Favourite Poetry of 2017

Shameful to admit, but I have to do it: although I read a lot of poetry, I seldom review it on my blog. Why is that? Because I often read 1-2 poems here, 2-3 there, without a methodical approach. If I do read a whole collection by a single author or an anthology by multiple poets, I do it over a longer period of time (because I need to reread and think about it) and forget to add it to Goodreads. Besides, reviewing an entire collection is much harder than looking at a single poem. So many different themes, styles, details to consider!

So I apologise for being remiss about reviewing what is probably even more important to me than crime fiction and literature in translation. I intend to do a lot better in the coming year. Meanwhile, here are some poets I discovered or rediscovered this year, with a short quote which will hopefully intrigue you enough to want to explore them in more detail.

Rebecca Goss: Her Birth

Very moving collection of poems portraying the birth, short life, death and aftermath of the poet’s daughter Ella, who was born with a rare and incurable heart condition.

Assure me I will be ripe
and stretching, my belly full

but still have space
for her first days, last days.

Assure me I will keep her toes
accurate as maths, her smell

precise, her voice heard above the birds.
Assure me that I will not howl her name

during birth, that I will place
newborn fingers in my mouth,

taste only newness.
Then, I will consider another.

Polly Atkin: Basic Nest Architecture

Beautifully observed details of nature, parallels drawn to human life, and to those concepts of home, belonging, nesting, which have always preoccupied me.

The irrepressible Polly Atkin explaining something about her poetry at Ty Newydd this summer.

Untethering

I am not a tree, my roots
blanketed by rock, my roots tunnelled under
the weight of the lake bed, my roots knotted rock
in the puzzle of a dry stone wall. Unthink
that sinking. Unthink that tether. Take

this light – that sweet, that loving yellow,
the mist erasing the horizon as though
there is nothing beyond the lip of the valley,
its kiss – could anyone turn from it now?

Gillian Allnutt: Blackthorn

Feminist Christian poetry might seem like an unexpected combination, but wonderful in Allnutt’s capable hands.

My father came home from the burning of Belsen
with bits of it under his skin and the bowl of his heart in his hands
that would never be the same again, not ever his own again.
Because of that burning down.
And, in his pocket, proudly, the souvenir spoon.
Of light tin, slowly, the bowl of it has worn down.
Barely is it a spoon.
The best of my life has been stirring the Bisto in.
And was Jerusalem.
Because.
Of my father in me there has been no burning down.

Andrew McMillan: Physical

Both lustful and tender, a paean to physical love in all its vulnerability, simplicity and complexity.

I had forgotten that loving could feel so calming
telling you that your body was beautiful sighing out
the brittle disappointments from the bones
having no judgement of what the body
may want to be doing where the breath may fall

Raymond Antrobus: To Sweeten Bitter

My father had four children
and three sugars in his coffee
and every birthday he bought me
a dictionary which got thicker
and thicker and because his word
is not dead, I carry it like sugar

on a silver spoon
up the Mobay hills in Jamaica […]

I looked at my hand
holding this ivory knife
and thought about how hard it was
to accept my father
for who he was
and where he came from

how easy it is now to spill
sugar on the table before
it is poured into my cup.

Immanuel Mifsud (from a collection of Poems from Malta)

Go, my son, follow your open eyes.
Go seek that country you’ll never find.
Go unite shores, parted by vast expanses of water.
You’ll go on walking hurt, wounded by love,
and many will seduce you but none will love you […]

Because you’re nothing but a whiff of sad wind;
You only need to spread your arms out,
Open your eyes wide, take a breath… and fly.

Deryn Rees-Jones: Burying the Wren

These poems spoke to me a lot this year: about trying to escape the confines – and seduction – of grief, about finding joy in small things.

It was the only blessing that I asked you for,
of leaving me unnoticed –
like the earth might tree seeds or a rouged leaf
in its fall.

Instead, you give me nothing,
catch me inside your coat
to see if you can catch my breath,

steal me, my soul…

 

 

Lessons in Welsh and Poetry from Ty Newydd

Croeso i Gymru – Welcome to Wales

After 20+ years spent in Great Britain, why oh why have I not visited Wales before? The combination of mountains and sea is exactly what my soul has been craving ever since I came to this island and a worthy substitute for my Genevois home which I miss with all my heart. This was enhanced, of course, by glorious weather and the serene setting of David Lloyd George’s house at Ty Newydd.

Trochi – Immersion

Reading, writing, listening, talking, eating, breathing, touching poetry as if it were the most important thing in the world. A protective glass bell for even the most fragile bloom to grow and blossom.

Diolch – Thank you

Under the gently challenging guidance of George Szirtes and Deryn Rees-Jones, who created a real feeling of community of like-minded people, who discuss your work rather than your personality or what they would have written instead. Profound admiration and respect to Polly, Jenny, Sophia, Jane, John, Antony, Dafydd, Christine, Simon, Vanessa, Margaret, Mary and Arji, who stretched my mind, made me laugh, made me cry and made me want to persevere. People who are serious about poetry, regardless of age and background, not ‘retired hobbyists’ (as implied in that controversial report). Not that there is anything wrong with opening up the world of poetry to hobbyists either…

Dechreuadau newydd – New Beginnings

To be honest, I was the most amateurish one there, the least experienced and the least ‘serious’ about poetry, too easily distracted by my other writing and blogging and reviews. It really brought home to me that you need to dedicate yourself seriously to poetry, to reading and writing it every day for years if you want to improve rather than just have a few happy accidents of phrasing.

Digon – Enough

The first few days I was panicking about not being productive enough: I had been hoping to repeat the feat of October in Provence of 35 new poems in 5 days. Particularly since at this particular point in time I could not really afford the fees (reasonable though they are, compared to other courses). It was almost as if I were measuring out spoonfuls of ground coffee and expecting a spectacular yield of nectar by the end. Then I learnt to relax: there are times of accumulation which are just as valuable as those productive times.

Syniadau Newydd – New Ideas

Ideas can come from anywhere, from following the course of a river through the woods, from blackberrying your way down the path to the sea, from watching a dog gambol on the beach to finding a rare volume of ecclesiastical history in the profound peace of Gladstone’s Library.

 

Anadlu – Breathe

How to keep the momentum going after this week out of time and space? I need to spend part of every day with poetry, not just turn to it when I am procrastinating on my novel or when I have an odd moment of inspiration. I need to practise and improve my craft, which means finding a writing group dedicated exclusively to poetry, although the more generic local one is a good source of inspiration in other respects. If I cannot find one geographically, perhaps I need to organise an online critiquing group.

Llyfrau – Books

One can never have too many books. They are the most beautiful decoration to a room and they bring endless delight and inspiration to yourself and to others.

 

 

 

Gwartheg – Cows

Do not attempt to outrun a field of Welsh cows, who are nothing like as blasé about intruders as their Swiss cousins.