The Thoughts


An extraordinarily good collection … refreshing, boundary pushing, illustrativeThe Frogmore Papers

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 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.

‘[A] camp and playful debut collection […] in a culture where mental health is fraught with ableist stigma, Barnsley energetically reminds us that we have transformative art forms, with which we can break – game face on’ –  Wendy Kyle, London Grip

‘What is so striking about this book is Barnsley’s inventive and completely joyous use of form. Just flicking through it, before reading anything, it doesn’t really seem like a poetry book at all’Emma Simon, The Friday Poem

‘This is an extraordinarily good collection […] refreshing, boundary pushing, illustrative […] It’s not often one encounters a poetry collection you want to read in one sitting.  Here it is!’ – Janet Sutherland, Frogmore Papers

‘To read this book is an immersive experience, not always comfortable but giving the reader a sense of being inside the mind of an OCD sufferer […] which Sarah Barnsley describes in often comically surreal ways’ – Theresa Sowerby, Orbis 

‘[T]akes the reader into the maelstrom of OCD […] absurdities are played with a straight face, reaching heights of the weirdly surreal, yet also giving a genuine sense of the individual’s suffering’Martyn Crucefix, Magma

Sarah Barnsley’s debut collection The Thoughts is a wondrous and vital book that pushes the boundaries of what a poetry book can do and the subject it takes on – in this case, the mind (said to be medical science’s final frontier) […] The approach taken by Barnsley perfectly fits the subject at hand. The poems come in many forms, from your expected black-on-white lineation to the downright surreal – as a questionnaire, a puzzle, funding proposal, and PhD Viva that draws on Barnsley’s experience as an academic. This makes the subject of intrusive and uncontrollable thoughts all the more direct by putting them in everyday examples […]. This is a superb collection, smattered with humour, that shows a condition many experience but is rarely talked about – one of the many invisible disabilities, and one which Barnsley bravely makes visible. Peter Raynard, Everybody’s Reviewing

Sarah Barnsley […] throws both accepted truth and caution to the winds – Thomas Ovans, 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’

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