Jo Shapcott FRSL, (born 24 March 1953, London) is an English poet, editor and lecturer who has won the National Poetry Competition, the Commonwealth Poetry Prize, the Costa Book of the Year Award, a Forward Poetry Prize and the Cholmondeley Award.
Shapcott lived in Hemel Hempstead and attended Cavendish School in the town prior to studying as an undergraduate at Trinity College, Dublin. Later she studied at St Hilda's College, Oxford and received a Harkness Fellowship to Harvard. She teaches on the MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London. She was a Visiting Professor at the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics, Newcastle University, was a Visiting Professor at the London Institute and was Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Oxford Brookes University from 2003-2005. She is President of the Poetry Society, and is a longstanding tutor for the Arvon Foundation.
Shapcott was appointed as CBE in 2002. She initially accepted the honour but decided to refuse during the period when the British government made preparations to invade Iraq. She wrote to the Cabinet Office saying " I can't possibly accept this." She commented, "I was being diagnosed and treated for cancer, so great public statements weren't on the cards really. I was just too ill."
Shapcott has won the National Poetry Competition twice, in 1985 and 1991. Her Book: Poems 1988-1998 (2000; reprinted 2006) consists of poetry from her three earlier collections: Electroplating the Baby (1988), which won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for Best First Collection, Phrase Book (1992), and My Life Asleep (1998), which won the Forward Poetry Prize (Best Collection). Together with Matthew Sweeney, she edited Emergency Kit: Poems for Strange Times (1996), an international anthology of contemporary poetry in English. Her 2002 book Tender Taxes is a collection of English versions (or translations) of Rainer Maria Rilke's French poems. Her 2002 collection of essays Elizabeth Bishop: Poet of the Periphery was co-edited with Linda Anderson. In 2006, Fiona Samson in The Guardian summarised her work: "Shapcott remains overwhelmingly a poet of presence, renegotiating the concrete world with as much brio as her own dancing cow. The consummate openness of this brilliantly intelligent selection extends the possibilities for poetry written in English. It reminds us that she remains a pioneer among contemporary British writers. We should be grateful for her."
In 2010, Shapcott published Of Mutability with Faber and Faber, her first collection for 12 years. The 45 poems explore the nature of change, in the body, within the natural world and inside relationships. The book of poems was awarded the Costa Book of the Year for 2010, beating contenders in Fiction, Non-Fiction and other categories. The judges commented that the book was accessible, "very special and unusual and uplifting... The subject matter was so relevant that if any poetry book could capture the spirit of life in 2011, this would be it". Sinclair Mackay in the Daily Telegraph wrote: "Of Mutability, is so especially rich and resonant that it deserves the widest possible readership, even among those who never usually think of reading poems...And there is a dazzling variety of tone and colour and subject throughout - Shapcott's language dances lightly, and often with wit."
The Transformers (2011) is a collection of public lectures given by Shapcott as part of her Professorship at Newcastle.
She has written lyrics or had her poems set to music by composers such as Nigel Osborne, Errollyn Wallen and John Woolrich. The American composer Stephen Montague created the work The Creatures Indoors, from her poetry. It was premiered by the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican Centre in London in 1997.
She is a judge for the 2013 Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine.
Prizes and awards
- 1982 – South West Arts Literature Award
- 1985 – National Poetry Competition, First Prize
- 1989 – Commonwealth Poetry Prize, Best First Collection, Electroplating the Baby
- 1989 – New Statesman Prudence Farmer Award
- 1991 – National Poetry Competition, First Prize
- 1999 – Forward Poetry Prize, Best Poetry Collection of the Year, My Life Asleep
- 2002 – Created CBE (Refused) 
- 2006 – Cholmondeley Award
- 2010 – Costa Book Award, Poetry, Of Mutability
- 2011 – The Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry 
- Electroplating the Baby (Bloodaxe, 1988)
- Phrase Book (Oxford University Press, 1992)
- A Journey to the Inner Eye: A Guide for All. (South Bank Centre, 1996)
- Motherland (Gwaithel & Gilwern, 1996)
- Penguin Modern Poets; book 12, (featuring Helen Dunmore, Matthew Sweeney and Jo Shapcott; Penguin Books, 1997)
- My Life Asleep (Oxford University Press, 1998)
- Poetry Quartets No. 5 (audio featuring Helen Dunmore, U. A. Fanthorpe, Elizabeth Jennings, Jo Shapcott; Bloodaxe, 1999)
- Her Book: Poems 1988-1998 (Faber and Faber, 2000; reprinted 2006)
- Tender Taxes (Faber and Faber, 2002)
- Of Mutability (Faber and Faber, 2010)
- Elizabeth Bishop: Poet of the Periphery (Bloodaxe, 2002)
- The Transformers: The Newcastle/Bloodaxe Poetry Lectures. (Bloodaxe, 2011)
- Emergency Kit: Poems for Strange Times (edited with Matthew Sweeney; Faber and Faber, 1996)
- Last Words: New Poetry for the New Century (edited with Don Paterson; Picador, 1999)
- Elizabeth Bishop: Poet of the Periphery (edited with Linda Anderson; Newcastle/Bloodaxe Poetry Series: 1, 2002)
- Jane Satterfield (March 22, 1997). "Pavlova's physics: the poems of Jo Shapcott". The Antioch Review.
- 31 December 2002. Edinburgh boss heads arts honours. BBC article
- Poetry Foundation Biog
- Newcastle university
- Royal Literary Fund biog
- Royal Holloway, University of London website, Shapcott synopsis
- Poetry Society Biog
- Arvon Foundation
- "Jo Shapcott: the book of life" 27 January 2011. Guardian Interview after Costa Prize win
- Extract from Evening Standard article July 9, 2003
- BBC article 31 December 2002, Edinburgh boss heads arts honours
- Fiona Sampson (29 April 2006). "Poet of presence". The Guardian.
- Of Mutability. Faber website
- "Jo Shapcott takes Costa book of the year award for Of Mutability" 25 January 2011 Guardian.
- "Costa prize will help poetry reach new audience" Daily Telegraph 26 January 2011
- The Transformers: Newcastle/Bloodaxe Poetry Lectures Bloodaxe Publications synopsis
- Poetry Foundation synopsis of Shapcott
- Profile, Contemporary Writers, The British Council
- Profile at the Poetry Foundation
- Profile at The Poetry Archive
- Profile at Poetry Translation Centre, with article, audio and video links
- Guardian Interview "Jo Shapcott: I'm not someone chasing her own ambulance" by Sarah Crown, July 2010. "Jo Shapcott: the book of life" 27 January 2011. Guardian Interview after Costa Prize win
- Interview, Lidia Vianu, November 2002 from Desperado Literature.
- An interview with Jo Shapcott, Deryn Rees-Jones, University of Liverpool
- Christina Patterson (29 September 2001). "Jo Shapcott: a rose by many other names". The Independent.
- Shapcott reading her poems. Video