When we sent out a call, asking people to recommend some poetry reading this summer, we had an overwhelming response, of collections both old and new. In four consecutive weeks we are publishing all these recommendations. Below, we list the fourth batch of a fascinating, challenging and extensive booklist. To read earlier posts, click here (week 1 recommendations), here (week 2) and here (week 3).
Happy reading and – and as Chrissy Williams says about her readings tips, "Goodbye wallet...".
The Cloud Corporation by Timothy Donnelly (Picador); People on Sunday by Geoffrey G. O'Brien (Wave Books); Quick Question by John Ashbery (Carcanet); The Late Parade by Adam Fitzgerald (Liveright); Mean Free Path by Ben Lerner (Copper Canyon Press); Sun Bear by Matthew Zapruder (Copper Canyon Press); Theories and Apparitions by Mark Doty (Cape); Stay, Illusion by Lucie Brock-Broido (Knopf).
Fiere by Jackie Kay (Picador) is an all-round grounding in everyday life. Rapture by Carol Ann Duffy (Picador) will make you lose yourself and miss your bus or train stop – real escapism. Island Dreams: 99 Poems From Mustique by Felix Dennis (Noctua Press) – he puts the realities of life in verse and measured words. Other signs by Ingrid de Kok (Kwela) is atmospheric and lyrical.
Elder, David Constantine's new collection (Bloodaxe), speaks of the early twenty-first century, the ways we've made a mess of nature, effortless wisdom and tenderness embedded in his lucid poetry. The Sun King by Conor O'Callaghan (Gallery Press) is imaginatively fierce and with witty intelligence that has an original ability to see into the heart of things. Never beguiled by the romance, full of sprinklers and kids but also sky blue and the shade of cypress trees. Sinead Morrisey’s Parallax (Carcanet) looks at how the world is always slipping and passing and probably is an illusion. A voice as clear and direct as a bell. If you only read ‘Shadows’ your life will still be changed. Sweet Machine by Mark Doty (Cape Poetry) is a book I will never throw out. The beautiful luminosity of his writing and his use/love of imagery seems almost given. With invention, weight and compassion, he seems to be talking to himself and all of us on the big themes at the same time, with a confiding, insistent voice.
I must admit, I'm pretty new to exploring contemporary poetry. Beside The Poetry Review, Magma and a few older anthologies, the only recently published collection that I have bought is Billy Ramsell's The Architect's Dream of Winter (Dedalus Press). Ramsell’s range of interests is extensive: a euphoric lament for a hurling legend (Christy Ring); a spoof exam question (on St. Petersburg's plumbing); a paean to his heart (as an anatomical organ); a menu of silences (as a pastiche of restaurant wine lists); attending a weekend music festival (with your young children)… Ramsell's work has depth and love, heightened by a mischievous sense of fun. If this isn't summer reading, I don't know what is. I look forward to rereading this volume soon.
In no particular order I recommend the following: Witness Statement by Nick Blair (Hearing Eye); A Moment of Attention by Chris Hardy (Original Plus); Notebook in Hand: New and Selected Poems by John Rety (Stonewood Press); Notes – while treading water by Alfred Todd; By the River Wensum by Andrew Waterman (Shoestring Press).
First, Jenny Lewis's wonderful Taking Mesopotamia (Carcanet), which in one slim volume mines a rich seam from the Epic of Gilgamesh via Welsh mining communities and the First World War to the most recent Iraq wars. Powerful, moving and musical. Another bellicose subject is J.O. Morgan's startlingly re-imagined tenth-century battle in At Maldon (CB Editions) – “Slink-footed on the slip of stone / the current tugging sidelong at their ankles". William Bedford's The Fen Dancing (Red Squirrel Press) has a winning surface clarity and depth of perception as paradoxical as his mixture of 1960s Americana and timeless rural Lincolnshire. Bedford's near neighbour in Helpstone, John Clare, is undergoing something of a deserved renaissance. Re-reading or reading properly for the first time his unbowdlerised poems will occupy me happily all summer.
My early summer reading has begun, and I am happily reading, or about to read, three new literary biographies, all extremely well-reviewed and, based on my reading so far, well worth the time and money spent. They are also very useful for poets, at least for this poet. We are not the only poets this world has seen, and – dare it be said! – not even necessarily the best poets. These three biographies are Leo Damrosch's Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World (Yale University Press), John Drury's Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert (Penguin), and Linda Leavell's Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore (Faber).
I'd recommend Chris Beckett's Ethiopian Boy (Carcanet OxfordPoets). I’ve just been reading it – the poems are joyous and, being mostly set in Ethopia, perfect hot weather reading. A really uplifting read. (Interest to declare: I found out about this book because I am presently doing a workshop with Chris, but I'm recommending it because the poems are so glorious, and so perfect for a lazy summer day lying on the grass.)
William Bedford’s The Fen Dancing (Red Squirrel Press) mixes descriptions of a vanished rural way of life with encounters with the American Beats. 'Jacob's Ladder' grounds the biblical myth in Lincolnshire, with a climax that's both heady and tragic. Pippa Little’s Overwintering (Carcanet OxfordPoets) is a collection of sensual poems, epitomised by 'Simishamn', about an elk invading a Swedish garden to eat the roses. In Dannie Abse’s Speak, Old Parrot (Hutchinson), the parrot's feathers are gorgeous – not least in the hilarious tribute to the (irrepressibly randy) medieval poet Dafydd ap Gwilym. And who else could write an utterly beguiling poem about an empty Welsh bus travelling from Llantwit Major to Bridgend (and back again?).
Derek Mahon's Echo's Grove: Collected Translations (Gallery Press) is a marvellous collection of his translations, whose range makes it a kind of personal anthology of world literature. The bleak, haunting beauty of the individual poems in Robin Robertson's Hill of Doors (Picador) would take some beating, and the subtle interweaving and counterpointing of different strands makes it a book that repays endless rereading. David Constantine's Elder (Bloodaxe) is a remarkable celebration of life and love in the teeth of death and the darker forces of the human psyche (like Hill of Doors it draws on and renews various classical myths). Jane Yeh's The Ninjas (Carcanet) is a delight, so is Matthew Francis's Muscovy (Faber).
Michael Symmons Roberts’s Drysalter (Cape) – a worthy winner of one of the year's big prizes. Every poem a surprise, every poem seemingly like nothing I've read before. A virtuoso performance. Ellen Waterston’s Via Lactea is a remarkable evocation of the Camino de Santiago from an Oregon-based poet. John Hartley Williams’s The Ship (Salt) is a fine collection from Salt of the sadly late John Hartley Williams. A voice unlike any other in contemporary poetry, exploring, taking new ground, moving and entertaining. Mimi Khalvati’s Earthshine (Smith/Doorstop) – an exquisite pamphlet of Mimi Khalvati’s perfectly executed delicate poems, each of eight beautifully turned couplets.
Why you should read Malika Booker, Dylan Thomas, Fiona Benson, Tom Warner and many, many more...
See who is recommending Kei Miller, Selima Hill, Amy Key and more...
Buy many of the books listed here at an amazing 25% discount thanks to Inpress – the UK’s specialist in selling books from independent publishers. Click here and use the promo code POETRYSUMMER. Offer MUST end 15 August 2014.
We also recommend the Poetry Review stockists – poetry book champions all.The PBS online Poetry Bookshop – members receive discounts. Visit the Free Verse Book Fair, Conway Hall, London, on 6 Sep 2014, 10am - 4.30pm – unmissable, indispensible.
And don’t forget your local library’s poetry collections and especially the three specialist poetry libraries: the Saison Poetry Library, London, the Scottish Poetry Library, Edinburgh and the Northern Poetry Library, Morpeth.