This epoch-marking anthology presents a map of poetry from Britain and Ireland which readers can follow. You will not get lost here as in other anthologies – with their vast lists of poets summoned up to serve a critic’s argument or to illustrate a journalistic overview. Instead, Edna Longley shows you the key poets of the century, and through interlinking commentary points up the connections between them as well as their relationship with the continuing poetic traditions of these islands.
The anthology covers the work of 70 poets: Thomas Hardy, W.B. Yeats, Edward Thomas, D.H. Lawrence, Siegfried Sassoon, Edwin Muir, T.S. Eliot, Ivor Gurney, Isaac Rosenberg, Hugh MacDiarmid, Wilfred Owen, Charles Hamilton Sorley, Robert Graves, Austin Clarke, Basil Bunting, Stevie Smith, Patrick Kavanagh, Norman Cameron, William Empson, W.H. Auden, Louis MacNeice, John Hewitt, Robert Garioch, Norman MacCaig, R.S. Thomas, Henry Reed, Dylan Thomas, Alun Lewis, W.S. Graham, Keith Douglas, Edwin Morgan, Philip Larkin, Ian Hamilton Finlay, John Montague, Thom Gunn, Ted Hughes, Geoffrey Hill, Sylvia Plath, Fleur Adcock, Tony Harrison, Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Derek Mahon, Douglas Dunn, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Paul Durcan, Tom Leonard, Carol Rumens, Selima Hill, Ciaran Carson, James Fenton, Medbh McGuckian, Paul Muldoon, Jo Shapcott, Ian Duhig, Carol Ann Duffy, Kathleen Jamie, Simon Armitage and Don Paterson.
In 2013, Leanne O’Sullivan’s husband Andrew suffered a severe infection in his brain. He spent just over three weeks in a coma, during which time his temperature soared to 42 degrees. When he finally woke it immediately became clear that his memory had been almost completely destroyed; he didn’t even know his wife. More present and visual to him were the birds and wild animals that he believed he could see during his recovery: foxes, wildcats and herons – animals that seemed to be guiding him back.
This became the starting point for poems that deal not simply with personal memory and recovery, but also the ways in which, collectively, even globally, we are trying (or not) to save entire species of plants and animals that we are now actually losing because of human activity. Nature has a voice that can speak back. This is a collection that celebrates the earth’s intoxicating wildness as well as the richness and preciousness of human experience. Overall, we can rejoice in the fact that we’re here, whatever the challenges.
Winner of the inaugural Farmgate Café National Poetry Award 2019
Shortlisted for the Irish Times Poetry Now Award 2019 and for the Pigott Poetry Prize 2019 in association with Listowel Writers’ Week
Shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry Prize for First Collection 2018
Runner-up for the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award 2016
Miriam Nash spent her early years on the Isle of Erraid, West Scotland, where Robert Louis Stevenson’s family once worked as lighthouse engineers. Voices of the island echo through her first collection, All the Prayers in the House, which holds at its heart, the rupture and re-imagining of a family. Bold, honest, playful and inventive, the collection travels far from its coastal beginnings, crossing the Atlantic, visiting a women’s prison and a 17th-century ladies dictionary. Here are poems of ritual and transgression, safety and danger. They take the form of songs, letters, fragments, formal verse many kinds of prayer perhaps, for many kinds of storm.
Are we corrupt or innocent, fragmented or whole? Are responsibility and freedom irreconcilable? Do we value memory or succumb to our forgetfulness? Application for Release from the Dream, Tony Hoagland’s fifth collection of poems, pursues these questions with the fierce abandon of one who needs to know how a citizen of 21st-century America can stay human. With whiplash nerve and tender curiosity, Hoagland surveys the damage and finds the wonder that makes living worthwhile. Mirthful, fearless, and precise, these poems are full of judgment and mercy. Tony Hoagland’s poems poke and provoke at the same time as they entertain and delight. He is American poetry’s hilarious ‘high priest of irony’, a wisecracker and a risk-taker whose disarming humour, self-scathing and tenderness are all fuelled by an aggressive moral intelligence. He pushes the poem not just to its limits but over the edge.
Assembly Lines asks what it means to be here and now, in post-industrial towns and cities of the heartlands that are forever on the periphery. From schools and workplaces and lives lived in ‘a different town, just like this’, these poems take a historical perspective on the present day from the ground upwards – whether the geological strata that underpins a ‘dithering island’ or the ever-moving turf under a racehorses’ hooves. This is a new Midlands realism, precision-engineered, which seeks wonderment in unlikely places. By turns both fierce and tender, the poems in Jane Commane’s first book-length collection re-assemble the landscape, offer up an alternative national curriculum and find ghosts and strange magic in the machinery of the everyday. Between disappearances and reformations, the natural and the man-made, the lines are drawn; you might try to leave your hometown, but it will never leave you.
The body is the ‘bad machine’ of George Szirtes’ latest book of poems. The sudden death of his elderly father and of his younger friend, the poet Michael Murphy, remind him how machines – sources of energy and delight in their prime – go so easily wrong; and that change in the body is a signal for moving on. But language too is a body. Here, politics, assimilation, desire, creatureliness and the pleasure and loss of the body, mingle in various attenuated forms such as lexicon, canzone, acrostics, mirror poems, postcards, and a series of ‘minimenta’ after Anselm Kiefer whose love of history as rubble and monument haunts this collection. George Szirtes is one of our most inventive – and constantly reinventing – poets, and Bad Machine shows him developing new themes and new ways of writing in poems which stretch the possibilities of form and question language and its mastery.
‘Being Alive’ is the sequel to ‘Staying Alive’, which became Britain’s most popular poetry book because it gave readers hundreds of thoughtful and passionate poems about living in the modern world. Now he has assembled this equally lively companion anthology for all those readers who’ve wanted more poems that touch the heart, stir the mind and fire the spirit. ‘Being Alive’ is about being human: about love and loss, fear and longing, hurt and wonder. ‘Staying Alive’ didn’t just reach a broader readership, it introduced thousands of new readers to contemporary poetry, giving them an international gathering of poems of great personal force, poems with emotional power, intellectual edge and playful wit. It also brought many readers back to poetry, people who hadn’t read poetry for years because it hadn’t held their interest. ‘Being Alive’ gives readers an even wider selection of vivid, brilliantly diverse contemporary poetry from around the world. A third companion anthology, ‘Being Human’ (2011), completes this modern poetry trilogy.
Moniza Alvi’s new book is unified by birds. Her creations ‘Motherbird’ and ‘Fatherbird’ are inspired by her parents, and by the loss of her father and by his emigration from Pakistan. Among the many bird-related poems are versions of the French poets Jules Supervielle and Saint-John Perse, and poems ‘after’ the paintings of the Spanish-Mexican surrealist artist Remedios Varo. Blackbird, Bye Bye is Moniza Alvi’s first new poetry book since her T.S. Eliot Prize-shortlisted collection At the Time of Partition, published in 2013.
John Hartley Williams’s Canada explores a country of the mind, where whatever mania comes to mind becomes its own reality, and writing happens automatically. In Canada, poems arrive out of the ether like the fabled, lantern-jawed Mountie coming to the rescue out of nowhere. Others are on their way back into the ether, transmissions from the brain of an uneasy redman. These are poems which make you feel like the hairs on a pony’s neck. Canada opens in the backwoods of autobiography and narrative, then reports crisply on the alarums of sex and desire. After crossing the frontier, a final coda blows innocence off the map for good and all. Shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize 1997.
Choman Hardi’s Considering the Women explores the equivocal relationship between immigrants and their homeland – the constant push and pull – as well as the breakdown of an intermarriage, and the plight of women in an aggressive patriarchal society and as survivors of political violence. The book’s central sequence, Anfal, draws on Choman Hardi’s post-doctoral research on women survivors of genocide in Kurdistan. The stories of eleven survivors (nine women, an elderly man and a boy child) are framed by the radically shifting voice of the researcher: naïve and matter-of-fact at the start; grieved, abstracted and confused by the end. Knowledge has a noxious effect in this book, destroying the poet’s earlier optimistic sense of self and replacing it with a darker identity where she is ready for ‘all the good people in the world to disappoint her’. Hardi’s second collection in English ends with a new beginning found in new love and in taking time off from the journey of traumatic discovery to enjoy the small, ordinary things of life. ‘The courage of this book – her refusal to to be daunted by the context of its cataclysmic scale – is impossible to ignore and perhaps the book’s principal driving force. Such fortitude is at its most tangible in the book’s focal sequence, Anfal… The horror of the subject matter is counterbalanced by the humility of her poems. Humility is a rare commodity among poets but Hardi, in her economy of utterance, yields not an inch to the showy, exploitative or sensational. The language is trimmed back, its wings clipped, its phrase-making curfewed… genocide requires its own poetry of witness, but also the sort of plain speaking integrity which inheres in Considering the Women… Choman Hardi is no tourist poet, or well meaning writer in residence in a women’s prison: she is chronicler of catastrophe, and gives up all her talent to the subject, all her tact; it feels like an act of sacrifice.’ – Tim Liardet & John Burnside, Poetry Book Society Bulletin ‘Another contender for this year’s Forward poetry prize, Kurdish writer and translator Choman Hardi’s collection Considering the Women explores the eternal push and pull relationship between immigrants and their homeland(s), as well as considers the plight of women in a patriarchal society and as survivors of political violence. An important voice now more than ever, Hardi brings us closer to the experiences of those for whom we all too often assume to speak.’ – The Skinny (Best Summer Reads) ‘At a time when the British media is full of the terrible results of events in the Middle East… Choman Hardi’s poetry puts us directly among the people living and suffering through it all, hearing their voices and sharing their experiences….There are any number of places in the school curriculum where this poetry would prove illuminating, and it really should be read.’ – Frank Startup, The School Librarian ‘Considering the Women is impressive in the sense that it leaves its dent upon the reader. I came away from my first reading dizzied, imbalanced and ashamed in a way which I have not felt since first encountering the work of Primo Levi. The collection delivers snatched fragments of the Kurdish story to an Anglophone audience and enacts the uncomfortable yoking of an adopted nationality with fading memories of a crumbling homeland. The grainy footage of barren Middle-Eastern landscapes which make cameos in UK news reports are hereby superseded, through Hardi, by the unflinching force of human testimony.’ – Phil Brown, The Huffington Post
Doris Kareva is one of Estonia’s leading poets, admired especially for poems that balance precision and control with passion and bravado. Her achievement, according to Estonian Literature, is in writing poems which are both ‘plentiful and fragile like a crystal… balancing on the line between the human soul and the universe, between sound and silence’. Days of Grace spans over forty years of her poetic output, showing how the sustained depth and clarity of her poetry lies in her ability to create ambiguity and suggest harmony at the same time, with a multiplicity of meanings generating the opposite of clarity: a form of hinting which at its most illuminating becomes utterly oracle-like. Such is the metaphysical sensitivity of her poetry that its moral charge is sensed almost physically. She has also been called ‘a priestess of love’ who is fearless as well as discreet in her portrayal of love that is so ‘pure and elevating like mountain air’ that she seems to be writing from another time or dimension.
New York meets New Yorkshire in Geoff Hattersley’s slyly funny poems. Their apparent simplicity belies a shrewd intelligence as much in tune with larger events as with the daily happenings which seem to form their subject. His reading of many other poets, especially contemporary American writers, has produced not show-off quoting, but tonal balance and a subtle, streetwise style.
These poems are luminous despatches from the charged, porous boundary between “animal” and “human”. They pull apart and remake definitions and categorisations of wildness and civilisation, training their focus on the language we use to describe youth, social class, and the body. From iron horses to grizzly bears, from deep-water fish to scanderoons, Feral roams the limits of power, language, and love. Cinematic, playful, edgy, tender, startlingly imaginative and strange, Feral’s voices carve out a space in the borderlands. Kate Potts’ Whichever Music was a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice in 2008 and shortlisted for a Michael Marks Award. Her first book-length collection, Pure Hustle, was published by Bloodaxe in 2011. Feral is her second collection and is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. ‘Intricate, vital-tender, dazzling work – Potts’ poetry sings even as it bares its teeth.” – Eley Williams on Feral
The territory of Clare Shaw’s third collection isn’t one she chose herself, but one which chose her: the flooded valley and the ruined home. The 2015 floods in Britain left whole swathes of the country submerged, including her home town. Flood offers an eye-witness account of those events, from rainfall to rescue, but ripples out from there. Intimately interwoven with the breakdown of a relationship, flooding serves as a powerful metaphor for wider experiences of loss, destruction and recovery. Testifying equally to the forces that destroy us and save us, flood runs through the book in different forms – bereavement and trauma, the Savile scandal, life in an asylum. Yet ultimately, this is a story of one life as it is unravelled and rebuilt, written from the heart and from the North, in a language as dangerous and sustaining as water.
W.S. Merwin was arguably the most influential American poet of the last half-century – an artist who transfigured and reinvigorated the vision of poetry for our time. An essential voice in modern American literature, he was United States Poet Laureate in 2010-11. This final collection, written in his late-80s, finds him deeply immersed in reflection on the passage of time and the frailty and sustaining power of memory. Switching between past and present, he shows us a powerful and moving vision of the eternal, focusing on images of mornings, sunsets, shifting seasons, stars, birds and insects to capture the connectedness of time, space and the natural world. In a poem about Li Po, ‘now there is only the river / that was always on its own way’. In another poem he dreams that ‘the same river is still here / the house is the old house and I am here in the morning / in the sunlight and the same bird is singing’. He remembers when ‘dragonflies were as common as sunlight / hovering in their own days’ and recalls ‘a house that had been left to its own silence / for half a century’. In a poem of wonder entitled ‘Variations to the Accompaniment of a Cloud’, he writes: ‘I keep looking for what has always been mine / searching for it even as I / think of leaving it.’
‘Geis’ is a word from Irish mythology meaning a supernatural taboo or injunction on behaviour. In her long-awaited third collection, Caitríona O’Reilly examines the ‘geis’ in all of its psychological, emotional, and moral suggestiveness: exploring the prohibitions and compulsions under which we sometimes place ourselves, or find ourselves placed. In poems that range from the searingly personal to the more playfully abstract and philosophical, O’Reilly’s characteristic imaginative range and linguistic verve are everywhere in evidence. These are poems that question our sometimes tenuous links with the world, with others, and even with ourselves, but which ultimately celebrate the richness of experience and the power of language to affirm it.
Geis is Caitríona O’Reilly’s third collection. It won the Irish Times Poetry Now Award 2016, and was shortlisted for the Pigott Poetry Prize. It follows her critically acclaimed earlier books, The Nowhere Birds (2001), shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and winner of the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, and The Sea Cabinet (2006), a Poetry Book Society Recommendation which was also shortlisted for the Irish Times Poetry Now Award.
Grace Nichols’ poetry has a gritty lyricism that addresses the transatlantic connections central to the Caribbean-British experience. Her work brings a mythic awareness and a sensuous musicality that is at the same time disquieting. Born and educated in Guyana, Grace Nichols moved to Britain in 1977.” I Have Crossed an Ocean” is a comprehensive selection spanning some 25 years of her writing
Thirty poets from around the world read to you in person… This is a new concept in publishing: your own personal poetry festival brought into your home. Each poet reads to you for about ten minutes – up to half a dozen poems chosen from across the range of their work. IN PERSON is a collaboration between Bloodaxe Books and award-winning film-maker Pamela Robertson-Pearce. Her style of filming combines directness and simplicity, sensitivity and warmth – the perfect combination for these intimate readings. It is as if the poet were sitting in the room with you, reading just to you, and sometimes saying a few things about the poems. Apart from one recording taken from a live public performance, all the films present informal, one-to-one readings. They enhance your appreciation of the poetry. You hear how the poems sound; you see how the poets read and present their work. T.S. Eliot once described poetry as “one person talking to another”, while W.H. Auden believed it was essential to hear poetry read aloud, for “no poem, which when mastered, is not better heard than read is good poetry”. IN PERSON presents the oral art of poetry in that spirit. There are four hours of readings on two DVDs pouched inside the back cover, and all the poems are printed in the book. IN PERSON celebrates 30 years of poetry from a pioneering press. Founded in 1978, Bloodaxe has published nearly a thousand titles by three hundred writers. Until now you wouldn’t be able to see or hear readings by many of Bloodaxe’s international range of poets. In Person makes that possible for the first time, presenting readings by 30 essential voices from Britain, Ireland, America, Spain, Hungary, Palestine, Pakistan, China, New Zealand and the Caribbean. Four out of the 30 short films present the poets’ work bilingually. Menna Elfyn’s reading alternates between her Welsh poems and their English translations. Joan Margarit reads in Catalan in tandem with his translator Anna Crowe reading her English translations. Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali reads in Arabic and then re-inhabits each poem as it is read in English by his translator Peter Cole. Yang Lian introduces his work in English, and reads the poems in Chinese. The anthology presents all their poems in both languages in a parallel-text format, enabling you to follow either language as the poems are read on the film. All the other readings are in English only, and in many varieties of English which will add greatly to your enjoyment and appreciation of the poetry: not just poems read in Scottish, Welsh and Irish English by Jackie Kay, W.N. Herbert, Gwyneth Lewis, Brendan Kennelly and Micheal O’Siadhail, but also George Szirtes’ Hungarian-inflected English, Benjamin Zephaniah’s melding of Jamaican and Birmingham, and the Caribbean lilt of John Agard and James Berry. The musical range of American voices is just as diverse, ranging from urban Detroit (Philip Levine) to the Ozark Mountains (C.D. Wright). There’s also a “bonus track”: a short film of Bloodaxe s first poet, Ken Smith, made by Ivor Bowen just before Ken’s untimely death. IN PERSON includes filmed readings by: Fleur Adcock, John Agard, Elizabeth Alexander, James Berry, David Constantine, Imtiaz Dharker, Maura Dooley, Helen Dunmore, Menna Elfyn, W.N. Herbert, Selima Hill, Jane Hirshfield, Jackie Kay, Brendan Kennelly, Galway Kinnell, Philip Levine, Gwyneth Lewis, Joan Margarit, Adrian Mitchell, Taha Muhammad Ali, Naomi Shihab Nye, Micheal O Siadhail, Peter Reading, Penelope Shuttle, Ken Smith, Anne Stevenson, George Szirtes, C.K. Williams, C.D. Wright, Yang Lian and Benjamin Zephaniah.
A new child should mean new hope. But what if that’s no longer so? Ailbhe Darcy’s second collection unfolds in an intimate world, in which the words home and love dominate. But the private world is threatened by a public one. Written in the American Rust Belt, in an era of climate change and upheaval, Insistence takes stock of the parent’s responsibility to her child, the poet’s responsibility to the reader, and the vulnerability of the person in the face of global crisis. In a long poem, Darcy revisits Inger Christensen’s 1981 Alphabet, a work which expresses the heart-sickening persistence and proliferation of beauty after Hiroshima. In Darcy’s ‘Alphabet’, the spiralling form takes over, insisting on hope. But this is a doubtful sort of hope: hope for life on earth, not necessarily human life. Stink bugs work their way across America, cockroaches waltz, and quixotically-named mushrooms rise from the earth in this flirtatious but volatile collection. Described by David Wheatley as `boldly overhauling the received categories of the Irish poem’ with ‘cunning and humour’, Ailbhe Darcy’s poems interrogate cosmopolitanism as much as they do rootedness, love as much as grief.
Shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre First Collection Poetry Prize 2019
Shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2018
Jinx: a ruinous charm, a quickdraw curse, a knight’s move. Abigail Parry’s first collection is concerned with spells, and ersatz spells: with semblance and sleight-of-hand. It takes its formal cues from moth-camouflage and stage magic, from the mirror-maze and the masquerade, and from high-stakes games of poker. Jinx asks about the equivocal nature of artifice, and the real mischief that underwrites the trick. The poems deal in forms of influence: in seduction and persuasion, infatuation and obsession. They want to talk about what we submit to, and what we are compelled by.
Imtiaz Dharker was born in Pakistan, grew up a Muslim Calvinist in a Lahori household in Glasgow, was adopted by India and married into Wales. Her main themes are drawn from a life of transitions: childhood, exile, journeying, home, displacement, religious strife and terror, and latterly, grief. She is also an accomplished artist, and all her collections are illustrated with her drawings, which form an integral part of her books. Luck is the Hook is her sixth book from Bloodaxe. In these poems, chance plays a part in finding or losing people and places that are loved: a change in the weather, a trick of language, a bomb that misses its mark, six pomegranate seeds eaten by mistake; all these events cast long shadows and raise questions about who is recording them, about believing, not believing, wanting to believe. A knot undone at Loch Lomond snags over Glasgow, a seal swims in the Clyde, a ghost stalks her quarry at a stepped well, an elephant and a cathedral come face to face on the frozen Thames, a return ticket is thrown into the tide of Humber, strangers wash in. Even in an uncertain world, love tangles with luck, flights show up on the radar and technology keeps track of desire. Imtiaz Dharker was awarded the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry 2014 for her fifth collection Over the Moon and for her services to poetry.
Mama Amazonica is set in a psychiatric ward and in the Amazon rainforest, an asylum for animals on the brink of extinction. It reveals the story of Pascale Petit’s mentally ill mother and the consequences of abuse. The mother transforms into a giant Victoria amazonica waterlily, and a bestiary of untameable creatures – a jaguar girl, a wolverine, a hummingbird – as she marries her rapist and gives birth to his children. From heartbreaking trauma, there emerge luxuriant and tender portraits of a woman battling for survival, in poems that echo the plight of others under duress, and of our companion species. Petit does not flinch from the violence but offers hope by celebrating the beauty of the wild, whether in the mind or the natural world. Mama Amazonica is Pascale Petit’s seventh collection, and her first from Bloodaxe. It was the Poetry Book Society Choice for autumn 2017 and was shortlisted for the Roehampton Poetry Prize 2018. It won the RSL Ondaatje Prize 2018, a prize for works of fiction, non-fiction or poetry best evoking the spirit of a place – the first poetry title in the prize’s 15-year history to win the award.
Matthew Sweeney’s palette in My Life as a Painter – his twelfth collection – features a wild mix of birds and animals: lizards, snakes, rats, camels, donkeys, feral cats, dogs and owls. One dog transmits telepathic requests for the food he wants, and there’s a parrot who speaks as ambassador for the bird world. Sweeney’s canvas here is the transhuman: where boundaries between human and non-human can’t be fixed, dreams turn into torments, secrets stay hidden, strange communiques remain unclear, and the natural weirdness of his native Donegal verges on the surreal. There are poems ostensibly about art, artists and filmmaking which are as much portraits of the poet and the difficulties of writing poetry. Other poems offer oblique perspectives on religion, warfare, migration and displacement; or go off at a tangent to explore the imaginative possibilities of everything from Michigan’s Mullett Lake and the geysers of Iceland to rope-ladders, tin-mines, a giant blue cabbage and an old thrown-out Christmas tree.
Albania’s Luljeta Lleshanaku grew up in negative space, living under family house arrest during the years of Enver Hoxha’s autocratic communist rule. Her recent poems are a response to what was missing then, not only in her life but for her whole generation, evoking absences, emptiness what was unseen, unspoken or undone through the concept of negative space. The space around objects, not the objects themselves, becomes the real, most significant part of an image, bringing balance to the whole of a composition, so enabling Lleshanaku to look back at the reality of her Albanian past and give voice to those who could not speak for themselves. Many of the poems are tied to no specific place or time. Histories intertwine and stories are re-framed, as in her long poem ‘Homo Antarcticus’, which traces the fate of an inspirational explorer who could adapt to months of near-starvation in sub-zero Antarctica but not to later life back in civilisation, one of a number of poems in the book relating to society’s pressure on the individual. Sorrow and death, love and desire, imprisonment and disappointment are all themes that echo deeply in Lleshanaku’s hauntingly beautiful poems. Translated by Ani Gjika, Negative Space draws on two recent collections published in Albania, Almost Yesterday (2012) and Homo Antarcticus (2015). Ani Gjika’s translation from the Albanian is on the Griffin Poetry Prize 2019 International shortlist. Negative Space follows Haywire: New & Selected Poems, Luljeta Lleshanaku’s first UK selection published by Bloodaxe in 2011, a Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation which was shortlisted for the Corneliu M. Popescu Prize in 2013.
New York meets New Yorkshire in Geoff Hattersley’s slyly funny poems. Their apparent simplicity belies a shrewd intelligence as much in tune with larger events as with the daily happenings which seem to form their subject. His poetic allegiances are mainly with contemporary American writers, but his territory is the human condition as seen from Yorkshire, as well as – in this new collection – the frontier society of a kibbutz in Israel. He is a poet of people, despairing but cheeky into the bargain, melancholic with a comic edge.
‘If it weren’t sacrilege, I’d call Brendan Cleary the fallen Messiah, a troublesome, tormented prophet showing us the way through the fragmented wilderness that is the modern city, staggering through the disintegrating concrete jungle with his kindred dispossessed. He’s the urban cowboy of broken hearts, and he shoots from the lip. His Irish Card was a tearful and brilliant testament of estrangement and exile. Sacrilege finds him in the last chance saloon of inner exile, firing off irreverent messages to anyone who’ll listen: obsessed and obsessive, bleak but almost blissful in a manic fashion, scathing yet giving himself the same lashing as anyone else within tongue-reach. The Cleary of Sacrilege is a word-brawler looking for one of Miss Magdalene’s lost girls to save him from the cross of his own fear. Sacrilege is the gospel of the city according to Cleary, the four books of Goin’ Down Slow, Radioland, Sad Movies and The New Rock ‘n’ Roll. If poetry is the new rock ‘n’ roll, then Cleary is the mouthy member of the band, giving it all he’s got on stage with Sacrilege before smashing up his heart in the hotel-room. He’s the one who’ll get us all bust.’ – Harry Novak
So Many Moving Parts, Tiffany Atkinson’s third collection, is an eccentric 21st-century meditation on the awkwardness of body and spirit and their unexpected, often unwanted intrusions into the business of everyday life. Lyrical and experimental by turns, these poems push familiar events – commuting, telephones, babysitting, foreign travel – to open out toward unanswerable questions and elemental connections with an unstable physical world. A cast of real people observed over a year reveal momentary dramas as in a series of sketches, and the poet turns an ironic, unflinching eye on her own generation’s transition from youth to middle age. Bold, wishful, ambivalent, sometimes even grudgingly affectionate, the collection is a spiky celebration of the almost invisible revelations that insist when you only look closely enough.
The landscape of Polly Clark’s “Take Me with You” is strange and dangerous, her narrators searching for answers to questions about the nature of human attachment and longing. Her acclaimed first book, “Kiss”, took the reader on a journey into the self. In this new collection, the journey turns outwards and explores the ways in which we connect with others and the wider world. Polly Clark’s characters speak in many voices, both animal and human, bringing into focus the moments when we are most alive, and most alone. The poems are unsettling even as they are compelling, taking the reader from the last performance of a virtuoso octopus, to the dizzying industry of a Chinese city, to the vast and lonely seascapes of the Scottish coast.
For the past 50 years, Mircea Dinescu has been one of Romanian poetry’s most provocative and obstinately singular poets. After starting out as a writer of highly musical poetry that he spun round in his fingers with the aplomb of a magician who refuted reality, he ended up stuck in free verse, impelled mainly because of the surrealism of a world in which the label and the content of any box seldom matched. After his first gratuitous exercises when he was 22 and striving to commit himself to love poetry, he was surprised to discover that he had created a poetry of sly political allusion. He was like that communist worker employed in a factory producing bicycle parts who, stealing a tiny wheel one day, a few nuts and bolts on another, a gear, then taking home a chain and a length of pipe, until finally realising to his amazement that however he assembled these parts, instead of a bicycle the result was a Russian machine gun. The dictator at whom Dinescu shot his metaphors was eventually shot with real bullets by his own henchmen. Unlike Dinescu, those men were able to see the difference between a bicycle and a machine gun: later on, disguising themselves as anti-communists, they pedalled their bicycles into the brave new consumer society. A quarter of a century and more since the fall of communism, Mircea Dinescu still hesitates to think of himself as witness, judge or defendant. Like an agile monkey, he jumps into and out of the handbook of literature, just as into and out of the handbook of history, where he is mentioned on page 16, in the chapter entitled Revolutions. In 1989, Dinescu was liberated from house arrest by a large crowd in Bucharest who carried him triumphantly to the national television building. There he announced to his country and the world, with actor Ion Caramitru, that the dictator had fled. The country changed almost overnight from communist to capitalist, but Dinescu carried on doing what he’d always done: writing necessary poems that challenge all systems.
Roddy Lumsden’s poems eavesdrop on a half urban, half surreal world of ladies’ men and misfits, trying on roles and acting out fantasies. His second collection The Book of Love is a celebration of love in all its delightful perversity, whose characters include a randy actor, a vinegar addict and couples courting in the filing cupboard and covered with marmalade. As voyeurs sneak into one poem, naturists streak across another and there is the inevitable lurking presence of the poet’s own (rich but square) alter ago. These snappy, witty poems leave tantalising echoes and reverberations that make you want to read them again and again. Now out of print in this edition, most of the poems were included in Mischief Night: New & Selected Poems (2004).
Virginia Astley has been a much admired songwriter and musician since the 1980s, known for her engaging lyrics as well as for her melodious style. Now her other two passions take centre stage in this book: poetry and the River Thames. She grew up by the river’s upper reaches, knew the old lock-keepers and was familiar with all aspects of the Thames and its hinterland: both the natural world and the people whose lives are intimately connected with the river. In recent years, she has returned to the Thames, working for a summer as an assistant lock-keeper, and walking its length to record and respond to its landscapes, river life and river folk as a poet and photographer. Her pamphlet The Curative Harp won Ireland’s Fool for Poetry chapbook competition in 2015 and was published by Southword. The English River is her first book-length poetry collection, showing many new sides to this multi-talented artist: as poet, nature writer, storyteller and photographer. The foreword is by Pete Townshend. ‘Virginia’s story is about the river and the people who work on it, especially those who man the locks. She captures a view of the upper reaches of the River Thames that is entirely fresh. There are glimpsed moments of the claustrophobic beauty of the wooded parts that contrast with the open expanses of uplifting countryside where the river meanders through woodland and farmland. Focussing on the professionals who work on the river, and who manage the locks and the flood plains around them, Virginia suggests – as she works as a lock-keeper’s assistant – that they become almost addicted to the peace and beauty of their place of work. She herself becomes enchanted, that is certain. She makes herself vulnerable in the most romantic way, working and writing and evoking everything she sees and feels as both a storyteller and poet, and as photographer.’ – Pete Townshend, musician
The textured language, vivid imagery and musical rhythms of Jane Clarke’s debut collection convey a distinctive voice and vision. With lyrical grace these poems contemplate shadow and sorrow as well as creativity and connection. The threat of loss is never far away but neither is delight in the natural world and what it offers. Rooted in rural life, this poet of poignant observation achieves restraint and containment while communicating intense emotions. The rivers that flow through the collection evoke the inevitability of change and our need to find again and again how to go on.