The Night Ships

Sam Gardiner

About the book…

Trees are simply green things without thoughts that stand in our way. Only by becoming brainless ourselves can we understand them. Same goes for olives, quasars, genes, love, you name it. Donêt you wish that worry wasnêt the highest form of imagination? What matters is that nothing matters, except that you keep your instruments keen, in working order, ticking over and alert, ready for when it happens. And it will. -from Believe It

Following the critical success of his debut volume, Protestant Windows, Sam Gardiner's latest collection, The Night Ships, demonstrates once again the Portadown-born poet's considerable lyric virtues: a determination to be precise in his use of language; a painful and disarming candour; a playfully self-deprecating sense of humour; and a profound understanding of the hopes and sadnesses underlying modern existence. 

Whether writing of his childhood in provincial Ulster or of his adult life in England, the steady creep of age and the realisation of one's own mortality, or ruminating on the interplay of art and life, Sam Gardiner speaks with a deft assurance, allied to a formidable intellectual -and poetic -armoury. The Night Ships amply demonstrates that we are in the presence of an important voice in Northern Irish poetry.

Photo of the author, Sam Gardiner

About the author…



Sam Gardiner was born in Portadown, County Armagh, in 1936. He attended Portadown College and his working life was spent in architecture and began in Lurgan where he was apprenticed to architect Jackson Blakely in 1954. His early studies of architecture and geology on day-release were followed by ten years with a Belfast practice working in many parts of Ireland under many conditions, including living in a hut in a sea of mud at St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin.

He moved to London in 1969 during The Troubles (his colleagues and friends were both Catholic and Protestant) and continued in architecture, with occasional bouts of spare-time freelance journalism and reviewing, until 1978 when he was grant-aided by the Arts Council of Great Britain for producing three consecutive issues of The Poet’s Yearbook. But when Mrs Thatcher threatened to severely reduce all arts council funding he took refuge in architecture and remained there until his retirement in 1993.

1993 was the year his poem ‘Protestant Windows’ won the £3,000 first prize in the National Poetry Competition followed by smaller but useful amounts (from £50 to £250) in seven different competitions. ‘Protestant Windows’ gave its name to Gardiner’s debut collection published by Lagan Press in 2000, which has been fully reprinted and republished ten years later.

In 2002 Gardiner received an Arts Council of England Writer’s Award of £7,000 which helped him carry on with a second collection, The Night Ships, published by Lagan Press in 2007. His third collection, The Morning After, was published by Lagan Press in 2010, and both books have attracted considerable critical acclaim including favourable reviews in The Times Literary Supplement ­– ‘These poems embody the dance of the intellect among words and ideas. 

Graceful, humane and witty, they deserve a wide readership.’ and The Guardian – ‘Everyone should read these marvellous poems.’

Commentators have noted the influence of Thomas Hardy, Philip Larkin and Douglas Dunn in his poetry, and these he freely admits but would add Jonathan Swift and Derek Mahon and much poetry written, sometimes anonymously, in the centuries between.

New poems by Gardiner continue to appear regularly in leading literary magazines and occasional pamphlets come from sundry sources, such as a 30-page pamphlet The Picture Never Taken from Smith/Doorstop Books and De Nooit Gemaakte Foto from Wagner & Santen, Amsterdam, a 17-page pamphlet of Gardiner’s poems translated into Dutch. He is an active member of local poetry groups and has conducted workshops for the local authority.

At present Gardiner lives in Grimsby on the North Sea coast. He is married to a psychiatric nurse, has a daughter and two granddaughters living in England and a son and grandson in Ireland.