Prize-winning poetry

9th January 2014

News, Alumni news

Years after winning a Wadham literary prize with her poem ‘Autumn Child’, a debut poetry collection by Wadham alumna Helen Tookey, has been published this January.

  • Author, Helen Tookey

    Author, Helen Tookey

  • Helen's poetry collection, Missel-Child

    Helen's poetry collection, Missel-Child

The collection, Missel-Child (Carcanet Press), uses the figure of the missel-child as a starting point to explore the various archaeologies of identity, place and language.

Helen (DPhil English Literature, 1997) explains: “The title comes from a reference I happened upon in the Oxford English Dictionary: a ‘missel-child’ is a mysterious child-like being found beneath a mistletoe-covered tree – perhaps a kind of changeling. I thought this was a great image (of the completely mysterious sources of creativity, among other things) and it seemed to fit the book nicely.”

The poems in the volume came together over several years, but the oldest poem, ‘Autumn Child’, was written while Helen was at Wadham, studying for her DPhil in 1997/1998. “At the time I was just getting the first inklings that I was expecting a baby (who turned out to be my son Patrick, now 15). Bernard O’Donoghue chose the poem for a College literature prize, and that encouragement helped me to start taking seriously the idea that I could write poetry. So in many ways, the book began at Wadham, although it has taken a long time to come to fruition.”

Helen describes the guiding principle of the book as being archaeological: “The poems are about digging down into the buried layers of places, of personal memory, and of language itself,” she comments.

Helen Tookey was born near Leicester in 1969. She studied philosophy and literature at university and has worked in publishing, as a university teacher, and as a freelance editor. Her short collection Telling the Fractures, a collaboration with photographer Alan Ward, was published by Axis Projects in 2008. Her verse has been anthologised in New Poetries V (Carcanet, 2011) and Best British Poetry 2013 (Salt, 2014). Her DPhil thesis was published in book form by Oxford University Press as Anaïs Nin, Fictionality and Femininity (2003).