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.
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.
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?
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.
Of my father in me there has been no burning down.
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.
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.
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…