Helen Dunmore's Inside the Wave on A Good Read

Helen Dunmore's Inside the Wave on A Good Read


'An astonishing set of poems - a final, great achievement.' - Costa Poetry Award Judges Moniza Alvi, Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Nick Wroe on Inside the Wave, winner of the Costa Poetry Award (and Costa Book of the Year 2017)


Inside the Wave is the final poetry collection by poet, novelist, short story and children's writer Helen Dunmore. It was the posthumous winner of the Costa Book of the Year Award 2017.

These poems are concerned with the borderline between the living and the dead – the underworld and the human living world – and the exquisitely intense being of both. They possess a spare, eloquent lyricism as they explore the bliss and anguish of the voyage. Her final poem, 'Hold out your arms', written shortly before her death and not included in the first printing of Inside the Wave, was added to all subsequent printings. 

Inside the Wave remains available as a separate edition, but is also included in Helen Dunmore's posthumous retrospective, Counting Backwards: Poems 1975-2017 (2019), which covers the ten collections she published with Bloodaxe over four decades, from her debut The Apple Fall to Inside the Wave.



A Good Read, BBC Radio 4, Tuesday 17 November 2020, 4.30pm

Helen Dunmore’s final collection Inside the Wave was discussed on BBC Radio 4's A Good Read on Tuesday 17 November 2020 at 4.30pm. It was the choice of presenter Harriett Gilbert, who discussed the book with her guests Jonathon Porritt and poet Vanessa Kisuule.

‘I found it to be a really beautiful and life-affirming collection, especially because of the fact that it is about the slowing down of life… the fact that there’s this real joy in it, this notion that life has become all the more sweet and precious because of the nearing end. It’s a gloriously hopeful collection.’ – Vanessa Kisuule, A Good Read

Vanessa mentioned ‘My life’s stem was cut’ and later spoke in some detail about her favourite poem ‘Nightfall in the IKEA Kitchen’.

Harriett read an extract from ‘Winter Balcony with Dunnocks’, as well as from her favourite poem – in the first edition this was the final poem in the book – ‘September Rain’, and said how moving she found that poem.

Jonathan especially appreciated the 'utterly astonishing' late poems – those written when Helen knew about her terminal diagnosis – which are scattered through the book.  The programme ended with him reading some of his favourite poem, ‘My life’s stem was cut’.

‘The poems that really, really impacted on me were the ones where she is feeling the imminence of death, and does that in such a way that doesn’t take you down, it actually makes you feel that this is a life being celebrated in recognition of death, and that’s pretty astonishing… such a wonderful collection.’ – Jonathon Porritt, A Good Read

Inside the Wave is discussed from 19:02.  Listen here.


'She was – first and last – a poet. Her first collection, The Apple Fall, was published when she was 30, her last, Inside the Wave, in April this year [2017]... Her last collection is her most spare and moving. Inside the Wave is smooth as a sea pebble and liminal – poised between life and death.' - Kate Kellaway, in her tribute to Helen Dunmore in The Guardian


Helen Dunmore’s final collection Inside the Wave was The Observer’s Poetry Book of the Month in The New Review supplement on 4 June 2017.  It was accompanied by the poem ‘Terra Incognita’ from the collection. 

‘The wave in this humane and visionary collection symbolises the flow of time and tide around and over individual lives… Lying down and watching the world at eye level constitutes much of what poets and novelists do and Dunmore’s work in both genres is always alive with sensuous detail.’ – Carol Rumens, Poetry Book of the Month, The Observer

‘The writer’s latest collection takes in everything from mortality and ageing to the music of the sea’: Click here to read

Carol Rumens also chose Inside the Wave of her Poetry Book of the Year in The Observer.  Read the feature here.

Writing in The Guardian of 22 April 2017, Sean O'Brien's considers Helen Dunmore's poetry as a whole and looks at Inside the Wave in particular. Click here to read.



Arena, RTE Radio 1, Tuesday 11 April 2017, 7-8pm

Helen Dunmore’s tenth collection Inside the Wave was given a glowing review on RTE Radio 1’s week-nightly arts programme Arena on 11 April.  Jessica Traynor spoke with Sean Rocks about Helen Dunmore’s poetry in general, and about this new collection in particular.  She read the poems ‘Counting Backwards’, ‘The shaft’ (which she described as ‘a really stunning poem about finding hope in illness’) and the final poem ‘September Rain’.  She also read extracts from ‘Nightfall in the IKEA Kitchen’ and ‘A Place of Ordinary Souls’.

‘She does have something really singular in terms of her voice, which separates her from the pack… With Helen Dunmore, the complexity is in the realm of ideas, and yet it’s delivered in such a gorgeous conversational tone that we’re tricked into engaging with thoughts and ideas that are quite difficult.’ – Jessica Traynor, speaking on RTE Radio 1’s Arena

Click to listen

Jessica Traynor wrote about Helen Dunmore’s ‘elegiac but uplifting’ Inside the Wave on her blog.  The piece was illustrated with a colour cover photo and linked to her Arena review:

‘This is a book that deals with mortality, but also surprises with its insights and imaginative drive.’


For more on Inside the Wave winning the Costa Prize, see https://www.bloodaxebooks.com/news?articleid=758

[05 June 2017]

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