I’ve had a rich and varied year which has gone from the glorious to the tempestuous and all shades in between, and one of the things that has gone by the board is my intention to write reviews of the many brilliant new books of poetry I’ve been privileged to see launched this year. But at least I can list them – do consider this as a recommendation!
- Double Bill edited by Andy jackson (Red Squirrel Press). Yes, I am in it, writing about Nirvana, but so are a lot of really fabulous poets in the most unlikely and fabulous juxtapositions – Judge Dredd versus Judge Judy, Marvel and DC Comics. Bebop and Rocksteady. Nirvana is opposite Mark Burnhope’s poem about Pearl Jam, and, by a strange coincidence, both poems deal with parent/son dialogue. But look for poems about film, music, television, radio, adverts —
- Fault Line by Gerry Loose (Vagabond Voices). An unlikely choice for one of my top three, because at first Gerry Loose’s poetry seemed too spare and abstract for my liking. In fact, it turns out to be a multi-voiced and highly textured sequence about the natural life of the (human as well as non-human) inhabitants of the area round the Faslane nuclear base. One of the themes emerging out of the Half a Hundred Herbs project is that herbs are often used as tokens of resistance (to pollution, over use of technology, authoritarian thought systems) and Gerry Loose has just about nailed it as far as I can tell.
- Tree Language by Marion Macready (Eyewear Press) A stunningly accomplished first collection – surreal, sometimes slightly disturbing poems.
- Moontide by Niall Campbell (Bloodaxe) Niall Campbell has won the Edwin Morgan Prize and been short-listed (justifiably) for just about everything else since this book came out. Poems not only about the island where he was brought up, but about relationships, about places and about the writing of poetry, strangely embodied physical poetry, with a feeling of weight and movement.
- The Body in Space by Gerrie Fellowes (Shearsman Press). This is one that almost got away Stravaig published a poem sequence from this book early this year, but I got to the launch almost by accident and didn’t get round to reading it until I was preparing this post. It is so much what I think I don’t want from poetry – there’s no lyrical feel, no music, no sensuality, very little emotion, but my goodness, such a lift, such a range, lightness of touch, complexity of thought. I am going to learn so much from this book. I have no hesitation in naming it the book of the year for me.
- Dry Stone Work by Brian Johnstone (Arc Publications). This is a skilled, competent, rather formal, and very manly book – not macho, not in any sexist or limited way, but dealing with the masculine experience of life in the twentieth and twenty-first century – tools, woodwork, masonry, fishing, war, in a way that is not insensitive or anthropocentric.
- Cairn by Richie McCaffery (Nine Arches). A thoughtful view of life reflected in descriptions of objects and small events. I reviewed Richie’s first pamphlet Spinning Plates (Happenstance) here, in which I said there was better to come. Well this is it. This is Richie McCaffery hitting his stride.
- Who Are Your People by Matthew MacDonald (Red Squirrel Press). I can’t resist Island poetry. This is a very promising pamphlet by a young Edinburgh poet – one to watch, I feel.
- The Gypsy and the Poet by David Morley (Carcanet). This is so different from the last David Morley collection I reviewed (here). So much flash and bravura, and not at all geeky, like Enchantment, this is a sequence inspired by the friendship between the poet John Clare and a local gypsy Wisdom Smith.
- The Book of Ways by Colin Will (Red Squirrel Press). A book of haibuns recounting journeys – of many kinds. If you find that every poet in Scotland is writing haibuns now, you will know why. The one which concludes the book, about the death of Colin Will’s mother is particularly moving.
- Marlin and Locust by Jennifer Lynn Williams (Shearsman Press). Another one that took me by surprise and out of my comfort zone, and definitely in my top three. It includes a poem about a heron that I found myself memorising – which I never do! Flawless and gripping.
- Meeting Buddha in Dumbarton by Nikki Magennis (Red Squirrel Press). Nikki’s poems won the James Kirkup Competition in 2013, which I judged with my friend and fellow Red Squirrel poet Anne Connolly. Her warm, thoughful and sensual poems stood out in a year which included several superb entires, and this collection lives up to its promise.
I’ve also read a lot of older poetry by Anna Crowe, Seamus Heaney, Lorca, Neruda, Kerry Hardie, Michael Hartnett (the year’s big find), Sorley MacLean, Rose Flint and Lynnette Roberts. What a year it has been!