Dawn Watson

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I'm the author of collection We Play Here (Granta Poetry, 2023) which was shortlisted for the John Pollard International Poetry Prize and was a Guardian Poetry Book of the Year 2023. My poetry pamphlet The Stack of Owls is Getting Higher is published with The Emma Press (2019).

I am interested in poetics – poetry, prose, critical writing, and their areas of overlap and intersection. I am drawn to writing that is surprising (language, rhythm, voice, syntax), and I am curious about the boundaries of form – where one form ends and another begins; writing that emerges from the best of both worlds; and exploring what is possible in those in-between spaces. Further interests include landscapes of childhood, strangeness, grief, and the supernatural.

I completed a poetry PhD at the Seamus Heaney Centre in October 2022 supervised by Dr Gail McConnell and Dr Leontia Flynn. The critical component is titled 'Strangely Alive': Elizabeth Bishop and the 'Art of Story Writing'. The thesis examines Elizabeth Bishop’s technique of overlapping the lyric with narrative in her autobiographical prose writing of childhood. The creative component is titled 'We Play Here'. The book was developed as part of a wider thesis exploring the imbrication of verse and narrative in Bishop's work to produce, as she called it, “something further”.

We Play Here is a collection of four poem sequences set in Protestant working class North Belfast in the summer of 1988 against a background of political turbulence. Written from the perspectives of four female friends in the months between finishing primary school and starting high school, the girls inhabit an eerie, elemental landscape of normalised violence, poverty and neglect.

My writing has been broadcast on BBC Radio 4: short story ‘Sonny’s Bench’ was performed by Derry Girls actor Ian McElhinney, and 'The Riots' by Aoibhéann McCann. My poetry and prose have appeared in literary journals including The Poetry Review, Granta, The Manchester Review, Blackbox ManifoldThe Moth, and The Stinging Fly. I recorded a performance of my poem 'Chicken Wings' for The Arts Show X on BBC iPlayer. I performed my poems 'Peach Season' and 'This is Just to Say (the Gays Will Steal Your Fruit)' in two short films for The Adrian Brinkerhoff Foundation, New York.


I am a lecturer in creative writing within the English subject area. I teach undergraduate through to MA level. At stage one, I lecture on ENG1090: Introduction to Creative Writing and ENG1002: Issues in Contemporary Fiction. At stage two, I am the convenor of ENG2093: Creative Writing Prose. I supervise both stage three and MA creative writing dissertations. On the MA in Creative Writing, I teach on ENG7196: Prose Workshop and ENG7292: Fiction Workshop. On the MA in Poetry: Creativity and Criticism, I teach on ENG7301: The Poetry Collection and ENG7094 The Poetry Workshop.


Reviews of We Play Here:

‘An extraordinary, enviably great debut. Watson has that rare ability to capture the ever-present strangeness of childhood and to use that to let us into a specific history with intellectual and imaginative generosity … a game-changing narrative long poem you’ll want to keep close.’ Luke Kennard (Notes on the SonnetsCain)

‘In We Play Here, Dawn Watson gives us a closely-mapped, child’s-eye-view of a North Belfast community in the mid-1980s, where poverty and mental illness are routine, and where everyday violence refracts along gender lines in a way little enough heard about. Watson’s sequences, in the voices of four 12-year-old girls, record this broken world innocently, movingly and humorously – but, more than this, through their attention to beauty and wonder, they map these girls’ inner lives, where imagination and poetry itself survive.’ Leontia Flynn (The RadioDrivesThese Days)

‘A unique new voice in poetry who reminds us that what some people call history, others might call memory; and what some might deem a city, others might insist is actually the individual topography of their childhood’ Andrew McMillan, (PhysicalPandemonium)

'I reached the end of We Play Here, and was so sorry it had ended I immediately read it again (twice more). From its capturing of the child-like vocabulary and intonation, to its subtly allusive and complicated child-via-adult birds-eye view, it makes an utterly compelling narrative. Its world is immediately recognisable in more than its Belfast context, and where the Troubles shadow the narrative, so too – more evidently – does the poverty-fuelled violence that characterised the decade.' Professor Fran Brearton, Queen's University, Belfast.

'Watson writes working-class, Protestant girlhoods, deeming them worthy of poetic attention in an Irish poetic landscape that tends to exclude these perspectives.' Ellen Orchard, Poetry Ireland Review

‘Impressive… It's a testament to Watson's subtlety and skill as a poet that the girls' voices never lose their barbed humour, or their humanity… Formally assured and immensely readable, We Play Here takes its cues from Ciarán Carson's acutely observed poems of Belfast city, and the magic realism of novelists such as Jan Carson, to create a new poetics of its own’ Jessica Traynor (Pit Lullabies, poetry editor of Banshee Press) in The Irish Times

‘The high wire act that defines this book is Dawn Watson’s ability to simultaneously render a childlike vision of a particular moment and the haze with which one looks back on the past… It’s a book written in trichromatic technicolour where the everyday is given a psychedelic edge (concrete places like Mount Vernon and Skegoneill Avenue become dreamscapes of flowing water) and the militarised elements of the world around the children simply fall into place’ Stephen Connolly (Lifeboat Press)

'Exquisitely imagined.' The Belfast Telegraph


Reviews of The Stack of Owls is Getting Higher:

“I read this book with gathering excitement to have found a new writer I love, and relief that someone is writing poems like these. The music of Dawn Watson’s poems – pointy-beaked, just acutely alive – feels necessary to this moment. It is a music that rises from wit, daring, and weird, beautiful yarns.” Ashleigh Young

"Droll, unsettling, never dull, there is a rare effervescence to Dawn Watson's poems which fizzes with curiosity and wit." Doireann Ní Ghríofa


I am a former tabloid sub editor with national newspapers including The Sunday Times, The News of the World, and The Daily Mirror.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


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