There were once more than a thousand men and boys worked at Brandon Pithouse in County Durham. Today the site of the colliery is a green wilderness. John Seed has set out to recover the lost and silent world of Durham pitmen in the company of Walter Benjamin, Sid Chaplin and Charles Reznikoff. Composed of fragments of recorded speech, parliamentary reports and newspapers, Brandon Pithouse is a book about the experience of labour about the pain and danger of working underground, about the damage to the human body and about the human relationships created in such conditions. It is a study in the attachments and distances which shape our relationships to place and time, the negotiations required to reconnect ourselves to a world that ceased to exist in the 1990s. It is a set of notes for an unmade Eisenstein film and a footnote to chapter 10 of the first volume of Marx s Capital. And like any history, it is a ghost story.
Don t Forget the Couscous is a book of poetry about exile and home, love and loss. It is a beautiful love-song to the Arab world Syria, Kurdistan, Morocco, Palestine and his native Aleppo. It is a memoir of the failed Arab Spring and the civil-war that has turned his native Syria into a fountain of blood. It s a bitter account of the demonization of Islam in the West, and the violent interference of the West in the Islamic world. It is about being a Muslim and not a terrorist. Amir Darwish draws on the magical-realism of Naguib Mahfouz, the social satire of Muhammad al-Maghut and the love poetry of Rumi to describe the experience of Islam in Europe from a Friday night dőner kebab after a good night out to a girl who has taken off the hijab in order to feel safe and a mosque with broken windows. It is a book about travel and love, and an apology on behalf of Muslims everywhere for having contributed nothing to the modern world except astronomy, coffee, clocks, algebra, falafels, apricots and dőner kebabs. And don t forget the couscous…
After the battle of Brunanburh, when Æthelstan’s army defeated an invading alliance of Scots, Irish, Britons and Norse, the Viking mercenary Egil Skallagrimsson extemporised a panegyric for the English and their king. Englaland is a stunning re-imagining of Skallagrimsson’s song, an unapologetic and paradoxical affirmation of a bloody, bloody-minded and bloody brilliant people. Danish huscarls, Falklands war heroes, pit-village bird-nesters, aging prize-fighters, flying pickets, jihadi suicide-bombers and singing yellowhammers parade through the book in an incendiary combination, rising to the challenge of the skald s affirmation: you are the people in the land; know you are the people; know it is your land.
Gerda Stevenson s long-awaited first full-length collection is filled with music skipping rhymes, piano, fiddle and dance music, laments and lullabies. She sings about butterflies, snowberries, aunts, teachers, Pentland rain, Sarajevo roses, graveyards, driftwood and the lost Eden of childhood; about wild weather, warm companionship and unmarked graves, about Bosnia, Iraq, Syria the Pyrenees and Scotland. If This Were Real is a kind of autobiography in verse, informed by intense relationships with places and people, by the personal and the political, by family life and the wider community in her native Scotland and beyond. Stevenson s experience as an actor and singer/song-writer is evident in the rhythmic sound structure of her writing these are poems that demand not just to be read, but to be performed, spot-lit lies, floodlit truths, and shadowed ambiguities / in our retellings of the world s old tales .
Steve Ely s new book takes its inspiration and its title from Incendium Amoris ( The Fire of Love ) by the fourteenth century saint and mystic Richard Rolle, the hermit of Hampole . The book offers a vision of pre-Reformation and post-industrial England through the eyes of the trespasser, the poacher, the recusant and the revolutionary, in solidarity with the swinish multitude against the landed power. Contesting language and landscape and addressing issues including carnality, class, scepticism and belief, Incendium Amoris is a peasant s revolt against the accelerating cultural, social and environmental devastations of globalising capital, a guerilla-pastoral prophecy of a yeoman-anarchist utopia.
657AD. Northumbria, one of the seven warring Anglo Saxon kingdoms, where Celtic Christianity, Roman Christianity, old pagan beliefs and magic clash. Oswin, a monk from the monastery of Herutea travels to Streonshalh bearing secret letters from the Abbess Hild. This means treading a path across a volatile wilderness where faith, history, myth and folklore intertwine to form the threads of the Wyrd. Written in a powerful mix of Old English, modern English and northern dialect forms, Leasungspell is a narrative epic poem about a pre-Modern world. It is a tale of twisting digressions, dreamscapes and stories within stories. It is also an anti-epic, a fool s yarn, the small tale of a nobody wandering alone through the Dark Ages.
‘Poetry can stick up for the weak’ according to Michael Rosen, or it can ‘mock the mighty’; it can ‘glorify our rulers or it can dissect them. You choose.’ In these powerful new poems Rosen is clear about his own choices. Listening to a Pogrom on the Radio is a book about anti-Semitism, racism, Fascism and war, Trump, le Pen, and the Tory assaults on the NHS and education the stupid and the sinister, the ridiculous and the revolting. In his first collection for grown-ups since Don t Mention the Children (2015), Michael Rosen confirms his reputation as the heir to Jacques Prevert, Ivor Cutler and Adrian Mitchell. Few poets writing today can move so effortlessly between childishness and childlike seriousness, or dare to ask, like the child in Hans Christian Andersen’s story, why the silly emperor is not wearing any clothes.
In this new translation by the distinguished Scottish poet Tom Leonard of Brecht’s great 1939 anti-war play Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder, Mother Courage is a working-class woman from the West of Scotland speaking the racy working-class nonstandard language of Glasgow. The rest of the cast speak varieties of English language subtly shaded for irony, accent and all the social hierarchies carried by diction and regional language in a land where diction is an index of class. Best known for his early poems in Glasgow dialect such as ‘The Six o’clock News’, Tom Leonard invests his translation with the arguments about language and politics that have run as a thread through all his work for almost fifty years. It is a play about the language of politics and the politics of language. As Leonard says, ‘the hero of this Mother Courage is the language itself, and it is an anti-hero. Only Kattrin is allowed in her final action to be a proper hero – and she is dumb.’
Shortlisted for the 2013 Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Oswald, King of Northumbria from 635 to 642 AD, was a warrior, evangelist, hunter, scholar, martyr and, most famously of all, main rival to George s claim to be patron saint of England. Oswald s Book of Hours is a series of elegies and eulogies for Oswald, written in the voices of an unlikely band of northern radicals, including union leader Arthur Scargill, hermit Richard Rolle, brigand John Nevison, Catholic rebel Robert Aske and Oswald himself. Brutal, provocative and thrillingly original, Oswald s Book of Hours is a pocket history of northern subversion and exile, going back before the Industrial Revolution, before the Reformation, before England even existed.
Martin Hayes’ new collection is a roar of frustrated rage and pain at the way we live and work in the twenty-first century. It’s a book about 11-hour shifts, sick-days, lay-offs, computer systems crashing and the joy of Friday afternoons. Dermot, Stacey, Shaq, Big Bri, Dexter the old-timer, Antoine, Mohammed, Jim the Letch and Harry the head supervisor work for Phoenix Express couriers, located somewhere ‘between Stockholm Street and Syndrome Way’, making money for other people and trying to make themselves heard above the roar of an economic system that ‘has us in its mouth and is shaking us about in its teeth’.
Every week for the last five years, award-winning cartoonist and writer Martin Rowson has been telling the story of World Literature in The Independent on Sunday. In limericks. With scrupulous regard to the rigours of the limerick form, Rowson has endeavoured to encapsulate humankind’s fascination with the written word in all its forms, whether poetry, drama or prose – as a series of bad jokes, cheap puns, strained scansion, excruciatingly contrived rhymes and pure filth. Now collected together for the first time, The Limerickiad: Volume 1 takes us from the Sumerian classic Gilgamesh to the Complete Works of Shakespeare, with both verse and illustration displaying Rowson’s reverence for the original texts. The Limerickiad promises to do for Literature what 1066 and All That did for History.
Following the success of The Limerickiad volume I, Martin Rowson continues to lower the tone by reducing literary classics to a series of terrible limericks. Mixing Low Comedy and High Seriousness, awful puns and dodgy rhymes, The Limerickiad volume II takes the story forward from John Donne to Jane Austen. Along the way he takes the piss out of Jacobean Tragedy, mangles all XII books of Paradise Lost and hangs out with some like-minded Augustan satirists before ridiculing the entire European Romantic movement.
Every week since 2006, the award-winning cartoonist and writer Martin Rowson has been making a fool of himself in The Independent on Sunday by reducing the work of some of the world’s best-loved writers to a series of puerile and filthy limericks. Following the success of the first two volumes of The Limerickad (from Gilgamesh to Jane Austen) The Limerickiad volume III lays waste to the literary greats of the nineteenth-century. Rowson mangles Melville, puts the boot into the Brontёs and defaces the complete works of Dickens. He even finds time to write a limerick in homage to its inventor (‘When a runcible fellow called Lear…’).
Stephen Sawyer’s remarkable first collection is a book about politics – public dreams, private desires and common fears. From a Merseyside housing estate in the 1960s via Pinochet and Thatcher to the floods in Sheffield in 2007, these poems trace the sutures of power and resistance on the body and under the skin through the mediations of love, death, class, art and oppression. They raise questions about identity and belonging in a time of rapid structural and technological change, and celebrate the creativity and courage of individual and collective responses. There Will Be No Miracles Here is a book of passion and humour about people who live at the sharp edge.
Union brings together two decades’ worth of Paul Summers’ poems, drawing on books and pamphlets, performance pieces and collaborations, as well as a long and previously unpublished sequence about the North of England, ‘broken land’. Summers is a poet of place and of travel, of exile and of home, combining the domestic and the epic, the personal and the political, the rhetorical and the confessional. He is a Blyth Spartans fan, a proud Northumbrian internationalist and a fervent celebrant of the idea of ‘we’ – of community, people and hope – of the notion of union itself.