Poets and editors rate the collections which have made a big impression on them over the last 12 months
FOUR books, each surprising in a different way, address power and the personal in memorable style. Steve Ely’s Englaland (Smokestack) puts muscle and politics back into poetry, swaggering from battlefield to nightclub with the bloody grin of a class warrior.
Jonathan Davidson’s Humfrey Coningsby (Valley) is a more gentlemanly soldier — a discreet time traveller, a mercenary, a swiver.
Swiving inevitably features in Neil Rollinson’s Talking Dead (Cape) but so, of course, do the dead. They speak in their own voices from the guillotine or gibbet.
After so much bloodshed, Jim Carruth’s Killochries (Freight Books) wears a gentler masculinity on its tweed sleeves as it slowly unfolds the relationship between shepherd and land and between two family members.
• Jo Bell is the UK Canal Laureate. Her most recent book is Kith (Nine Arches).
JOHN BERGER is the writer of our time. With each word he writes, he makes us feel grateful. He thinks with feeling, to use Brecht’s expression.
I burst into tears when I read the poem Migrant Words in Collected Poems (Copper Coin) and could not rest until I translated it into Punjabi.
Caroline Maldonado’s “Bergeresque” poems in What They Say in Avenale (Indigo Dreams) are about her neighbours in a small village in the Sibillini mountains of central Italy.
Abdulkareem Kasid’s Sarabad (Shearsman), translated from Arabic by Sara Halub and John Welch, has a series of short poems entitled Cafes and Windows. I read the series with a childlike interest and was surprised by his magical twists.
• Amarjit Chandan has translated many poets into Punjabi, including Brecht, Neruda, Ritsos, Hikmet, Vallejo and Cardenal. His most recent book is Sonata for Four Hands (Arc).
AT THE turn of the year I discovered the US poet James Tate, who died last July at the age of 71.
His Memoir of the Hawk (Ecco) is a particular joy. Here you will find a generous 175 poems, mostly in prose form, which celebrate the poet’s freewheeling invention.
It’s as if Tate decided anything could act as a starting point — the challenge was to affix poignancy directly to life’s flotsam.
It’s my opinion that he achieves this again and again. These poems are shocking and visionary things. Their readability is a testament to his technical skill, bravery and humour.
• Graham Clifford works as a deputy headteacher in London. His most recent book is The Hitting Game (Seren).
SPOILT for choice. Jo Colley’s Bones of Birds (Smokestack) had me at the title poem. The collection’s haunting subtlety packs a huge punch and its presence lingers alive, even from a bookshelf.
Uniquely co-authored, Sampo: Heading Further North by Bob Beagrie and Andy Willoughby (Red Squirrel), is a breathless journey through the Finnish Kalevala epic infused with the poets’ northern roots, a heady cornucopia of folklore and often delicate sensitivity.
Jane Burn’s debut pamphlet fAt aRouNd tHe MiddLe (Talking Pen) has exquisitely detailed observations of character and a tenacity which is playful and quirky.
Oils by Stephen Sexton (Emma) contains a jaw-dropping sestina. Gorged on Light (Red Squirrel Press) by p.a. morbid is compelling, tightly wrought and full of emotion.
• Julie Hogg teaches in a primary school in Middlesbrough. Her first book, Majuba Road (Vane Women) is published next year.
TWO outstanding poetry books this year are both from members of Red Poets, based in Wales.
They have much in common, despite the authors’ different backgrounds. You Are Welcome to Wales (Red Voices) by Neath’s Phil Knight and Free Running With Words (Petra) by Mike Church, originally from Luton, share an extraordinary ability to combine political messages with liberating humour.
Both poets allow their thoughts to “free run,” leaping and somersaulting over the rooftops, while always aware of the streets below.
Both are consummate performance poets, yet these poems work on the page, tantalising the imagination with strange and surreal situations. And they’re always aligned to the fierce socialist republicanism of Red Poets.
• Mike Jenkins is one of the editors of Red Poets. His most recent book is Shedding Paper Skin (Carreg Gwalch).
WAYLEAVE Press, whose editor is Mike Barlow, have produced three pamphlets this year worth reading and re-reading — Bill Gilson’s Monkey Puzzle, Jane Routh’s The White Silence and Elizabeth Burns’s Clay.
Gilson gives us poems that mix experiences from an east coast childhood in the US with recent times in north Lancashire where he now lives in retirement. They are places and times vividly contrasted, delivered with humour and pathos.
Others to note are Peter Sansom’s Careful What You Wish For (Carcanet) and Carole Bromley’s The Stonegate Devil (Smith Doorstop). All of these books wonderfully illustrate Thom Gunn’s definition of poetry as “memorable speech.”
• Paul Mills lives in Ripon. His most recent book is Voting for Spring (Smith Doorstop).
IT’S been quite a political year for poetry and even some “big” mainstream names have broken the polemical silence, Sean O’Brien being one example.
But, oddly, I’ve found myself most impressed by more personal collections. Barry Tebb’s Cut Flowers: Selected Poems (Sixties Press) is a statement of an authentic poetic personality, while Mark Totterdell’s This Patter of Traces (Oversteps) is formalism refreshingly engaged with language.
Geoffrey Winch’s Alchemy Of Vision (Indigo Dreams) is an unassumingly beguiling lyrical collection, John Berger’s Collected Poems (Smokestack) is, simply, essential reading and Gordon Hodgeon’s Talking to the Dead (Smokestack) is a supreme poetic testament to the spirit’s triumph over physical infirmity.
• Alan Morrison edits The Recusant. His most recent book is Shadows Waltz Haltingly (Lapwing).
“NOWADAYS i have different outlooks, with alternating colours in them –/death is close. maybe i will have a staycation instead on twitter./it is colder there but with content.”
I’ve been a follower of Emma Hammond’s poetry for years now, so the arrival of her new collection The Story Of No (Penned in the Margins) was easily the literary event of 2015 for me.
While mature in its scope and variety of themes, her poems retain the quirky freshness of phrasing which originally fascinated me.
• Jody Porter edits the Well Versed poetry column in the Morning Star.
2015 was a powerful year for poetry. More spoken word was programmed onto our radios, televisions and internet stations than since the mid-90s.
It’s no surprise that we have also witnessed the rise of the independent anthology and no press better encapsulates this than Out-Spoken.
This publishing house has grown from the seeds of a popular London poetry night, which prides itself on growing in the fertile space where different forms and styles of poetry — page and spoken — collide. It’s for this reason that their Anthology of Poetry is my selection for 2015.
The volume showcases a diverse range of voices and styles, from the direct rhythms of Hollie McNish to the subtle narratives of Inua Ellams, the quiet rage of Raymond Antrobus and hurtling fury of Anthony Anaxagorou, the resistance songs of Zena Edwards and the unflinching politico-psalms of Sabrina Mahfouz. Just brilliant.
• Joelle Taylor is the founder and artistic director of SLAMbassadors UK. Her most recent book is The Woman Who Was Not There (Burning Eye).