Ralph Dartford hails from Basildon in Essex, and now lives in West Yorkshire, having got there via Australia, Barcelona and Los Angeles. He was a founding member of influential spoken word collective ‘A Firm of Poets’, and his first collection of poetry, Cigarettes, Beer and Love was published by Ossett Observer Presents in 2013. His next collection, Recovery Songs, was published by Valley Press in 2019, and Hidden Music followed in October 2021.
Click here to see Ralph read his poem 'Linwood House', and read some others on Twitter here, here and here.
Recovery Songs is a cycle of narrative poems that focuses on the fall and rise of the human condition. These are stories of love, abandonment, abuse, addiction, loss, and by the end, a redemption earned. Unflinching and funny at times, this collection takes its reader through a life lived in the margins, and asks: how do we recover when everything appears lost?
“Searingly honest, Dartford takes you with him into some of the darkest corners of humanity and inhumanity … he leaves everything on the page.” Nick Ahad
“Dartford’s power comes from his unflinching, forensic attention to the big things that can destroy a life, and to the small details that can save one. There is wit here, but also a serious meditation on the courage it takes to survive childhood and become an (almost) fully-functioning adult.” Stephen May
“A beautiful and heart-breaking collection. Dartford pulls no punches on his painful personal journey of a life forsaken, reconstructed and renewed. It reveals as much about the fractures in our society as it does his own life. Read it and read it again (when you’re feeling strong enough).” Christopher Ian Smith
“Brilliant. Brutal, honest, beautiful and warm. This is poetry that takes hold of your heart and refuses to let go.” Pete Mckee
“Leads you through the vagaries and despair of addiction – but gently and delicately; allowing us to stop at every ladderstep of the descent to take full stock of the depths below. This is as full of love as it is full of warning.” Sadie Davidson
“A brilliant, brave, humorous and bold collection that asks not what if, but what now?” Toria Garbutt
‘We included everything we wanted to say without saying it.’
— Duke Ellington
Hidden Music is a collection of poems that listens and responds to Ralph Dartford’s lifetime obsession with song, and which subsequently allows his singular poetic vision to take flight. From Nick Cave to Lee Morgan, and Ella Fitzgerald to Radiohead, these poems search and reveal the untold stories within a dyslexic and melodious imagination, and like the most intoxicating music, gifts ownership to both the listener and the reader.
‘Dartford's latest collection is an unashamedly emotional homage to love, loss and Cubist fry-ups in south Yorkshire. A tender lament to the hidden music of heartbreak and the bittersweet transience of happiness, shot through with nostalgia, wry humour and a warm intelligence.’
— Anthony Clavane
‘Hidden Music is a fabulous “album” of poems, each unique but all musically intertwined. The effect is that of a late-night radio show, a slow drive along unlit roads, the poems feeding into the ear, softly, like the tracks they are linked to, pulling the reader through memory and imagination on a journey of poetic expression. This collection is a sublime experience; a refreshing, boundary-testing setlist that hits every note. I can't wait to listen to the playlist now.’
— Wendy Pratt
‘With Debussy, Coltrane and Joni Mitchell by his side, Dartford escorts us through a sublime jukebox of memories, dreams and drunken vignettes in which flawed people try to love each other and get on with the business of being human. A vivid poet who has drawn from the wishing well of song-lyricism, Dartford captures the melodic pulse of love lost and hunted for in the streets of Soho to the housing estates of Basildon. We are with him in the carnage and the glory, waltzing to Dylan while scoffing a family bucket of KFC or boarding “the silent train to Lewes.” A great, genre-defying piece of work from a poet at the height of his powers.’
— Sarah Gillespie
Be part of our story. Join the Valley Press newsletter.