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MY 2018 began with Imtiaz Dharker’s Luck is the Hook (Bloodaxe). Subtle and rewarding, it's a gem of a book. I also found much to reward and contemplate in Jonathan Davidson’s On Poetry (Smith/Doorstop), essays which sent me back to Carol Ann Duffy, WS Graham and others. Suzanne Batty’s States of Happiness (Bloodaxe) and Zaffar Kunial’s Us (Faber) were both tender and remarkable reads. The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus (Penned in the Margins) presented a bold, necessary, beautiful debut. And not to neglect to mention notable debuts from Nafessa Hamid (Verve) and Peter Raynard (Smokestack) — distinctive voices to watch out for.
Jane Commane’s new book is Assembly Lines (Bloodaxe).
FOUR collections stand out for me this year. Clare Crossman’s Blue Hour (Shoestring) is permeated by a vivid sense of time and place, while In The Lover’s Pinch (Arenig) Gareth Writer-Davies celebrates the interplay of sexual and romantic love which is never far from death. Nicola Jackson’s Difficult Women (Indigo Dreams) explores the suffering and celebrates the courage of women exploited in the industrial age and beyond. Coventry poet Jane Commane’s Assembly Lines (Bloodaxe) captures the desolation haunting Midland towns and indeed the whole state as Brexit looms.
John Gohorry’s latest book is Not a Silent Night (Shoestring).
TWO very different picks, both of which will warm you on long winter nights. Jim Stewart's posthumous collection THIS (The Voyage Out Press, £10) is the first and, to date, only gathering of the reticent Scottish poet's best work — meditative yet muscular poems examining the quirks and patterns of nature in its everyday form. Tim Turnbull's third collection Avanti! (Red Squirrel Press, £10) is an assembly of smart, scathing and occasionally hilarious poems, neatly jumping between form and voice, with influences from music hall, popular culture and radical politics.
Andy Jackson’s latest collection is A Beginner’s Guide to Cheating (Red Squirrel Press).
I’M NEVER really sure what’s meant by “best.” Those that take reality to task or those that provide us with a much-needed escape from it? Poets who do both include Bobby Parker (Working Class Voodoo), Amy Key (Isn’t Forever), Abigail Parry (Jinx),Martin Hayes (The Things Our Hands Once Stood For) and Peter Raynard with his electrifying The Combination. A lot of the stuff that shook me this year I came to late, so from my own tardy perspective Layli Long Soldier, Sogul Sur, Patricia Smith, Rob Lipton and Jay Bernard also belong on the list.
Fran Lock’s new book is Ruses and Fuses (Culture Matters).
Collections — Jane Commane, Assembly Lines (Bloodaxe Books), Nafeesa Hamid, Beshara (Verve Poetry Press), Richard Skinner, The Malvern Aviator (Smokestack Books), Martin Hayes, Roar! (Smokestack Books), Bobby Parker, Working Class Voodoo (Offord Road Books), Fran Lock, Ruses and Fuses (Culture Matters), Roy McFarlane, The Healing Next Time (Nine Arches), Terrance Hayes, American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassin (Penguin). Anthologies — Unwritten: Caribbean Poems after the First World War, edited by Karen McCarthy (Nine Arches), Poetry on the Picket Line, edited by Grim Chip and Mike Quille (Culture Matters), Why Poetry? The Lunar Poetry Podcast Anthology edited by David Turner (Verve Poetry Press).
Peter Raynard’s latest book is The Combination (Culture Matters).
My favourite of the year is Richard Scott’s Soho (Faber), an exploration of gay love, erotic desire, shame and trauma. Explicit and fierce, as well as sensual and tender, Scott transforms autobiographical flashes into an exhilarating, luxuriant and sometimes provocative lyric. He invites us to engage with our own desire and discomfort, through the ambivalent hinge between vulnerability, attraction to risk, intimation of abuse and complicity and, at the same time, with the political and historical dimensions of queer identity. While acknowledging the freedom to be gay in a liberal city, the narrator connects with a shared predicament, resisting the transformation of queerness into a fashionable concern.
Pnina Shinebourne’s latest collection is Pike in a Carp Pond (Smokestack Books).
Books that stick in my head are two from Bloodaxe, Ken Smith's Collected Poems and Helen Dunmore's Inside the Wave, published last year but which I've just got around to reading. Perhaps most importantly, from the perspective of working-class poetry, two books from Martin Hayes — Roar (Smokestack Books) and The things Our Hands Once Stood For (Culture Matters) — give us a taste of what Fred Voss does so well for US poetry by capturing an informed, authentic and challenging poetic voice from the world of everyday labours.
Paul Summers’s new book is arise! (Culture Matters).
Vahni Capildeo’s Venus as a Bear (Carcanet) is a startlingly imaginative collection that criss-crosses places, languages and creatures with a fierce and exploratory zeal. I can’t stop re-reading it. Kate Potts’s Feral (Bloodaxe) is a revelation of beauty, precision and force, while Abigail Parry’s Jinx (Bloodaxe) is pure magic — dangerous, soulful and splendidly virtuosic. Shara Lessley’s captivating The Explosive Expert's Wife (Wisconsin Poetry Series) explores the unfolding of the Arab spring in intimate, elegiac poems, while creative-critical pamphlet Threads (Clinic) by Sandeep Parmar, Nisha Ramayya and Bhanu Kapil combines poetry, correspondence and lyric essay to explore race, identity and creative writing. It is urgent and beautiful. Read it.
Kate Wakeling’s most recent book is The Rainbow Faults (Rialto).
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