SARAH SINGLETON meets poet Hilda Sheehan to hear how Swindon’s distinctive (some might even say severe) architecture is inspiring her latest collection

Poet Hilda Sheehan has an unexpected fondness for Swindon’s Brutalist architecture.

While the grey concrete forms of the post-war era, such as the Debenhams building and the offices above, do not have many fans, Hilda says she finds them intriguing – and muses on the way the things people like, and do not like, change over time.

Is this building a blight, or – as described by council officers – a significant example of Brutalist architecture? The word comes from the French ‘beton brut’, meaning raw concrete. Perhaps if this architecture had a different, less brutal, name we might feel differently about it.

Writer and broadcaster Jonathan Meades, a champion of the Brutalism, called this architectural form ‘concrete poetry’ – which brings us back to Hilda, herself a writer of concrete poetry in that one of the poems in her new collection, The God Baby, is called Brutalist:

“We drove a motorway through the centre / of my mother: a bleak slab, constructed / and designed for the 1970s / in frocks of the new ideal.”

Hilda explained: “I chose these poems because they are about transformation or birth. The birth of all sorts of things – including birth by architecture. I use architecture as a way of talking about families.”

Hilda’s poetry often blends the surreal and the domestic. She explains that readers might find her poems a little unusual. They are not difficult or inaccessible, however. Instead, Hilda finds new and unexpected ways of looking at very familiar things – such as a mother becoming a concrete building.

The dozen poems are complemented by black and white monoprints by Swindon artist Jill Carter, and the little book is published by the Laughing Girl Press, based in Chicago.

The God Baby was launched at the end of the Poetry Swindon Festival, on Hilda’s 50th birthday. A mother of five, Hilda is a director of the poetry festival, and of the Richard Jefferies Museum.

She was born in High Wycombe, and worked as a psychiatric nurse in Reading. Hilda and accountant husband Mike moved to Thailand, where they lived for 10 years. She trained as a Montessori teacher, and following the birth of her son Finley in 1998, Hilda started writing children’s stories.

“Living in Thailand was an amazing experience,” she said. “It is so child friendly and children are really celebrated there. That’s why at the museum we also try to celebrate children. Everybody matters.”

When the family returned to Britain in 2006, they moved to Swindon and Hilda felt an immediate connection with the place.

“I loved it as soon as we moved here,” she recalled. “There’s so much you can do here – and a lot of really interesting groups and people doing all sorts of good stuff, for the town and for the world.

“Sure there is still a lot to be done here, but it’s getting better and better.”

Hilda found the Richard Jefferies Museum soon after moving to the town, and she started working with Matt Holland of Lower Shaw Farm, setting up a writers’ group and writing events. She also began teaching creative writing at New College and got involved with the poetry festival, which has been running for five years now.

“Poets and writers are doing all sorts of good stuff. This will take Swindon forward. It is not a cultural desert, as it is sometimes referred to. These events bring people into Swindon and they go away with a different view of the town,” she said.

Hilda came from a family of poetry fans.

“My dad recited Shakespeare all the time. I fell in love with Dylan Thomas at 16 and read all his writing. That gets all your creative juices flowing,” she said.

Hilda wrote her first poem in 2000 and gained a commendation in the National Poetry Competition. This first success meant she was thrown into the world of contemporary poets.

“I started reading all their books and subscribed to magazines. My poetry started to improve, and in 2001, I was selected to take part in an Arvon Foundation course led by Carol Ann Duffy,” she said. “I realised I had a long way to go, and I started experimenting a bit.”

Hilda started reading work by the poets of the New York School.

“They are really out there,” she said. “They push the boundaries.”

Her twins were born in 2008, about the same time she started getting poems published in magazines like Rialto and Shearsman. She was also the writer in residence at the Poetry Library on the South Bank in 2014.

The God Baby is the third collection of Hilda’s poetry. The Night My Sister Went to Hollywood – with poems about love, exhaustion, classic movies, supermarket shopping and seals in the bathtub - was published by Cultured Llama in 2013, and her collection called Frances and Martine was published by Dancing Girl Press in 2014.

She is currently working on a new collection, called Cabbages are the Secret to a View of the Future.

“The poems are about equality, politics and having room for an equal society,” she said. “I love the power of poetry. I can be changed by a poem. I can learn something totally new from it.”

She is also writing short stories and flash fiction. “It’s something I want to do more of. And I love writing plays and dialogue pieces.”

Her children also enjoy poetry and creativity. Nine-year-old William reads and collects poetry, his twin sister Florence writes, and 23-year-old Aidan is a musician.

For more information about Hilda’s poetry and to buy a copy of The God Baby, visit