heartbreak and male-female relationships with a darker sequence about our “foremothers” who were persecuted as witches. How to burn a woman is full of hard-won wisdom and beauty. The vibe is Kim Addonizio joins a coven.’ – Clare Pollard


Poet and novelist Claire Askew’s electrifying second collection How to burn a woman is an investigation of power: the power of oppressive systems and their hold over those within them; the power of resilience; the power of the human heart. It throngs with witches, outsiders, and women who do not fit the ordinary moulds of the world. It is a collection which traces historic atrocities, and celebrates the lives of those accused of witchcraft with empathy, tenderness and rage. It lifts a mirror up to contemporary systems of oppression and – in language that is both vivid and accessible – asks hard questions of our current world.



Start the Week: Witches, BBC Radio 4, Monday 6 December 2021, 9am-9.45am

Claire Askew was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s flagship arts and discussion programme Start the Week on 6 December 2021. She was in conversation with host Andrew Marr and fellow guests actor Kathryn Hunter (who plays all three witches in the new film The Tragedy of Macbeth) and historian Malcolm Gaskill. Claire was talking about her second collection How to burn a woman and read an extract from her poem 'Janet Horne, d. 1727'. Claire spoke about the research she did to explore the real women she writes about in the collection, and how she uses poetry to 'capture just a moment of the essence of each of these people's lives'.

‘Claire Askew’s latest collection of poems, How To Burn A Woman, is a cauldron full of spells, power and love. It’s peopled with witches, outsiders, and women who stand out. It too traces historic atrocities and celebrates the lives of those accused of witchcraft. But it also looks at contemporary relationships, of love bordering on infatuation, and the feelings of loss, bitterness and isolation at the end of an affair.’

Listen here.  Claire's main interview is from 22:43, but she contributes at 07:35, 34:25 and 38:19. Listen right to the end to catch Claire's big reveal. 



The Yorkshire Times, online 7 January 2022

Claire Askew’s ‘utterly astonishing’ second collection How to burn a woman was given an in-depth review in the regional online newspaper The Yorkshire Times on 7 January 2022.

‘Finding a conduit to her own re-definition of womanhood in the form of the embattled seventeenth century witch, Askew establishes a kind of archetype of suffering. Intersecting her narrative thread with poems of pain, recalcitrance, defiance and abject fear, her ‘testimonies’ are sometimes delivered in the voices of the lost, precisely as they act to reinforce her own sense of identification with their memory… Claire Askew’s collection is a vigorously honest prosecution of grievance, a needful resetting of cultural history, and a triumph of resilience.’ – Steve Whitaker, The Yorkshire Times

Read in full here.

Harriet Reviews, Poetry Foundation (USA), online 24 January 2022

'Askew’s delight in image and rhythm stands its ground against her terrifying subject matter... These poems are an elegy against forgetting.' - Layla Benitez-James, Harriet Reviews, Poetry Foundation

Read in full here.


The Skinny, October Poetry News, October 2021

Claire Askew’s second collection How to burn a woman was chosen as one of Beth Cochrane’s October Scottish Poetry picks in The Skinny magazine.  Claire grew up in the rural Scottish borders, and spent many years living in Edinburgh. She's now based in Cumbria.

‘Bloodaxe has just announced the exciting second collection from Dr Claire Askew, How to burn a woman. Through poems of witches and outsiders, of women who lived on the fringes of ordinary, Askew dives into an exploration of love with her incisive language, poetic tenderness and electric rage.’ – Beth Cochrane, The Skinny Scottish Poetry Picks for October 2021)

Read the feature online here.


Bloodaxe's joint launch reading by Claire Askew, Annemarie Austin and George Szirtes celebrating the publication of their new poetry collections was live-streamed on 19 October 2021, and is now available on YouTube (see video below).

Claire Askew and George Szirtes were reading live and discussing their new collections with the host, Bloodaxe editor Neil Astley, with audio recordings of Annemarie Austin reading, accompanied by screen-shares of her poems.  Although three very different poets, their work explores memory, history, oppression, personal history and stories - themes that were explored by George and Claire in their conversation. As so often with these events, interesting connections between the poets were revealed, with both George and Claire having to cross borders and make lives in new countries as children (in Claire's case, this was moving to Scotland at the age of eight). 

George Szirtes read first in each set, followed by Claire, and then Annemarie. George began by reading from the first section of Fresh Out of the Sky, a sequence of poems about his arrival in rainy England as a boy in 1956, having fled from Hungary with his family following the Hungarian Uprising.  Claire Askew goes much further back in history with her first set of readings, beginning with a poem about her ancestor Anne Askew, who was tried as a heretic, tortured in the Tower of London and burned at the stake in 1546. This was followed by two more powerful poems about real women who were accused of witchcraft and executed. Claire gave a trigger warning so that anyone who does not wish to hear these poems could mute until the start of the next reading. In the second set, Claire read some of her contemporary poems about relationships, while George read some of his poems responding to the pandemic.


[02 December 2021]

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