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Poetry 2021 Round-up with Andy Croft

Andy Croft has been talking to other poets about the books of poetry they have most enjoyed reading in the last 12 months

MIKE CROWLEY

Simon Armitage’s Magnetic Field (Faber) is about the village of Marsden, midway between Huddersfield and Rochdale, where Armitage grew up.

Marsden has been a muse for Armitage for 30 years now, serving as a canvas as well as a subject.

On Marsden he paints the ordinary, sometimes the banal, as extraordinary and beautiful. He gives everyday actions and chores — home improvement, cutting the hedge, a walk to the shops, family meals — a sacramental significance.

This is poetry for all of us inviting us to consider our own perceptions, to look more carefully, remember more closely.

Mike Crowley has published three books of poetry, Close to Home, First Fleet and The Battle of Heptonstall.

GREG FREEMAN

Jenny Mitchell’s Map of a Plantation (Indigo Dreams) burns with righteous anger. We should all be ashamed. It’s time we were.

Kim Moore’s All The Men I Never Married (Seren) is remarkable, fascinating, very readable. 

50 Ways to Score a Goal (Macmillan) by “Twitter laureate” Brian Bilston is a must for football fans of all ages.

Antony Owen’s Cov Kids (Knives Forks and Spoons Press) fizzes with energy and exuberance.

Alan Morrison’s essay in verse Anxious Corporals (Smokestack) may not be an easy read, but repays the effort.

Laura Taylor’s Speaking in Tongues (Flapjack) is angry but refuses to be categorised by class.  

Greg Freeman’s most recent publication is Marples Must Go! He is reviews editor for the poetry website Write Out Loud.

EMMA JONES

Brecht tells us that even in the dark times there will be singing — “about the dark times.” In 2021 I have found consolation and comradeship in the ardent lamentations of Ruth Valentine’s If You Want Thunder and Sylvia Pankhurst’s Writ on Cold Slate (both published by Smokestack).

Two books that are in the truest sense contemporary. And I cannot let the year go without mentioning Rebel Talk, an anthology of poems for the climate crisis, edited by Rip Bulkeley and published last month by Extinction Rebellion Oxford (all proceeds to the cause).

Emma Jones lives in Oxfordshire, where she has worked with refugees and asylum-seekers, and is active in human rights and anti-austerity campaigns. Her first collection The Incident was published this year.

JENNIFER LANGER

The poems in Hiddensee by Annie Freud (Picador) are suffused with energy, humour and scholarship. This collection speaks to me as the daughter of German Jewish refugees, and as a Francophile.

Like a Tree, Walking by Vahni Capildeo (Carcanet) pushes the limits of language, form and content.

Capildeo is engaged in a transcendental search for a silence and perfection.

Grave Seas by Hussam Eddin Baramo (Palewell) is a meditation on loss, exile and memory by this Syrian poet. Unusually, Baramo praises aspects of exile.

Ballad of a Happy Immigrant by Leo Boix (Chatto and Windus) mediates the memory of Boix’s homeland, Argentina, and his English life of personal transformation.

Dr Jennifer Langer is founding director of Exiled Writers Ink. Her debut poetry collection The Search is published by Victorina.

REBECCA LOWE

2021 has been a bumper year for new titles, with pandemic and political unrest providing a rich vein of inspiration.

The Cry of The Poor edited by Fran Lock (Culture Matters) is a hard-hitting yet compassionate anthology of reflections on poverty.

Also, from Culture Matters comes Over Eagle Pond by Chris Searle. Compelling, observational poems, both political and personal, beautifully complemented by drawings from Martin Gollan.

Finally, Bones of The Apocalypse (Frequency House) is the second collection from Welsh poet and socialist activist Tim Evans, fizzing with righteous anger at a capitalist system which has failed so many: “Times like these are the ruptures in history. The rip in the curtain, the crack in the wall.”

Rebecca Lowe is a journalist and Quaker peace activist. Her most recent collection, Our Father Eclipse, was published this year by Culture Matters. She lives in south Wales.

JENNY MITCHELL

I’m ashamed to say that until recently I didn’t know Eavan Boland’s work. Starting with her last collection The Historians (Carcanet) seems like a wise move.

Here are testimonies to the importance of women’s lives and the way they can be submerged by grand ideas about history.

The female voice is central to the passing on of information/stories: “She was a closed book, / a near relative… I once heard she carried messages…” The Fire Gilder’ is a wonderful evocation of the power of craft and myth-making: “I was the fire gilder / ready to lay radiance down / ready to decorate it happened / with it never did.”

An incredibly skilled final work.

Jenny Mitchell’s second collection, Map of a Plantation, is published by Indigo Dreams.

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