Sunday, 19 January 2020


A month past the solstice.  A robin lingers a few yards away as I get out of the car at Plas yn Rhiw.  The snowdrops are coming out, trimming the edge of the track with their white petals.   Wrens quick-flit in front of me and disappear into cracks between stones.  As I climb the hill the coconut smell of gorse fills the air.  Last night's frost (or last week's rain and gales) has released the scent strongly.  A buzzard spirals upwards only to be harried by two gulls who drive him off course.

There's a sense of the year turning.  Now it's time for my annual task of providing my subjective, opinionated, biased list of twelve books you must read.  These are chosen from the poetry books I have read over the past year.  Here they are in true list-maker's fashion - alphabetical order by author.

Wendell Berry The Peace of Wild Things (Penguin 2018).  A wide selection of American rural poetry by the environmental activist and writer, Wendell Berry.

Moya Cannon Donegal Tarantella (Carcanet 2019).  The latest (and very impressive) collection from an Irish writer who has that gift of poetic alchemy to turn ordinary life into something magical.  The poems are perfectly pitched and show that you don't have to have exotic subjects for poems to fly!

Nick Drake Farewell Glacier (Bloodaxe 2012).  Nick Drake travelled to the Arctic to explore climate change on the 2010 Cape Farewell expedition.  The resultant poems are in the voices of previous explorers and in non-human voices (eg, mercury, DDT, polychlorinated biphenyl, pteropods).  This book is one of so many climate-change wake-up calls - 10 years on from the expedition what are we doing about it?

Rebecca Goss Girl (Carcanet 2019).  A most accomplished collection - I particularly enjoyed the ekphrastic poems responding to Alison Watt's paintings. 'The poems interrogate and celebrate female identity and eperience, and the dynamics of family and friendship' (back cover blurb).

Mimi Khalvati Afterwardness (Carcanet 2019).  There is a personal dislocation at the heart of Iranian-born Mimi Khalvati's experience, a sense of loss - of people,  language and culture.  Perhaps this is what has driven her into poetry.  Her latest collection consists of 55 beautifully crafted sonnets.

Zaffar Kunial Us (Faber and Faber 2018).  Zaffar Kunial was poet-in-residence at Grasmere when he was just starting out on his poetic career.  This is his first full collection.  Thoughtful, detailed poems, influenced by his upbringing (English and Kashmiri parents) in the Midlands.

L Kiew The Unquiet (Offord Road Books 2019).  An excellent debut poetry pamphlet from a gifted Chinese-Malay writer.  The back blurb describes the poems as being written out of 'the possibilities in the transcultural experience.'  I especially liked the poems which explore the interface between languages.

J O Morgan The Assurances (Cape Poetry 2018).  A worthy winner of the Costa Poetry Prize 2018.  Wow, this powerful book blew me away!  A very serious theme  - the Cold War, the nuclear stalemate, 'the deterrent that is still in place today'.  The scarily close balance between two sides who could blow us to kingdom come.  A variety of forms, using repetions, variations, fragments.

Paul Muldoon Frolic and Detour (Faber and Faber 2019).  Another example of Paul Muldoon's virtuosity with words and ideas - he tosses them up in the air, juggles them and then catches them back in perfect order.  I admire his amazing abiltiy to handle several parallel themes in one poem.

Mary O'Malley Playing the Octopus (Carcanet 2016) - intelligent, musical, moving poems by one of Ireland's finest poets.  A rich volume with a wonderful sweep of subject matter and allusion.

Jeremy Over Fur Coats in Tahiti (Carcanet 2019) - playful, surreal, perplexing. It was a privilege to be a member of the Cumbrian Poets workshop with Jeremy.  His poems never let you fall asleep!  And if you're puzzled by the multiple and apparently random occurence of the letter O (p73-84) read Jeremy's 'Kenneth Koch Uncorked' on the Carcanet blog.

Sheenagh Pugh Afternoons go Nowhere (Seren 2019).  Interesting subjects, accessible language, eminently re-readable.  I liked the historical poems, the Shetland poems - in fact I liked the lot.  No nonsense.

Now read on!
(Scroll down the right hand column to see the list)

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