Sunday, 6 January 2013


Twelve books for twelve months

One of the reasons I started this blog was to encourage people to read and enjoy more contemporary poetry.  Here is my third list of twelve poetry collections you must read – one a month would make a good resolution. 
Subjective?  yes, of course.  Omissions?  obviously – tell me what I’ve missed.  The list is a selection of books I have read over the past year and been excited by.  I’ve already mentioned a couple of them in previous posts – Helen Farish’s Nocturnes at Nohant on the ten year relationship between Chopin and George Sand, and W G Sebald’s Selected Poems (another aspect to one of the twentieth century’s greatest prose writers).
I always like to include a pamphlet and this time it is Jim Carruth’s Working the Hill.  It is beautifully produced with great attention to detail.  Jim Carruth’s poems are set in a farming era on the cusp of the change between tradition (“Toast”) and industry (“Stack”, “A time for giving”).  I particularly like the butterfly rhyme scheme of “See it in his body”.
Ice is the latest volume from the much-loved National Poet of Wales, Gillian Clarke.  She is writing as strongly as ever.  One of my favourite poems in the collection is “Shearwaters on Enlli” written for fellow poet Michael Longley.  As well as the ice theme there are some lovely looking-back poems.
Gillian Clarke is the dedicatee of Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s The Bees.  The Sunday Times called this collection “indisputably her best volume” – I agree. 
Note that it is Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Selected – not selected poems.  I love his quirkiness and subversiveness.  Here are short poems, concrete poems, “text works”, words as installations (some were in his garden at Little Sparta), prose, one word poems, found poems, aphorisms and more.
Philip Gross won the TS Eliot prize with the much-admired The Water Table.  I now recommend Deep Field, a moving but unsentimental account of his dying father’s loss of speech.  There are several longish poetry sequences, carefully crafted with an eye to line-breaks and how the poems look on the page.  A personal experience made readable and accessible.
This year Kathleen Jamie fans (and I am one) have enjoyed both a book of essays (Sightlines) and a new poetry collection.  The cover of The Overhaul has a beautiful lino-cut of a “Shetland Foureen” to match the title poem.
Ruth Padel, like Kathleen Jamie, has an abiding interest in the natural world.  The Mara Crossing (combining prose and poetry) examines the theme of migration in its multiple aspects.
Richard Price – do you know his work?  I first discovered Aldius Manutius via Price's "An Informationist’s Kitchen”.  His Small World is packed with good things (a hundred pages of them).  Slightly wacky – and that’s a compliment – and also seriously moving.
The work of the American laureate, Kay Ryan, is fascinating and highly original.  The poems in Odd Blocks are characterised by their long thin shapes and their "scattergun" rhymes.
Finally Adam Thorpe’s Voluntary.  I only discovered Adam Thorpe’s poetry recently and I’m hooked.  He’s a fine novelist but (I think) an even better poet.  Anything by him is worth reading.
Happy new year – if it is not too late to say so! 

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