Paul Birtill’s new collection Bad News sees the poet return to his favourite themes of death, relationships and mental illness with his usual brand of dark humour, deep-veined irony and more than one poem about Coronavirus.
Paul Birtill was born in Walton, Liverpool in 1960 and lives in London. He has published a number of collections with Hearing Eye, including New and Selected Poems. He is also an accomplished playwright and several of his plays have been staged at London theatres, including Squalor, which was short-listed for the prestigious Verity Bargate award.
“Packed with short, sharp, witty and irreverent observations.” – John Healy
“Makes me laugh and feel depressed at the same time, and that’s a rare gift.” – John Cooper Clarke
“Time and again his dark humour hits the mark.” – Harry Eyres, Financial Times
“His stark and hard-hitting verse skilfully echoes the neuroses of life.” – Irish Post
Vicky Foster is one very capable writer and Bathwater is a very personal story. Using her own real-life experience of what happens when violence spills over into family life, Bathwater is a gripping, ever-twisting, often moving, somewhat shocking and often agonising piece of work. Rather than a cathartic over-share, however, Foster goes way beyond writing what she knows in order to craft something that is simultaneously hard-hitting and poetic. She has written a work of literary beauty, despite the harsh and uncomfortable subject matter, combining prose, poetry and dialogue.
This is as bold a line in the sand as a writer can make to announce their arrival. Given her enormous talent and ability to weave a piece of work so well, there’ll be plenty more to come from Foster’s experience-fuelled imagination as she strides, confidently, into the literary and poetic world.
This debut collection of poems by former Birmingham Poet Laureate Roy McFarlane explores love, loss, adoption and identity in powerful, precise and emotionally-charged poetry. From bereavement comes forth a life story in poems; the journey of sons, friends, lovers and parents, and all the moments of growing-up, discovery, falling in and out of love and learning to say goodbye that come along the way. Themes of place, identity, history, and race interweave personal narratives, with and poems that touch on everything from the ‘Tebbitt Test’ and Marvin Gaye to the Black Country, that ‘place just off the M6’. Distinct and memorable, McFarlane’s poems are beautifully focused, moving their readers between both the spiritual and the sensual worlds with graceful, rapturous hymns to the transformative power of love.
‘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.
In this series, a contemporary poet selects and introduces a poet of the past. By their selection of verses and by the personal and critical reactions they express in their introductions, the selectors offer a passionate and accessible introduction to some of the greatest poets in history. Ben Jonson (1572-1637) was born in London, and became a leading poet, playwright and essayist of the Elizabethan age. In 1598he killed an actor in a duel but escaped hanging by pleading benefit of the clergy, and by 1616 had re-established enough Court favour to be awarded a pension by James I – in effect making him the first Poet Laureate.
The teasing title poem of this book is about weather. Rain falls, wind cracks its cheeks as in Macbeth; the noises are drops like kisses falling, ‘fallen into birdsong on Mars’. What would it sound like, be like, to hear it? The poem wants to know what it can’t yet know. But as the book proceeds, the poet – on a human heath, tormented by loss – hears something like it, unearthly sounds on a planet without atmosphere, sound making quite another kind of sense.
This mischievous Malaysian-setnovel is an adventure featuring family, ghosts and local gods – from Hugo Award winning novelist Zen Cho.
Her grandmother may be dead, but she’s not done with life . . . yet.
As Jessamyn packs for Malaysia, it’s not a good time to start hearing a bossy voice in her head. Broke, jobless and just graduated, she’s abandoning America to return ‘home’. But she last saw Malaysia as a toddler – and is completely unprepared for its ghosts, gods and her eccentric family’s shenanigans.
Jess soon learns her ‘voice’ belongs to Ah Ma, her late grandmother. She worshipped the Black Water Sister, a local deity. And when a business magnate dared to offend her goddess, Ah Ma swore revenge. Now she’s decided Jess will help, whether she wants to or not.
As Ah Ma blackmails Jess into compliance, Jess fights to retain control. But her irrepressible relative isn’t going to let a little thing like death stop her, when she can simply borrow Jess’s body to make mischief. As Jess is drawn ever deeper into a world of peril and family secrets, getting a job becomes the least of her worries.
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.
“The crafted sincerity of this potent, lyrical collection, in which an absolutely contemporary voice concisely expresses common concerns, is everything that poetry should be.” Times Literary Supplement
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.
In Burying the Wren Deryn Rees-Jones returns to familiar preoccupations but with a new clarity and maturity of vision. With intense lyricism she calls on the Roethkean ‘small things’ of the universe — truffles, slugs, trilobites, birds, stones, feathers, flowers, eggs — which, mysterious, and magical as well as ordinary — she sets up against loss. Her sequence of ‘Dogwoman’ poems, which draws on the work of artist Paula Rego, is an extended elegy to her late husband, the poet and critic Michael Murphy. Above all these are poems of the body, “…the blue heartstopping pulse at the wrist”, which are alive to the world and the transformative qualities of love.
Milner Place: Born 25/1/30… First job timber faller before doing National Service 1948/50… Some time at Agricultural College but opted out… worked as barman… managed farm and estate… got involved in horse racin… 1953… sailed to South Africa… worked as undergound surveyor copper mines… managed fruit farm…1955 returned to England to manage another farm, left and entered journalism…1958… sailed to new York …1958/61… Bahamas, did some surveying work. Bought a dinghy and learned to sail. Then a sloop, freighting and fishing… skippered for Burl Ives… took over yacht in Miami… returned to England… left for Majorca…Dec 1961… smuggling run to Algiers during war, cargo one man… Supplemented income by smuggling money from England for Brit living abroad…1962… took over staysail schooner, working Balearics and wintered yacht in Ibiza…spent time in Bilboa and Madrid…Sailed to Italy, left Autumn 1963…wintered Madrid…1964…bought sloop and summered Burnham-on-Crouch…1965…took job as captain of ketch built in Holland and sailed her to Lisbon…met Count of Barcelona and his son (now King of Spain). Wintered in Gibraltar and Tangiers, then to Cadiz and Seville…back to Lisbon where did several ocean races with Count of Barcelona…quit job with ketch and sailed with Count for England…1966 Autumn…sailed own sloop to Bordeaux and via Canal du Midi to Toulouse…left for Denmark to convert a working trading schooner to a yacht… 1967…sailed same to Malta to effect conversion…did a delivery to Greece (minus keel)…August 1968 quit job and returned Spain…then France to pick up own sloop…lost it off Spanish coast, wandered round Andalucia, returned London courtesy of consular services…back to Malta to do honeymoon charter for couple, sailing to Tunisia via Lampedusa…1969…employed as consultant by Forte’s International Hotels on projects in Sardinia and Greece…left for Ecuador for job as consultant Tourist Investments S.A…9 months organizing marlin fishing fleet, Punta Carnero…left for Peru under threat of charge of Piracy, consultancy work on Manu River project, others in Brazil and Panama…1971… England and then Grand Canary, where scratched a living as a photographer…1973…took off for Mexico to write unsuccessful novel…1976…moved to Majorca now with partner, Dorothy and stepson Paul…1977 first poems published in Spanish…trip to Canada – hashish smugglers – didn’t…1979/82…Boroughbridge, N.Yorks… worked as petrol station attendant, filling shelves at supermarket, night-watchman and running a B&B…1982/87… ran hotel in Alston, Cumbria until bankrupt…Jan 1987…came to Huddersfield, went to workshops, became sort of poet.
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.
Phil Woods takes a deliberately unacademic approach to Chaucer’s great work, while at the same time retaining the original’s sense of fun, chivalry and satire in this updated version. This Canterbury Tales has been acclaimed by audiences and critics throughout the country (including the West End)) and has been produced by countless professional and amateur theatre companies. The text had been out of print for some years but is now brought back into publication by IRON Press.
Carol Ann Duffy’s first Collected Poems includes all of the poems from her nine acclaimed volumes of adult poetry – from Standing Female Nude to Ritual Lighting (2014) – as well as her much-loved Christmas poems, which celebrate aspects of Christmas: from the charity of King Wenceslas to the famous truce between the Allies and the Germans in the trenches in 1914. Endlessly varied, wonderfully inventive, and emotionally powerful, the poems in this book showcase Duffy’s full poetic range: there are poems written in celebration and in protest; public poems and deeply personal ones; poems that are funny, sexy, heartbroken, wise. Taken together they affirm her belief that ‘poetry is the music of being human’.
Centenary Selected Poems marks the poet’s 100th birthday and is the first book to reveal the full range of his poetry. All his natural and invented voices speak here – animals, inanimate objects, dramatic monologues by famous, imaginary and anonymous people – in all sort of forms and styles – sonnets, science fiction constructions, concrete poetry, sound poems, his own invented stanzas – together with his evocations of place, in particular his inexhaustible home city of Glasgow. They all illustrate his incurable curiosity and a kind of relentless optimism for humanity.
As if convinced that all divination of the future is somehow a revisioning of the past, Kwame Dawes reminds us of the clairvoyance of haunting. The lyric poems in ‘City of Bones’ constitute a restless jeremiad for our times, and Dawes’s inimitable voice peoples this collection with multitudes of souls urgently and forcefully singing, shouting, groaning, and dreaming.
Women throughout the ages contribute to this diverse collection. From Bronte to Mansfield, Rosetti to Sappho, Behn to Dickinson and Elizabeth I to Barrett Browning – these poems are a celebration of all things female, dealing with the timeless themes of life, love, motherhood and independence.
From his home in a West Yorkshire village proverbially associated with cuckoos, Simon Armitage has been probing the night sky with the aid of a powerful Russian telescope. The sequence of eighty-eight poems at the heart of CloudCuckooLand springs from this preoccupation, each poem receiving its title from one of the constellations, while turning out to be less concerned with pure astronomy than with moments in the life of the poet’s mind.
Containing: Arctic Paradise (previously unpublished), Loving Memory (The Muffled Bells, Mimmo Perrella Non è Piu, Cheating the Void, Letters in the Rock), The Blasphemers’ Banquet, The Gaze of the Gorgon, Black Daisies for the Bride, A Maybe Day in Kazakhstan, The Shadow of Hiroshima, Prometheus, Metamorpheus (previously unpublished), Crossings (previously unpublished),
With introductions by Tony Harrison and Peter Symes
John Anthony Burgess Wilson (1917-93) was an industrious writer. He published over fifty books, thousands of essays and numerous drafts and fragments survive. He predicted many of the struggles and challenges of his own and the following century.
Burgess’s most famous book is A Clockwork Orange (1962), later adapted into a controversial film by Stanley Kubrick. The linguistic innovations of that novel, the strict formal devices used to contain them, and its range of themes are all to be found too in Burgess’s poetry, an area of his work where he was at once most free and most experimental. His flair for words, formal discipline, experimentalism, and fondness for variousness mark every page.
This beautifully intricate collection betrays a gimlet eye for detail and a huge passion for the tiny dramas of everyday life. Kath McKay’s dense and fragmentary lines wind themselves around the subconscious, recounting the quiet firestorms that fuel human relationships and the seismic reverberations that can often ensue.
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
CCTV cameras, TV recording equipment, microphones, all capturing and recording events in peoples lives. In today’s Big Brother world, these constant intrusions are at once a threat and a comfort – moments would be lost forever without surveillance. Tim cumming tells of events caught on camera as they happen to disparate protagonists, seemingly at random, but which dissolve into one another as they loose partners, jobs, identities and belief. “Contact Print” is set in a traffic jam on the Holloway Road in London. Its hero is Tony Harris, who is seen driving away for the last time from his married girlfriend’s house into a traffic snarl-up, a demo, a pub, a maze of memories, the city or the city itself, repeating itself to the horizon, which finally swallows him up. Along the way we are treated to arresting images of urban life, from the kidnapping of a junior minister to doing smack in the toilets of Paddington station. This is a world of personal and political instability, captured with photographic accuracy.
Tim Cumming’s poems have been published widely in Britain and America, and he writes regularly for The Guardian and The Independent. His work has been broadcast on BBC radio and TV, and he has featured in the New Voices season at the South Bank. He lives and works in London.
Cornrows and Cornfields is a heartfelt journey from the childhood fields of Indiana to the glittering metropolis of Chicago. Spinning together memory, popular culture and personal politics, celeste doaks makes words dance, weep, wail and sing – often in the space of just a couple of lines. This sublime collection of delightfully bold and vivid poems burn upon the mind’s eye long after the final page is turned.
Courting Katie explores tenuous notions of what it means to be Irish. This is a collection about drunken nights, about cranes, outbound flights, and confirmation parties. Situated within a range of pre- and post-Celtic Tiger contexts, it examines social and cultural crises, both local and national. These poems engage with the experience of Ireland, not simply in a grandiose manner, but through the individual, and the many disappointments that have been suffered on this island.
From a sapient pig to human extinction, syphilis to broken bones, a woman who births rabbits to changelings in the crib, this collection explores the full range of human fallibility as well as the eternal quest for hopefulness.
Cures is filled with strange characters: volcanic women, a rat catcher on the brink of retirement, a bonesetter, a drunkard, a mermaid; the collection is brimful with both the uncanny and the familiar, exploring the joys of parenthood, the folly of dissipation and reflecting on lives lived – mixing words in search of a tonic.
Robert Peake’s second full collection of poems is about weathering storms—personal, political, psychological—in our present-day climate of chaos. These are matters of life or death, and Cyclone urges us to consider what the ill wind may bring, and how we will survive it. Peake’s acutely tuned poems bring eloquence and urgency to matters of profound devastation. With shattering delicacy, he writes of personal loss, of grief and the long aftermath; “whenever the wind sprays into my face, I taste salt of your absence”. These poems also hazard an eye at the global weather and find a world in turmoil, wild with unreliable news and terrible forecasts. Manifesting between the storms is the man with the kindest face. Is he here to save us or warn us? A guide or a harbinger? As these brilliantly-visioned poems suggest, nothing is certain in the eye of the storm. Nevertheless, there is some form of consolation and rescue: “He seems at home in this tempest. He seems happy”.
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.
Deep Lane is a book of descents: into the earth beneath the garden, into the dark substrata of a life. But these poems seek repair, finally, through the possibilities that sustain the speaker above ground: gardens and animals; the pleasure of seeing; the world tuned by the word. Time and again, an image of immolation and sacrifice is undercut by the fierce fortitude of nature: nature that is not just a solace but a potent antidote and cure. Ranging from agony to rapture, from great depths to hard-won heights, these are poems of grace and nobility.
Octavian Paler wrote a number of poetry collections during his lifetime. The poems, which appear as ‘definitions’, are rather like Haiku in their intensity and succinctness: condensed descriptions of a feeling or a moment, they offer us an open door into the larger world of internal reflection. Dosage: read one a day before meals or lingering over coffee ”The poems carry deep inside Paler’s unique tenderness and reflection – short descriptions of feelings, thoughts or moments of our life. In all these short poems, sometimes only into a verse…I found again the main and constant topics which enriched my mind…I found definitions of tears and cries, of departures, of love, of regret, or of obsession. I found definitions of illusion, of maturity, of dignity, of balance, of silence, of loneliness, of ego….” Mariana Ganea, Romanian-Insider