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21st-century poetry Best of 2019: Poetry

Poets pinpoint the collections they have most enjoyed reading over the last year

Jane Burn

I ENJOYED the well-curated Valley Press Anthology of Prose Poetry and the distilled man is free by p.a. morbid (BLER Press) and it was good to see anthologies such as For the Silent (Indigo Dreams) tackling necessary themes.

Fran Lock’s Raptures and Captures (Culture Matters) stunned, as did Pippa Little’s intricate Twist (Arc). Aching truth spoke through Clare Shaw’s Flood (Bloodaxe), while Imtiaz Dharker’s beautifully illustrated Over the Moon (Bloodaxe) left a lasting impression, as did the sensual, unafraid and feminist voice of Deborah Alma in Dirty Laundry (Nine Arches).

Jane Burn’s most recent collection is One of These Dead Places (Culture Matters).

Jonathan Davidson

SOMETIMES you have to go back to go forward. I bought Mick North’s challengingly titled book The Pheasant Plucker’s Son (Arc) in 1990 and again this year.

The poems are about North’s relationship with his bit of Lancashire but also about a decade of Thatcherism. My favourite, then and now, is Land, a song for the relentlessly disinherited. Two stanzas plucked at random give the savour:

“They will answer you/with unbridled market forces/and a fine tradition of breeding horses./Do not listen to their answers/Do not accept their judgement of a sod’s worth./Do not let the wicked inherit the earth.”

Jonathan Davidson’s most recent book is On Poetry (Smith/Doorstop).

Owen Gallagher

MY “BEST ofs” include Deaf Republic (Faber) by Ilya Kaminsky — this guy might be deaf but he has good eyesight — Mr Mensh (Smokestack) by Michael Rosen — I wish I'd had parents like his — and sell Release A Rage Red (Culture Matters) in your workplace.

Isabella (Smokestack), poems by Isabella Morra and Caroline Maldonado, sing beautifully from the page.

It's always disappointing to read what the other half are writing about in The Forward Book of Poetry 2019, yet Magma 74, a poetry magazine on the theme of work, is probably the finest thing Magma has worked on.

Owen Gallagher’s most recent collection is Clydebuilt (Smokestack).

Keith Hutson

The Equilibrium Line (Smith/Doorstop) by David Wilson is a collection of mountaineering poems written by a mountaineer and was shortlisted for the Boardman Tasker Mountain Literature award.

To paraphrase Lines of Ascent, Wilson puts the hills at the end of our street and it is also a climb through life, both the poet’s and others — there is a wonderful sequence remembering his sister.

In a book about the deep relationship people have with mountains, each other and themselves, the poetry is exhilarating, breath-taking and profoundly moving in equal measure and it gives us “holds we could trust to always be there,/winds which blow away every word.”

A book for everyone. I loved it.

Keith Hutson’s latest book is Baldwin’s Catholic Geese (Bloodaxe).

Lisa Kelly

FROM my Jenga tower of books, I risk pulling out a lodestone. Fifty Fifty, edited by Robyn Marsack, is Carcanet’s jubilee publishing history in letters and, latterly, email exchanges between publisher Michael Schmidt and prominent poets.

You can behave predictably and start at the beginning or skip to a year defined by your favourite poet for revelations about their literary life and work. The Year in Books offers a meta reading list for each year and you can enjoy the tome for its academic insights as well as robust exchanges.

My highlight? WS Graham’s sign-off with a sketched boat.

Lisa Kelly’s most recent pamphlet is Philip Levine’s Good Ear (Stonewood).

Edward Mackinnon

THE FOCUS of the accomplished collection Clydebuilt from Owen Gallagher is the poet’s childhood in Glasgow.

It takes us back to the tenements of the Gorbals and its Irish working-class inhabitants, who have exchanged the uncertainties of rural Ireland’s hiring fairs for employment and a harsh life in “acres of cold concrete” beside the Clyde.

Personal remembrance becomes social history, even in the moving poems of understated grief about the poet’s dead parents. In his poems about contemporary Britain, Gallagher looks forward with a socialist vision to “a new world being assembled” by “dreamers, singers, fighters,”whose voices are “bolted and welded into one.”

His own voice is wistful, ironic, subversive, humorous and always captivating.

Edward Mackinnon’s latest collection is A Storm Called Progress (Shoestring).

Deborah Moffatt

CHILEAN Eduardo Embry came to Britain as a political exile in 1974 and his poems in Dead Flies (Smokestack) are quirky, with an undercurrent of darkness, prison ships and tanks jostling with donkeys and flies.

Glasgow-born Christopher Whyte lives in Budapest and the dozen long poems in  Ceum air Cheum (Acair), are elegantly written. Sometimes more prose than poetry, they are mostly autobiographical tales of encounters, experiences and considerations.

Each of Us (Our Chronic Alphabets) by Natasha Cuddington (Arlen House), conceals an eloquent and compelling narrative in a glorious scattering of language and typography.

Deborah Moffatt’s most recent book is Eating Thistles (Smokestack).


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