I am not going to do a ‘state of the nation’ piece, because the state of the whole world, frankly, is ‘hell mend ye’, and I am so grateful to the millions of people I know who are saying loudly and forcefully, ‘we will not allow this to go on’. You are, literally, holding me together.
I realise that we are heading into a new decade, and it occurred to me that this is the last full decade I can reasonably look forward to, because it will bring me comfortably past the allotted span. Not that I can be too dogmatic about it – my mother is still alive at 95, and my great-great-great-grandmother, one Hanora Foley of Waterford, lived until she was 113, through Penal Times, the Famine, the first world war and the Irish wars of Independence. I can’t verify this on-line, by the way, I saw this in a press cutting in the Waterford Library. I don’t think I want to beat her record!
It has been a roller-coaster of a decade, though I think we have finished in a better place than when we started. In 2009 I was beginning to be published, and I met someone who read my poetry and told me I was ready to submit a collection, which I did. Now I have three collections out with Red Squirrel Press, edited 8 full collections, 2 pamphlets and 2 anthologies, given workshops based on my herb poems and I’m about to write a column for the InterlitQ blog. My family have grown up, married (2) and divorced (1), and have added three grandchildren to our number. My husband retired, everyone got ill in complicated ways and mostly got better (not all at once, except for one memorable week when there were three of us in A&E in different hospitals at the same time). One of us moved 8 times, 1 of us moved three times and one of us moved twice, while we kept thinking about moving and not doing it. And there was politics. So much politics and so much of it awful.
That’s enough of that! It seems to me that there is an inverse relationship between poetry and politics, in that the worse the politics, the better the poetry. Here are my highlights – in no particular order:
- The Republic of Motherhood Liz Berry
- Balefire Jim Carruth
- Witch Rebecca Tamás
- Deaf Republic Ilya Kaminsky
- How Time Is In Fields Jean Atkin
- Tales of the Dartry Mountains Charlie Gracie
- Nobody Alice Oswald
- The Stags Leap Sharon Olds
- Sweeney Astray Seamus Heaney
- The Nearby Bushes Kei Miller
You will see that they are not all books that came out this year – some of them are books I was very late to discover, and I bought more that I haven’t got round to yet. There are also books, pamphlets or even individual poems that impressed me at the time, and which have got away since. I can imagine myself waking up at night and going, ‘I forgot x!’ and having to add it surreptitiously to the list. But this is my top ten, anyway, and it should be enough to go on. If there’s anything here you haven’t yet read, go to it! You will be in for a treat!
So here we are on the brink of a 2020, a whole decade with no mistakes in it yet. I hope it brings us health, wisdom, peace and friendship enough to build a hope stronger than the wiles of politicians. Happy New Year!