The Thoughts


An assured and inventive debut, The Thoughts explores different manifestations of intrusive thoughts as part of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) before navigating through the twists and turns of recovery and love. These poems inhabit therapists’ treatment rooms, waiting rooms, and everyday documents, appearing in such varied forms as emails, research proposals and kids’ puzzles. Compassionate and at times painfully humorous, The Thoughts is an act of advocacy, giving voice to critically underrepresented experiences of illness through poems that are as peculiar and creative as they are arresting.

Read a Sample.

Published January 2022.


What Writers and Critics Think

  • The Thoughts is not just saying a thing, it’s really showing it – and it’s fascinating – shedding light on one particular illness. Also, it is unified, and intelligent, and humorous, and humane, and contained. I love this collection above all for its generosity and its insight.

    Charlotte Gann
  • The Thoughts by Sarah Barnsley is a triumph. Barnsley reinvents the ‘apparently personal’ school of poetry, meeting guilt and shame head on. This is like no collection I’ve read before. I found myself brimming with tears, then laughing out loud as Barnsley layers her poetry with compulsive and unwanted thoughts. An ode to dirt is gorgeous and loving. Here is high and low camp, poems that shimmy between the sad, disturbing, sexy, fulfilling, hilarious and back again. The clash between working class and academic life is brilliant – identifying with the Bee Gees and Steps, while lecturing on Victorian poetry. We lunch with a cave, choose a buffalo as alter-ego, collect volcanoes, consider the correct reaction to spontaneous combustion, all the while checking and rechecking our thoughts. The Thoughts is refreshingly innovative –in its use of imagery and poetic form – and in its response to class and queerness. I love it.

    Katrina Naomi
  • Brilliant poems about OCD, and brilliant poems full stop.

    Joanne Limburg


Sarah Barnsley […] throws both accepted truth and caution to the winds – Thomas Ovans in London Grip on ‘I prefer to get my information from unreliable sources’

I love its colloquial diction, its creative topography that knits together its fragments and its scientists in love, its headlong energy – Meryl Pugh on ‘Newly in love, distracted neuroscientists HEART’

Always crisply original and often painfully funny […] a poet whose voice is as unusual as it is assured – Catherine Smith on The Fire Station

Bold and strange, it sees the potential for a blaze, or other disaster in pretty much everything. [Barnsley is] consistently good at displacing the reader, “rehousing” us in a peculiar landscape. […] Her voice is wry, considered and convincing. – Penny Boxall in Sabotage Reviews on The Fire Station

Sarah Barnsley grew up in the Midlands where her dad was a firefighter. A winner in the Poetry Society Members’ Poems Competition (2021, 2018), her work has appeared widely in magazines including Poetry Wales, The Rialto and The White Review. Other publications include a pamphlet, The Fire Station (Telltale Press, 2015), co-editorship of Truths: A Telltale Press Anthology (2018), and literary criticism. Sarah is Senior Lecturer in English and American Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London and lives in Hove.

Additional information

Dimensions 21 × 13.8 × 0.7 cm

eBook (ePub), Paperback


978-1-914914-02-7, 978-1-914914-03-4

Publication Year

January 2022