SHAPCOTT, Jo (1953– ), was born in London, educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and St Hilda’s College, Oxford, and later won a Harkness Fellowship to Harvard. She has worked as Education Officer at the South Bank Centre, and for the Arts Council Literature Department. Her first collection, Electroplating the Baby (Newcastle upon Tyne, 1988) won the Commonwealth Prize, and her second, Phrase Book (Oxford, 1992) was a Poetry Book Society Choice. She was twice a winner of the National Poetry Competition.
Using a precise, colloquial diction, Shapcott draws her subjects and imagery from unusual sources, including popular culture and the sciences. She excels in narrative forms, often written from a displaced, oblique but controlled point of view and employing a surreal wit with which to explore the balances of sexual, political, or human versus animal power.
from The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-century Poetry in English. Ed. Ian Hamilton. Oxford: Oxford UP. Copyright © Oxford UP.
The title poem of Phrase Book is notable for its appropriation of the language of the American military; Phrase Book also includes Shapcott’s famous “Mad Cow” poems. In 1996, she and Matthew Sweeney co-edited an anthology of contemporary poetry in English from around the world, Emergency Kit: Poems for Strange Times (1996).
My Life Asleep (1998), which won the Forward Poetry Prize for Best Collection, invokes Ovid as it concerns itself with acts of metamorphosis. Her Book: Poems 1988–1998 (2000), includes poems from her three previous collections. She has devoted many years to Rilke translations, several of which are collected in Tender Taxes (2002).
Shapcott has also collaborated with musicians; composers such as John McCabe, Detlev Glamert, and Nigel Osborne have set her lyrics to music. The Creatures Indoors, a collaboration with the composer Stephen Montague, premiered with the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican Centre in London in 1997.
She has traveled as a guest speaker in the U.K. and abroad, and has been a guest on various radio and television programs. In addition to serving as president of the Poetry Society and consulting editor for Arc Publications, she teaches in the MA in Creative Writing Program at Royal Holloway College, University of London, and is a Visiting Professor of Poetry at the University of Newcastle and the University of the Arts, London.
(Poetry Foundation, 2006)
Electroplating the Baby. Highgreen, Northumberland, UK: Bloodaxe, 1988.
Phrase Book. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.
A Journey to the Inner Eye: A Guide for All. South Bank Centre, 1996
Motherland. New York: Gwaithel & Gilwern, 1996.
My Life Asleep. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Her Book: Poems 1988-1998. London: Faber and Faber, 2000.
The Transformers. Highgreen, Northumberland, UK: Bloodaxe, 2007.
Editor, with Matthew Sweeney. Emergency Kit: Poems for Strange Times. London: Faber and Faber, 1996
Editor with Don Paterson, Last Words: New Poetry for the New Century. New York: Picador, 1999
Editor, with Helen Dunmore and Matthew Sweeney. Penguin Modern Poets 12. New York: Penguin, 1997.
Editor, with Linda Anderson. Elizabeth Bishop: Poet of the Periphery. Newcastle: Bloodaxe Poetry Series 1, 2002.
Translator. Tender Taxes. London: Faber and Faber, 2002.