REVIEW: Charlotte Oliver’s ‘How To Be A Dressing Gown’

A Poetry Review by Sam Bartle

I began writing poems in earnest at the tail-end of the pandemic restrictions in the UK, around April 2021, admittedly without having previously taken much of an interest in poetry nor really engaged with the genre, other than what I had absorbed through a limited exposure in my school education; which led to vague memories of First World War poets and familiarity with names such as Ted Hughes, George Bernard Shaw, Phillip Larkin, and Alfred Lord Tennyson (though to my shame, without much recollection of their work).

The line, “Dulce est decorum est, pro patria mori” (roughly translated as “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country”) has always stuck in my mind from school English lessons in poetry, as a piece of poignant First World War literature, but even then I mistakenly attributed it to Edward Thomas, when in fact it was by Wilfred Owen (my thanks to the mighty ‘Google’, and sincere apologies to both poets!).

‘How To Be A Dressing Gown’ is the debut chapbook by Charlotte Oliver.

So, with my new-found interest in writing poetry, coupled with an embarrassingly scant knowledge of poetic works, I wanted to learn more about the genre and actually read the work of some actual poets.

My first foray into this endeavour has been to purchase ‘How To Be A Dressing Gown’ , the debut chapbook by Charlotte Oliver (published by Dreich Chapbooks).

Given that this is the first book of poetry that I have read cover-to-cover, you may consider me under-qualified to review the work, however, I believe that anyone has the right to be moved or engaged by a poem, whether they’re a connoisseur who can recite Homer’s ‘Odyssey’, or have never read a poem before in their life. So, I approached Charlotte’s debut work from my fresh-eyed perspective, hungry to absorb her creative statements and learn more about poetry.

I chose ‘How To Be A Dressing Gown’ because I had been researching poets in my region of Yorkshire, and Charlotte Oliver’s name was prolific as being a well-reputed local poet, both in print and as a performer, in particular at South Cliff Gardens in Scarborough, and as a ‘Saturday Poet Laureate’ for BBC Radio York on Harry Whitaker’s show.

I had also found her to be very gracious in sharing some of my own work on social media when I nonchalantly (and perhaps, arrogantly) tagged her in some of my tweets! This spoke to me that here was not only a very talented and gifted writer, but a warm and kind person, very open to encouraging the creativity of others as well as her own. I think this warmth and kindness radiates through her book, and in part forms the essence of the collection. Adding to this was the receipt of a personalised handwritten note from the author herself, thanking me for my purchase. When a reader receives such a gesture, it is immediately clear that the work has been crafted with love and sincerity.

The book arrived, signed and with a personalised note from the author!

For me, ‘How To Be A Dressing Gown’ feels like an invitation into the writer’s family home, to be given a window into her thoughts and an intimation of the warmth and love that surrounds her in that place. As a result, the poems are interwoven with references to everyday objects or occurrences, maintaining that connection with the ‘household’ and associating the mundane with something deeper and more symbolic. The title itself is an indication of this, tugging at the reader’s curiosity and begging the query of what is meant by a ‘Dressing Gown’ in this context, and inviting us to find out.

With its first poem, ‘My People’, the book makes the important assertion of where Charlotte is coming from as a writer, her proud and traditional family upbringing, where perhaps her poetic creativity could be seen as breaking the mould:

“I come from people who

do not say,

who assume you know,

who are afraid of words.”

‘My People’ by Charlotte Oliver

As a reader, this helped set the context for me of the various references to family that follow throughout the rest of the collection, and gave me an idea of the kind of ‘home’ I was being invited into. Charlotte’s warm and endearing homage to her grandmother, ‘Song Of My Granny’ is perhaps one of the best examples of her reflections on family life in the book and it exudes warmth and affection for all the happy times spent in her company. It draws heavily on references to furniture and food to skilfully create a vivid image of being at home with granny, re-living those moments and seeing it all again through a child’s eyes, such as the remark about her false teeth as:

“…your dazzling set of pink-gummed fish

freed to swim each night.”

‘Song Of My Granny’ by Charlotte Oliver

This presents a wonderful image of a child’s view of her grandmother, and one that many of us can relate to. We all generally have fond recollections of our grandparents, and the writer appeals to that sentimentality with her own unique and almost playful interpretation:

“Oh granny, your lap was paradise!

You small and wrinkled angel haloed by delightful tales…”

‘Song Of My Granny’ by Charlotte Oliver

The poems ‘Yorkshire Puddings’ and ‘Mum Gets Ready’ also exploit that technique to great effect, but it would be categorically wrong of me, however, to suggest that this book is simply a charming reflection about family; it is more than that. There is much depth to this collection, and some of the poems appear to contain a vague wistfulness, even sorrow, of the kind that might invade ones thoughts while sitting in an empty house, or during the solitude of an afternoon walk. The poem, ‘Her Secret’, which I feel could be self-referential, hints at a buried sadness and anxiety:

“…she stared hard and let the tears dry up

before they began their hot trickle…

It took a while to realise that the tooth-grinding

was probably part of all this…”

‘Her Secret’ by Charlotte Oliver

This melancholy is resolved beautifully at the end by alluding to the discovery of writing and poetry as the catharsis to those feelings. It could be said that this is true of all those poems in the collection that deal with difficult or emotional subjects, with the writer tempering any wistfulness by adding notes of hope.

Indeed, this is exactly what the collection itself tends towards with one of the final poems being entitled ‘Hope’. In this work Charlotte articulates the loss of ‘hope’ itself but, by animating and illustrating its quality she also demonstrates that it is not altogether gone:

“I don’t remember what it used to be like,

just the clatter of freedom like waves on a pebbled shore,

and eternity’s breath on my bare neck…”

‘Hope’ by Charlotte Oliver
The chapbook is recommended by a number of well-respected poets, as indicated here on its back cover.

I should say that, in my own work, I write in rhyming verse, perhaps as a result of that early exposure at school to First World War poetry (which someone once suggested I may have absorbed by osmosis!). Whatever the reason, this seems to be my current tendency as a writer, so I found reading ‘How To Be A Dressing Gown’ doubly fascinating because it gave me an introduction to imagistic poetry and the way that writers can use words to conjure beautiful images in the mind. I would even go a step further and suggest that Charlotte’s work succeeds in transcending this by articulating other senses; I could almost smell those Yorkshire Puddings in her poem of the same name, and taste the comfort of a sponge pudding and many other foods that she refers to throughout the book!

There can be no doubt of this collection’s intimacy and the author’s invitation with open arms for the reader to delve into her mind and world. This is perhaps most evident in the poem ‘Afterwards’, which is written so deftly that it was not until halfway through that I suddenly felt quite abashed on realising that, as a reader, I had been transported to the bed chambers of the writer’s home where, if I have interpreted correctly, I was now in the aftermath of some intimate moments having been shared between the writer and her husband! By spacing the words far apart on the page, Charlotte adds emphasis to the quiet and stillness of the moment, a brief time of breathless reflection that followed the intimacy:


________________in that moment

feet warm at last.”

‘Afterwards’ by Charlotte Oliver

The poem is a beautiful articulation of the writer’s thoughts and feelings immediately after being intimate with her partner and again reinforces the theme of warmth, love and contentment in the family home that runs through the book. I think this may be why the collection adopts ‘How To Be A Dressing Gown’ as its title, because which household item holds better synergy with that sentiment of homely warmth and comfort than a ‘dressing gown’?! It is fair to say that in the poem of the same name, Charlotte creates some really vivid description of how it feels to be in your dressing gown, equating it to a ‘hug’, and you can almost feel yourself reaching out for your own dressing gown and wanting to wrap it around you!

“You have the power of an unexpected sponge pudding

with custard…”

‘How To Be A Dressing Gown’ by Charlotte Oliver
Charlotte Oliver is based in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, and has worked on poetry and arts events and activities for the South Cliff Gardens Restoration Project (photo by Sam Bartle).

It is as though the poem is a set of instructions to the dressing gown itself, elevating and personifying it as a sentient member of the home, with its own part to play in permitting some downtime for the wearer, and if this is the meaning of the poem, then perhaps the collection as a whole could be interpreted as a form of self-help guide, or perhaps it is simply the signature poem that defines the essence of the collection. I suppose it is for the reader to make up their own mind but, either way, Charlotte Oliver has boldly announced herself to the poetry community by writing with an openness and affection for those close to her, that should be the envy of many a poet.

Charlotte Oliver’s debut chapbook, ‘How To Be A Dressing Gown’ is published by Dreich Chapbooks and available to buy at: .

More information about the poet can be found at and she tweets @CharlotteOlivr.

By Sam Bartle

The Passing Year

Poem, published in Pomona Valley Review

Earlier this year, my poem, ‘The Passing Year’ was published in issue 16 of Pomona Valley Review. It was both gratifying and reassuring for me that editors Clem and Whitney chose to use the poem, as I’m particularly fond of it and had already been rejected by eight other publications. Had I not been so attached to it, then I may have decided to abandon the pursuit to publish and leave it on the proverbial backburner, while I concentrated on submitting other works. However, my persistence paid off on this occasion, and I’m so glad that I continued to enter submissions!

Even without the upheaval and turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic in the past few years I still think it’s fair to say that, when we all look back on our lives over any given year, we experience and bear witness to an incredible range of highs and lows during that short timespan. It’s this bittersweet sense that I’ve tried to encapsulate with ‘The Passing Year’.

“I can’t fail to wonder at all these things, to be amazed by what the passing year brings.” from ‘The Passing Year’ by Sam Bartle. (Image: Bogdan Dirica. Pexels)

It observes the struggle and hardship caused by adversity and how we try to keep going until we encounter better times ahead, but for me it’s also a reminder that when those good times arrive they must be enjoyed and savoured. The places we go to in our lives can play host both to experiences of love and happiness, or hatred and sadness, so our memories of those places can become bittersweet as well, which is something I’ve tried to reflect with the lines:

 "These different worlds all in the same space, 
In transience, come and go from your sight."

Read Issue 16 of ‘Pomona Valley Review’ here, where you’ll find ‘The Passing Year’ at page 228.

By Sam Bartle

Adventures In Upload

Poems on BBC local radio

Road To Upload

When I first started out on my poetic adventures amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, I didn’t consider that drifting into the airwaves with my poems would be one of the consequences, but it seems that writing breeds an unending quest for an audience, especially in this genre, where most of the platforms for publication aren’t immediately obvious, nor particularly mainstream. So, it was a refreshing surprise when I discovered BBC Upload.

I’d often enjoyed listening to Lucy Clark’s Sunday Afternoon Show on BBC Radio Humberside, especially during the pandemic, and so when she announced that she’d be covering Martha Mangan’s ‘No Filter’ programme, showcasing local creatives, one Monday evening in May 2021, I made a point of tuning in. I already knew, from listening to her shows, that Lucy was a poet herself and had a keen interest in poetry, so it piqued my interest when she put a callout for people to send in their poems via the BBC’s ‘Upload’ feature online. I was enjoying the programme, which was playing the work of local musicians and writers in the region, and thought to myself that I would give it a ‘bash’ and send something in, as it seemed like a good vehicle for reaching more mainstream audiences.

I began my Adventures In Upload on hearing Lucy Clark’s callout for poems on BBC Radio Humberside

The topic for my entry was climate change. I was in the middle of writing a poem reflecting on the climate emergency, and given this is one of the most talked-about issues, I felt it might stand a better chance of being selected. I think the poem was also experimental in the sense that I tried to use rhyming ‘sextets’ as opposed to couplets, which had the effect of laying on the rhymes quite thickly. After hovering over the ‘Send’ button for a while on the Upload site, stood on the proverbial precipice, I found the courage to click it and my work shot into the BBC Upload ether, possibly never to be heard of again.

However, incredibly, I heard back in under 24 hours and on Monday 21st June 2021 at 7pm, I was on the ‘No Filter’ programme, talking to Martha Mangan about my climate change poem! I’d literally just started writing full poems so didn’t feel at all qualified to answer Martha’s very respectful questions about my ‘creative process’, but gave it my best shot anyway.

‘On Beautiful Sky’ (poem by Sam Bartle)

Feeling More At Ease

I don’t know how other writers feel but, for me, the prospect of being ridiculed or laughed at is probably the biggest source of anxiety in showcasing my poems. I think this is what makes ‘Upload’ such a great initiative, because it encourages and celebrates people who come forward with their creative forms of expression, giving everyone a safe space to air their work.

So, it was lovely to chat with Martha, I felt very welcomed and encouraged about what I was writing, to the extent that I decided I would have a go at sending in some more poems. At this point, I think various shows and schedules were being re-jigged in local radio, as it took a bit longer this time before I heard back, but as we emerged into Spring 2022 I was contacted by the Upload Show for BBC Radio York to see if I wanted my poem, ‘Everyone’ , to be featured on their programme. At the time, they were also broadcasting to the BBC Radio Humberside catchment as well, so I guess this was broadening my reach, so to speak. I appeared on George Smith‘s programme in the evening on Wednesday 9th March 2022 and had a great time talking to him about how I started writing poems during the pandemic, and was working on a website called ‘Poet In Verse’!

‘Everyone’ (poem by Sam Bartle)

After this latest feature on Upload, I had to do a little double-take on myself as I realised I was starting to feel oddly at ease with the idea of sending in poems for them to be played on local radio – because this sort of thing is counter-intuitive to my nature! Whilst I still do feel a little daunted and nervous about doing it, I’m not overwhelmed by those feelings to the point where it prevents me from taking the plunge and submitting my work.

On reflection, I may have found the reason why this is the case: As part of my day job, I occasionally need to promote local history and heritage projects through local media, which sometimes involves giving interviews for local radio, including BBC Radio Humberside. For me, I think this has gradually had the side-effect of normalising the idea of speaking on the radio. In particular though, this is due to having had the opportunity to meet brilliant reporters such as Caroline Brockelbank, whom I feel ultimately have really helped to give me the confidence to approach BBC Upload, by making the organisation as a whole seem more warm, friendly, and less intimidating to me.

Meeting brilliant reporters like Caroline Brockelbank in my day job has helped give me the confidence to approach BBC Upload with my work.

The opportunity to chat with Caroline, with her charismatic, yet down-to-earth and approachable manner, has meant that any mystique, or nervous preconceptions I may have had about the BBC have been eroded and this, combined with the positive and encouraging nature of the Upload platform itself, has left me feeling much more inclined to share what I create.

Springing Forth

‘Springtide Bright’ (poem by Sam Bartle)

For my next Upload submission, I chose to send in the latest poem in a quartet I was working on about the seasons. I’d decided to write about each season as it began during the year, so that I could draw a little inspiration to begin the poems, although they’re mostly based on our stereotypical imagery of the seasons in the UK, in order to create a vivid scene. I was invited to take part in George Smith’s Upload Show on BBC Radio York on Wednesday 21st April 2022 to talk about the Spring edition of this quartet; ‘Springtide Bright’. The show is a section of George’s main four-hour programme from 6-10pm on Wednesday evenings when, between 7 and 8pm, he showcases one or two submissions, which can include the full range of creative works such as songs, poems, short stories, comedy sketches; basically, anything creative.

George Smith is on BBC Radio York, Wednesdays 6-10pm, where he presents the Upload Show 7-8pm (Image: BBC Sounds)

I’m always pleased when I’m selected for an Upload Show as it’s one of the main ways in which I can try out my poems on a mainstream audience. George has a great ability to maintain light and humour in his on-air conversations, and I guess that’s fortunate because I weighed in with a really heavy poem for my latest one, all about war and conquest through the ages, called ‘Heart Of Power , which had just been translated into Chinese by Poetry Lab Shanghai!

‘Heart Of Power’ (poem by Sam Bartle)

Branching Out

Having by now had three of my poems featured on BBC Radio York’s Upload Show, I was definitely feeling in the groove with things. I began to look through my work for other upload-worthy material and realised that I’d written some about specific places other than where I live, so wondered if these might be of interest to the relevant Upload Show for that region. Ever since first visiting Northumberland around ten years ago I’ve loved the place, and in between COVID-19 lockdown restrictions it became a peaceful retreat for me. Following a week’s holiday there in 2021, I wrote a poem in homage to Bamburgh, one of the many beautiful places that I visited on Northumberland’s spectacular coastline. The nearest local radio station on the Upload website was BBC Radio Newcastle, so I submitted it there and, sure enough, was invited by the show’s presenter, Tamsin Robson, to chat about the poem.

Tamsin Robson is on BBC Radio Newcastle, Wednesdays 8-10pm, where Upload submissions are featured 9-10pm (Image: BBC Sounds)

Entitled ‘Atop The Dunes o’ Bamburgh‘, it’s a kind of postcard poem drawing out all of the key features that stand out for me when visiting there. On Wednesday 3rd August 2022, Tamsin pre-recorded a chat with me that aired later in the evening, in which we both reminisced about the area; Tamsin on her childhood visits, and myself talking about recent holidays. I also declared my affection for the North East in general, having been a student at University of Sunderland!

‘Atop The Dunes o’ Bamburgh’ (poem by Sam Bartle)

Tamsin had previously asked if I’d written any other poems about the North East, and it so happened that I had a similar sort of poem for the town of Seahouses, about 3.5 miles south along the coast from Bamburgh, written during a visit earlier in June 2022. It’s called ‘Around Seahouses’ and Tamsin very kindly played this as well.

‘Around Seahouses’ (poem by Sam Bartle)

To be included on the Upload Show for BBC Radio Newcastle was great for me as it was a way of getting my poems out to even more people in the mainstream via a different local radio catchment, and I also loved chatting about the North East, which has played a big part in my life (perhaps at some point I’ll do a ‘Days Of Sunderland’ poem!).

At time of writing, the show is still available on BBC Sounds and you can listen to our chat (at 1:11:38 in the recording) here.

Looking back, all the poems I’ve sent to BBC Upload have been contemplative, reflective works, which isn’t actually representative of everything that I write, as I also cover silly, trivial subjects as well. My chats with George on his show have revealed that the latter is where his own preferences may lie, as my poem ‘Bin Day’ has stood out for him here on the ‘Poet In Verse’ website.

So, I guess that my mission now is to mix things up a bit with a light poem for my next submission! My thanks to BBC Upload for this platform, which I recommend to anyone out there who is creating something and wants a positive and encouraging environment in which to share their work. Long may the initiative continue.

Onwards and Upload!

‘Bin Day’ (poem by Sam Bartle)

By Sam Bartle

Road To First Acceptance

Submitting my poems

As anyone who writes and seeks publication of their poetry will tell you; the process of submitting your work to various journals and online ezines can be a test of resolve and commitment. Most people have to endure far more rejections than acceptances and, although a relative newbie to this game, I’d already read about the exploits of others on social media and was, to some extent, prepared for rejection.

I tried to prepare myself for the inevitable “no thanks” or “sorry but we don’t think this is the right fit for us at this time.”, and when those rejections eventually came in, I found that the editors were, thankfully, very sensitive and polite in their approach. However, when you’ve yet to break your duck it’s hard to resist self doubt and I was anxious to get off the mark.  It’s all good and well writing poems, but as far as I was concerned, I needed that affirmation from other people in the poetry world that my writing was acceptable, bona fide poetry, to get the nod from an editor that ‘yes, this is ok, and we’re going to publish it‘.

Submitting poems can be a frustrating business! (Image: Suzy Hazelwood. Pexels)

I can’t remember exactly how many “No’s” I had before my first “Yes”, I think it was about 30, but I dealt with it by not dwelling on any of them at all. I just focused on the enjoyment of writing my poems and tried to dismiss each rejection with a shrug of the shoulders. I told myself that perhaps it was something to do with the volume of submissions received; or that the editor was reading mine at a bad time; maybe it was the wrong type of poem for that journal. I was happy to tell myself anything that would allow me to dismiss the rejection in my mind and continue writing – I dread the creativity shackles that would inevitably follow if I thought too carefully about why I get rejections! 

When you look at it, it’s a brutal process, but on reading about others going through exactly the same thing, you realise it’s just a part of it, and that you need to hang in there and keep rolling the dice.

(Image: Anna Shvets. Pexels)

My own moment of first acceptance came in March 2022, with the Wildfire Words online ezine run by Howard and Marilyn Timms of Frosted Fire Press. Until 2021, Howard and Marilyn were heavily involved in the organisation of the Cheltenham Poetry Festival , so it was real thrill to have one of my poems accepted and published in their ‘Open Submissions’ section of Wildfire Words.

The poem is called ‘Everyone‘ and I wrote it the previous October after feeling inspired by Brian Cox’s Universe documentary on the BBC. The explanation of how space and time are connected as ‘spacetime’ (in Einstein’s theory of relativity) provided me with the opening motivation and first lines:

Everywhere is a moment, Every time is a space“.

The inspirational kickstart for the poem came from Brian Cox’s ‘Universe’ documentary for the BBC (Image: Pixabay)

From there it developed as a simple reflection about everything and everyone. I’m so pleased, and indeed grateful, that Howard and Marilyn accepted this poem for their ezine, and I’ve since continued to receive other acceptances elsewhere (as well as rejections of course!), news of which will follow on this blog, so hit the ‘Subscribe’ button below for updates.

The poem ‘Everyone‘ can be read on Wildfire Words here:

By Sam Bartle