Monday, 4 January 2021



 or, as many of us are saying at the moment, a better new year.

I look at the pristine calendar and the blank diary and realise I need to change my annual list of 12 Poetry Books You Must Read.  This time it's a baker's dozen and as usual it's a biased, subjective, opinionated list selected from the poetry I've read over the last year.  Scroll down the right hand column and you will find the list after Recently Published.

Here's a brief summary of each book:

Jean Atkin How Time is in Fields (Indigo Dreams 2019)
Vivid, imaginative poems, a kind of (Welsh Borders) pastoral without the clichés.  Jean Atkin can take something quite ordinary - say walking through a field - and transform it.  The collection is interspersed with Almanack poems based on Old English months.  There's a lovely spacious structure to her experimental forms.

Jan Baeke Bigger than the Facts (Arc 2020), translated by Antoinette Fawcett (parallel Dutch/English edition)
My translation choice.  At first reading I found mysef in a fragmented surreal world.  On re-reading I recognised the recurring motifs - animals (dog, canary), hotel, cigarettes, violence (?war/revolution) which gathered momentum through the poem.  'An intriguing filmic world in which tensions are rife and nothing is quite what it seems' (cover).

Elizabeth Burns Held (Polygon 2010)
I first encountered Elizabeth Burns' poetry displayed on a huge canvas over a building site in Canongate, Edinburgh.  Sadly the poet died in 2015 but her work lives on. 'Poems of painterly clarity, graced by flawless crafstmanship and beauty of language' (Stewart Conn).

Tim Cresswell Plastiglomerate (Penned in the Margins 2020) 
Bang up to date, hard-hitting environmental poetry in a very economical style.  Utterly relevant - would that it were not so.

Jonathan Davidson A Commonplace (Smith/Doorstop 2020)
Jonathan Davidson intersperses his own poems with other people's poems that he admires.  And he writes about them.  And he has a sense of humour.  A refreshing change from the strait-laced format of some collections.

Matthew Francis Wing (Faber and Faber 2020)
The joy of living things.  Brilliantly inventive - and fun!  Francis is a master of syllabic form.  I loved the first poem, 'Longhouse Autumn' (having once stayed in just such a Welsh longhouse).  The collection includes a Basho-inspired double column poem and a section, 'Micrographia', after the 1665 scientific treatise by Robert Hook.  Gorgeous dust cover filled with colourful butterflies and moths - but did Faber have to make the book hard-back?  

John Greening The Silence (Carcanet 2019)
Why haven't I discovered this poet before?  These intelligent, finely-crafted poems are food for the mind and the heart.  I sometimes had to google (that's fine because my reading was enhanced).  I particularly liked 'Nebamun's Tomb' , 'Two Roads' and 'The Silence'.  The last is the long title poem about the composer Sibelius's thirty years of silence. 

Alison Lock Lure (Calder Valley Poetry 2020)
A sudden near-fatal accident and its aftermath prompted this sequence of poems which are forensic, lyrical, thoughtful and brave.  Beautifully produced by an admirable small press which deserves more recognition.

Kei Miller In Nearby Bushes (Carcanet 2019)
A powerful collection divided into three parts: I 'Here' (Jamaica), II 'Sometimes I consider the naming of places' (prose poems - my favourite section) and III 'In nearby bushes' (deals with s shocking level of violence in Jamaica through experimental text).  Displacement, colonialisation and slavery are important themes.

Ruth Padel Beethoven Variations: Poems on a Life (Chatto and Windus 2020).  It's great to see a collection of poems on classical music published to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth.  1770?  It seems incredible - Beethoven's music does not date.

Katrina Porteous Edge (Bloodaxe 2019)
In this collaboration with scientists Katrina Porteous grapples with some very big ideas in poems which are lively, lyrical and original.  Detailed notes explain the scientific principles behind the poems.  More about this book on my blog post of 15 Februrary 2020 ('What poetry would you recommend to a scientist?').

Vidyan Ravinthiran The Million-Petalled Flower of Being Here (Bloodaxe 2019)
In Vidyan Ravinthiran's poems the sonnet form is malleable as clay and as capable of making something uniquely beautiful. 98 sonnets of love and vulnerability.

Dilys Rose Stone the Crows (Mariscat 2020)
Read the title poem in the spirit of a Tom and Gerry cartoon and you'll get the idea.  This pamphlet of sharp, witty, polished poems are rounded off with 'The Unemployable Poem' (in case anyone tries to tell you what a poem is for).  Mariscat's graphic design is impeccable - as always.

By now I hope you've discovered - you can have the convenience of buying books on-line through and know that the profits will go to independent bookshops (you can either choose your own or let the profits be distributed from the general pot).  There are a couple of snags - not all bookshops have signed up (though looking at the map it seems that the majority have) and some small presses (including some poetry presses) do not operate through Gardners' wholesalers who supply the books.  But a new David taking on the Goliath of Amazon (or at least the bookselling part of it) is welcome news for independent bookshops which have been decimated in recent years. 

For postal borrowing try the Scottish Poetry Library.


  1. Thank you, Mary, for your baker's dozen. I have added several to my 'must read' list as a result. I tried to find out about payment for purchases on (which I would like to use). Is it the usual card/PayPal etc., do you know, please?

  2. Some great titles here, and I'm honoured to see 'Lure' on the list, and very pleased that Calder Valley Poetry gets a mention too.

  3. Thank you for your message, Caroline, and for reading my blog. Yes, you pay for books from in the normal way for online purchases. I use a card but I'm 99% sure they do paypal. As I mentioned in the blog post some books published by small publishers are not listed on - in which case just go to the publisher's website and buy directly. Enjoy your reading.

  4. Thank you, Alison. I'm very happy to include 'Lure' on my list.