Thursday, 3 January 2019

DELIGHT, INSPIRE, INTERROGATE: Twelve poetry books you must read


At the beginning of January I do a new (and opinionated) list of poetry books that I've read over the last year and recommend to other readers - for delight, inspiration and interrogation.  Here are my twelve books for 2019.  You'll find the complete list with publication details in the right-hand margin of my blog page after my 'recently published' information.

Jim Carruth - Black Cart
Part record, part celebration, part lament for a lowland Scottish farming community and a way of life.  Beautifully produced by Glasgow publishers, Freight Books.

Kayo Chingonyi -Kumukanda
If you have a nostalgia for cassette tapes you'll appreciate the poem 'Self-portrait as a Garage Emcee'.  The collection's title translates as 'Initiation' and Kayo's first collection is a coming-of-age book - 'a powerful exploration of race, identity and masculinity' (back cover blurb).  There is a sharp interrogation of racism in British society.

Paul Deaton - A Watchful Astronomy
A first full collection by Paul Deaton with an astronomy theme.   'A meditation on loss and renewal' (Rachel Boast).  The title poem is particularly fine.

Douglas Dunn - The Noise of a Fly 
This is a masterful collection, often formal in construction and enlivened by patterns, half-rhymes and ingenuity.  Witty, urbane, serious.  The depth of allusion is worn lightly.

Menna Elfyn - Bondo
My translation choice in a parallel Welsh/English edition.  'Bondo' means 'Eaves' and the experience of reading the poems is that of discovering a place for shelter.  Another accomplished collection from one of Wales' finest writers.

Leontia Flynn - The Radio
'Her understanding of what it is to be a woman is one of the things (by no means the only thing) that makes this collection so powerful' (Kate Kellaway).  Poems about motherhood, depression, Belfast, the radio and more.

Matthew Francis - The Mabinogi
A re-telling of the Four Stories of the medieval Welsh classic, The Mabinogion.  Accessible, beautiful poetry, a helpful marginal gloss and a fascinating poetic form.  A delight for those of us who, like Gillian Clarke (back cover), have waited all our lives for this book.

Lesley Glaister - Visiting the Animal
Lesley Glaister is better known as a novelist, but I like this, her first mini-collection.  The observation of small details builds up to some fine writing and of course I loved the terrier poems.  Elegantly type-set by Mariscat (as usual), this time in 'Centaur'.  Even the diamond-shaped note on the type-face is like a poem.

Philip Gross and Jenny Pollack - Shadowplay
Inspired!  This pamphlet publishes the wonderfully inventive interplay between two poets - their voices meld so well that i found it impossible to pick out who writes what (discover this at the end).

Diana Hendry - The Seed Box Lantern
An extensive overview of Diana Hendry's work - accessible, well-made poems.  Or, as Janice Galloway writes, 'A wonderful sense of the author's voice, dark and bitterly sweet at the same time, like high-grade chocolate.'

Robert Minhinnick - Diary of the Last Man
Winner of the Wales Book of the Year award.  I don't pretend to understand all of this book but it's powerful stuff.  The title poem is about the last man left alive on the planet.  Don't let that put you off - this is a book worth spending time with and re-reading.

Esther Morgan - The Wound Register
Delicate and lyrical - Esther Morgan's best volume so far I think.  Three sections: Latch (about motherhood), Field (about the First World War) and Restoration (dedicated to the poet's grandmother).

Now read on!

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