Monday, 13 January 2014


Keep up - 12 books you must read

It’s high time I changed my list of 12 recommended poetry books.  So here is my choice for 2014 arranged in alphabetical order.  

Prejudiced? Subjective? probably.The list is based on a selection from the contemporary poetry I have read, enjoyed and admired for various reasons in the last year – books I think deserve to be read and re-read.   

The Fluent Moment – Ruth Bidgood (Seren 1996)
Ruth Bidgood was born midway between the birth years of R S Thomas and Elizabeth Jennings and it is possible to see some similarities with the work of both poets.  But unlike them she is still writing.  Powys in mid Wales is her poetic territory.  I’ve been reading and enjoying her work for years.  This collection shows the maturity of her later writing.

Then – Alison Brackenbury (Carcanet 2013)
If you yearn for rhyme read Then.  Well-made  poems concentrating on themes of nature and memory.  There is some subtle eco-comment in Brackenbury’s eighth collection.

Estuary – Stewart Conn (Mariscat Press 2012)
My pamphlet choice this year.  Lyrical, moving poetry, leavened with a keen sense of humour.  Very good value for 29 poems, produced with careful attention to design and type by Mariscat Press. 

The Palace of Oblivion – Peter Davidson (Carcanet 2008)
An extraordinary collection which really grew on me as I read on.  Free verse style combined with rich, rare, archaic vocabulary.  The cover blurb states “baroque in its extravance of language”. 

Life under Water – Maura Dooley (Carcanet 2008)
A playful negotiation with Auden’s poetry takes place in this wonderfully fluid collection.  “The Source” is a confident response to “In Praise of Limestone”.

Her Birth – Rebecca Goss (Carcanet 2012)
A collection to read with the heart.  I was moved to tears by this beautiful tribute to Rebecca’s small child Ella who died of a rare heart disease.  But the collection ends not in grief but in a “Welcome” for her second daughter.  Lots of sea imagery which gives unity and depth to the poems.

Laughing at the Clock – Aonghas MacNeacail, translated by the author (Polygon 2012).  See my blog post of 2 December 2012.
New and selected poems by one of Scotland’s foremost Gaelic writers printed in the original with a parallel English translation.  Brilliant, surprising, generous.

Parallax – Sinead Morrissey (Carcanet 2013)
Meaty poems you can get your literary teeth into.  Well worth exploring and pondering.  Mind the gap!

Archangel – Henry Shukman (Cape 2013)
I am impressed by the economy, simplicity and fluency of these poems.  The core of the book is based on the experience of Shukman’s refugee grandfather and great uncle who were deported from London to Archangel to fight on the Eastern front just as the Russian Revolution was taking off and the old regime collapsing. 

Axe Handles – Gary Snyder (first published 1983; Shoemaker and Hoard edition 2005).  See my recent blog post of 6 December 2013. 
A poet who records ordinary life like no one else.  He has been called the “Poet laureate of deep ecology”.  There’s Zen Buddhism too.

Tigers Facing the Mist – Pauline Stainer (Bloodaxe 2013)
Concise, even compressed, poems, huge leaps of language.  Never a superfluous word. 

The Church of Omniverous Light – Robert Wrigley (Carcanet 2013)
Why haven’t I discovered this fantastic American poet before?  Think: the surprising imagery and originality of Les Murray - in an American context.  This is a selected poems so gives a good overview of Wrigley’s work in 200 pages.


Most of these books are stocked by the Scottish Poetry Library who provide an excellent postal loan service.

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