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Poetry of the year Page-turning pleasures

Fellow poets tell ANDY CROFT what collections they couldn't put down in the last 12 months

Stephanie Bowgett

The Raven and the Laughing Head (Calder Valley) is Mark Hinchliffe’s first collection and he starts with the familiar and then spins it in the natural and spiritual world, weaving reality with ancient myth.

His syntax and vocabulary are deceptively simple but layered with ancient mythologies — Sioux, Green man, Gilgamesh — with the most commonplace given complexity and dignity. People interact with lions, ravens, jaguars and hares who ride on trains and inhabit care homes, bringing comfort, dignity, truth and tenderness. I have read some exceptional poetry books in 2017, but none more original, challenging and exceptionally moving than this one.
Stephanie Bowgett has been running the Albert Poets in Huddersfield for over 20 years. Her most recent collection is A Poor Kind of Memory (Calder Valley Press).

Kate Fox

Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back (Nine Arches) is a great collection of poems but also a manifesto, compendium and multimedia experience.

Edited by Sandra Alland, Khairani Barokka and Daniel Sluman, it feels essential, while Composition in White (Smokestack), Jackie Litherland’s astonishing collection, looks back over a full life threaded with the red of socialism and evokes a Midlands rarely captured in poetry.

The Best Poetry Book in the World (Burning Eye Books)is a biased choice because I’m in it — but it’s still ridiculously revolutionary to suggest poetry for performance can also work on the page and this ensures that lots of its powerful voices don't become lost or forgotten.

Kate Fox describes herself as a “stand-up poet” and her most recent collection is Chronotopia (Burning Eye Books).

Naomi Foyle

This year I was captivated by We Go Wandering at Night and Are Consumed by Fire (Sidekick Books), in which poet Rowyda Amin and illustrator Hetti McArthur conjure a sensual journey through a furtively futuristic cityscape.

I also admired two new collections from Penned in the Margins, Swims by Elizabeth-Jane Burnett — an immersive, performative and profoundly eco-conscious record of twelve wild swims — and At Hajj by Amaan Hyder, which slips between limpid prose and elliptical poetic forms to explore the concurrences of faith, family and culture.

Doire Press of County Galway also kept the metaphysical candle burning with Myra Vennard’s stark and meditative Soul Station.

Naomi Foyle is a poet and science-fiction novelist. She recently edited the anthology A Blade of Grass: New Palestinian Poetry (Smokestack Books).

Nicholas Murray

My head full of the received poetic canon from my Liverpool school, Douglas Dunn’s Terry Street in 1969, as I took my A levels, was a revelation. Here was poetry made out of the material of a contemporary working-class street in Hull and it got me going on the idea that poetry could be about now.

So his latest book, The Noise of a Fly (Faber), was a must and doesn't disappoint. Younger readers might see a senior poet coasting at times but for me it's reflective and moving: “Aware of time keeping its promises,/Facing what happens without self-pity.”

Nicholas Murray runs Rack Press. His latest publication is A Dog’s Brexit (Melos Press).

Anthony Owen

New and Collected poems by Paul Sutherland (Valley Press) is a monolith of work spanning several decades. This is serious poetry, often reflecting on the frailties of close relationships, yet in his quest to define these fragilities Sutherland shows us his strength not only of character but of his lyrical writing quality. Highly recommended.

Other impressive works include Ruth Stacey and Katy Wareham Morris’s Inheritance (Mothers Milk Press), meditative poems on motherhood, an anthemic working-class collection by Jamie Thrasivoulou Best of a Bad Situation (Silhouette Press)and Everyone Is Now Unhappy by Fergus McGonigal (Burning Eye).

Broken Stories by Reuben Woolley (20/20 Vision Press) shows how small presses take on big themes such as displacement and the infinite “etcetera” of modern suffering caused by conflict.

Antony Owen’s latest collection is The Nagasaki Elder (V. Press).

Karl Riordan

My favourite book of the year was Martina Evans's The Windows of Graceland (Carcanet). The narrative skill drawing upon an Irish family history and later her expatriation is inviting and she picks out details from the locale that shifts the reader into a world made strange.

In one poem you almost feel the breath when she’s accosted by a sectarian who whispers: “I’m looking forward to the twelfth.” He leaves before she can explain that she has recently become an atheist. It reminded me of hearing Eamonn McCann speak about filling out an official form and being asked if he was a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist.

Karl Riordan is a Disability Support Worker. His first book, The Tattooist’s Chair (Smokestack Books) was published this year.

James Womack

Anna Moschovakis’s They and We Will Get Into Trouble For This (Coffee House Press) gives experimental poetry a good name — three long poems that have new things to say about form and translation and biography.

Prose or poetry, the single best book I read this year was in Spanish, Manuel Vilas’s Poesía Completa 1980-2015 (Visor de Poesía).

He’s an inimitable, unstoppable writer, and his fantasies of sad sex and flick-knives and insane, painful consumption are unlike anything else I know. Best final line: Melissa Lee-Houghton, Cumshot in D Minor: “'You like it when people are genuine?’ I repeated back at him. ‘Why?’”

James Womack is a translator from Spanish and Russian. He recently translated a selection of poems by Vladimir Mayakovsky for Carcanet. His most recent collection is On Trust (Carcanet Press).



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