A Year in Poetry

poetry bookshelf

Top titles for me….

Sharon Olds – One Secret Thing (Cape): I love this book for its wisdom. In the hands of a lesser poet, it could have been vindictive or bitter. It is not a comfortable read, but is well worth it.

John Burnside – Black Cat Bone: (Cape) After reading this, I’ve hunted down more of his poetry. Love its mystery and musicality.

Carola Luther – Herd: (The Wordsworth Trust) Carola was the Poet-in-Residence at the Wordsworth Trust last year. I’ve always loved her work, but really enjoyed the new direction that she takes in this pamphlet.

Ian Parks – The Cavafy Varations: (Rack Press) Cavafy is one of my favourite poets and I think Ian has done a great job with his variations. Would have been quite happy if the pamphlet was twice the length, which is always a good sign!

Kim Moore


Ko Un: First Person Sorrowful – Selected poems translated from by the Korean poet who is getting his first publication in the UK, ad read at the Aldeburgh Festival. Astonishing range from Zen/Haiku like sparseness, nature poems and he can howl like Allen Ginsberg.

Julia Copus: The Worlds Two Smallest Humans. Subtle poems  covering matters like, art, IVF treatment, love affairs often written with stunning control of language that you don’t notice until afterwards – a sure sign on virtuosity.

Ros Barber: The Marlowe Papers. Fiction or-Non Fiction? A lively verse novel that takes the view that Christopher Marlow’s death at Deptford was a set up and he lived on to write as William Shakespeare. An old conspiracy theory given new life, with copious notes on all the historical background. It really gets into the character of Marlowe and his sufferings.


Anna Hunt: Shaman In Stilettos. Memoir of Anna’s journey from being a celebrity journalist to a Shamanic training in South America. A pacey,  fascinating story of her experiences, with a scholarly bibliography at the back detail if you want to know more about Shamanism if you want to find out more.

Graham Mummery

It’s Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf translation, though it came out in 2010?? & I only got round to it last year.

OK, for me it starts with dear old GM Hopkins – around thirty years ago I couldn’t understand why he was so good, why his stuff stood apart from all that Victoriana; Browning, Longfellow, Tennyson. Also GM had one of those epic, tragic lives, dying young, Sylvia Plath-like & unpublished till after his death (unlike Sylvie).

Then Ted Hughes & I still didn’t make the link. Then in Manchester I met Harold Massingham who had been at University with Hughes and he turned me onto the Dream of the Rood.
Heaney came after these, but I’ve always rated his rock-solid images, the idea of living in the thick of things – a catholic in Belfast, plus he’s a Celt like me.
It’s not just the Anglo-Saxon, it’s the Celtic stuff, mixed up with it: A-Saxon for alliteration & ‘kennings’, Celtic for strangeness & magic – mix ’em up – that’s the darkness & urgency of Hughes. Plus, it’s something about the way we live – mixed up, half-sorted etc etc…
There’s a good link below to why Heaney did the Beowulf:

Roger James

The Fool and the Physician by Andy Brown …  a fantastical and inventive collection, exploring what we haven’t seen in what there is to be seen.

The Disappearance of Snow by Manuel Rivas, translated by Lorna Shaughnessy  …magical language and deeply passionate.

Wait by CK Williams. I learned a lot from these chatty-type poems with long, long lines that balance perfectly but how on earth does he do that?

Rebecca Gethin


Stag's LeapIn a year that has been dizzyingly-rich in new poetry collections, the standout books for me are THE OVERHAUL by Kathleen Jamie (Picador), STAG’S LEAP by Sharon Olds (Cape), and the anthology BIRD BOOK II Freshwater Habitats, edited by Kirsten Irving and Jon Stone (Sidekick Books).

And I’d like to add how much I’m looking forward to TIGER FACING THE MIST by Pauline Stainer (Bloodaxe Books) and TO THE WAR POETS by John Greening (OxfordPoets/Carcanet) in 2013.

Penelope Shuttle

I enjoyed a lot of the poetry that came my way in 2012, but particularly appreciated Sarah Jackson’s debut collection Pelt (Bloodaxe) and Lorna Thorpe’s Sweet Torture of Breathing (Arc).

Jeremy Page



Breathing Through Our Bones by Julie Mellor (Smith/Doorstop)

If We Could Speak Like Wolves by Kim Moore (Smith/Doorstop)

Riddance by Anthony Wilson (Worple Press)

Josephine Corcoran


I have two favourite poetry books for 2012.  These are both by American poets: the first (and most favourite) is the stunning debut by a 22-year old (!) Megan Falley “After the Witch Hunt”(Write Bloody Publishing) which is full of really exciting and feisty poems which, to quote one critic, “begin in delight and end in a punch to the gut” and another “by the final page I’d divorced every whisper in my chest”.  My MUST read.

The second is Sharon Olds “Stag’s Leap” which is the thought-provoking sequence of poems on the story of a marriage and divorce.  “She carries the reader through rooms of passion and loss” and her poetry is full of candour.  I expect you probably already know these two poets – but my suggestions nonetheless.

 Jill Munroe


Andy Brown –The Fool and the Physician -Salt
Peter Carpenter –Just Like That – Smith/Doorstop
Alasdair Paterson –Brumaire and Later -Flarestack Poets
Clare Best –Excisions -Waterloo Press
Deryn Rees-Jones – Burying the Wren – Seren
Kim Moore – If We Could Speak Like Wolves – Smith/Doorstop
Sue Dymoke –Moon at the Park and Ride – Shoestring Press
Christopher Southgate –A Gash in the Darkness Shoestring Press
Matthew Dickman –All-American Poem – The American Poetry Review
Sarah Salway –You Do Not Need Another Self-Help Book -Pindrop Press

 Anthony Wilson


It’s really hard to select four books from my favourites published in 2012, but I’ll choose:

– ‘Stag’s Leap‘ – Sharon Olds
– ‘Collected Poems‘ – Peter Redgrove
– ‘Banjo‘ – Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch
– ‘Ice‘ – Gillian Clarke

Katrina Naomi


Great American Prose Poems’ edited by David Lehman, Scribner. Examples from Poe to the present day. It explores the boundary between poetry, experimental prose, and micro-fiction. A must have book for anyone interested in prose-poetry.

Counter Attack and Other Poems’ by Siegfried Sassoon, Kindle edition. Powerful, highly emotionally charged poetry that expresses the poet’s contempt for the stupidity of war, and his humane response to those that suffer as a consequence.
Swallowing Stones’ by Carole Coates, Shoestring Press, 2012. A wonderfully entertaining narrative that is carried along by its own exuberance. A very inventive poet.
Derrick Buttress
I’m not sure I ever read books in the year they were published, not consciously. The best poetry collection I read this year and also probably last year is Marilyn Longstaff’s ‘Raiment’ (Smokestack) – simple holding form, poems about how we are clothes and clothes are us. I don’t remember when a poetry collection just clicked with me so easily. It’s funny and bitter and talented. I also bought Anne Stewart’s ‘The Janus Hour‘ (Oversteps) this year, and that’s from 2010, too. I like its chat, its dark humour. I hadn’t read her poetry before, and wanted to, given all that she does with poetrypf. It was worth it. And a special applause for Smiths Knoll 50, which came with a tenner, because it was closing and they refunded subscribers (unheard of). It was the only poetry magazine I subscribed to because I wanted to, not because I felt I had to: its editors Michael Laskey and Joanna Cutts are irreplaceable, for their support, kindness to those who submitted, and the sheer quality of the contents. The fiftieth and last – and this was this year – kept up the unfailingly high standard. Mind you, the best words I heard all year were ‘The Mariner’s Revenge Song‘ by The Decemberists. It qualifies because it came out on a live album this year (‘We All Raise Our Voices To The Air‘) and is the best ballad of the century so far. Watch them do it on YouTube (more than one version) “One night I overheard/ The prior exchanging words/ With a penitent whaler from the sea/ The captain of his ship/ Who matched you toe to tip/ Was known for wanton cruelty”. Nine minutes of brilliance: written by Colin Meloy and released by Rough Trade in this country.
Bill Greenwell


unsent-shuttle_penelope-20830977-2147066681-frntlUnsent: New & Selected Poems 1980-2012.  Bloodaxe   Penelope Shuttle.

I should declare intent, Penny is a good friend, but to see her poetry scrolled out over the years and then gathered together here, gives a breathtaking new look at her work.  Few people put their words so brightly on the page.

Stag’s Leap. Cape.  Sharon Olds. I haven’t always been a fan of this poet, but Stag’s Leap was a collection I found extraordinary: generous, clear-sighted and revealing.  I dreamt about it for nights after I first read it.

Birdbook II Freshwater Habitats  edited by Kirsten Irving and Jon Stone. A classy anthology of poems about and illustrations of birds.   Most of it a masterclass in how to be really imaginative in nature writing.

Caroline Carver


On Poetry, Glyn Maxwell (Oberon Books)
Succinct, funny, and incredibly informative exploration of that old
chestnut ‘what is poetry’ by a master practitioner of the art. I read it
at one sitting and know I’ll turn to it many times for inspiration.

Raptors, Toon Tellegen (Carcanet) translated by Judith WilkinsonThis-Line-is-Not-for-Turning-RGB
A story of a dysfunctional family that’s a lesson in poetic repetition,
reclaiming cliché, and uniqueness. So beautifully rendered in the English
you don’t feel you miss a thing from the Dutch original. Renewed my faith
in poetry in translation.

This Line is Not for Turning, an anthology of contemporary British prose
poetry, ed Jane Monson (Cinnamon Press)
Wonderful examples exploring the range of what a prose poem can be.
Introduced me to new writers I’d not come across before. ‘Kierkegaard’s
Chairs’ by the editor is a piece I keep going back to.

P L A C E, Jorie Graham (Carcanet)
What I thought might be a difficult poetry book turned out to be
accessible as well as innovative, and rewards constant re-reading. Asks
large and small scale questions about how we live now.

Heidi Williamson


Only one for me and you won’t be surprised that it is your wonderful book, Snow Child.

I think I originally said ‘I have read all the fantastic comments and there is not really anything I can say other than, for me, you have the command of imagery that Pablo Neruda had with all the passion but none of the overt sentimentality and far more intelligence’ but you don’t have to put anything if you’re too embarrassed!

Luigi Marchini


J Draycott, PearlI’d like to say how much I enjoyed Pearl by Jane Draycott. It’s such a sensitive, delicate and yet meaty translation, with Draycott’s finely attuned ear and laser-sharp vision used to stunning effect.

I love it and return to it for solace and nourishment regularly!

Catherine Smith



A favourite of mine is Maggie Butt’s Sancti Clandestini (Ward Wood Publishing) for the sheer richness and originality of its production. sancti-clandestiniIt’s rare to see an illustrated book of poetry today and its originality lies in the imaginary patron saints Maggie brings us – recognisable in our contemporary everyday lives –  (e.g. The Patron Saint of Sunday Morning, of Ugly Towns, Obsessive Housewives):

“And there he goes again/popping up, all apple-cheeks/and marmalade smiles/like a jack-in-the-box” (The Patron Saint of Unwanted Hope)

This is a visually appealing book, one which jumps out from any bookshelf and is a pleasure to read.

Valerie Morton


Kim Moore’s If We Could Speak like Wolves
Emer Gillespie’s The Instinct Against Death
Tamar Yoseloff’s Formerly
Frank Dullaghan’s Enough Light to See the Dark

If I’m allowed some published in the second half of 2011?
Abegail Morley’s Snow Child 🙂
Sharon Black’s To Know Bedrock
Bill Greenwell’s Ringers

Karen Dennison


Cherry Smyth’s  Test Orange,  Deryn Rees-Jones’ Burying the Wren and Sarah Jackson’s Pelt.

Jo Hemmant


It’s more poetry than prose. I’ve struggled with some of the novel challenges in 2012, but oddly perhaps two of the best have been by Helen Dunmore in her Ingo series. I read ‘Ingo’ and a later book ‘Stormswept‘. Both were set in Cornwall, a county I visited several times last year, and I was lucky enough to visit the ‘Mermaid’s Chair’ (the starting point for Ingo) when I stayed with poet, Jenny Hamlett in Zennor.

I also thoroughly enjoyed ‘John Keat’s‘ a weighty biography by Nicholas Roe. I spent half a poetry prize book token on this when I bought the book in Cheltenham in October. With Keats having had such a short life, but having left lots of letters and other details, it reads almost like a day to day diary. Nicholas Roe has a way of taking the reader back as if he/she were actually there with him, suffering the same hardships and joys.
Some poetry that has stood out for me this year has been ‘Black Cat Bone‘ by John Burnside which I struggled to read in hospital last February, but really enjoyed during my recovery at home. I also enjoyed Caroline Carver’s ‘Tikki Tikki Man‘, ‘Andy Brown’s ‘The Fool and the Philosopher‘, Wislawa Szymborska’s ‘Here‘ and Federico Garcia Lorca’s ‘Poet in New York‘. I get to appreciate Lorca’s special talent with each  book of his poems that I read. Jane Duran’s ‘Graceline’, a collection that worked well on a personal leve, having spent time in Chile where many of the poems are set.
Graham Burchell


if-you-sit-very-still-marian-partington-hardcover-cover-artDeep Field by Philip Gross – a poetic enquiry into language at the frontiers that bravely goes into the world of the poet’s elderly father as he loses his linguistic bearings.  If you get a chance to hear Philip reading from it, do go.  The book is brave and takes us to the edge in many ways.
If You Sit Very Still by Marian Partington – this is a prose memoir infused with poetry, an account of what it was like to have a sister go missing and subsequently to find out that she was murdered by Fred West.  It is haunting, beautiful, challenging and unforgettable.
Wild by Jay Griffiths – this is a few years old now but I read it for the first time last month and couldn’t put it down.  In wild, exuberant, heart-felt language, this is one woman’s hymn and lament for our suffering and forgiving planet, its loveliness and the horrors of what we are doing to it. It’s also a feminine take on the more goal-oriented and triumphant travel books of recent years.
New & Selected Poems by Dennis O’Driscoll – another oldie but retrieved from the bookshelves after learning of his death at Christmas.  Impeccable poet.
poems for refugees
Poems for Refugees, edited by Pippa Haywood. Leading names in the arts choose poems in response to September 11th and the ensuing Afghan crisis. A wonderful anthology, known and unknown works from the Bible to Brecht, Yeats to Yevtushenko, and all stages in between.
Teachings of the Chinese Masters, translated by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping
‘Lu Ji’s essay in verse, The Art of Writing, reveals the inner process every writer must go through in preparing for the creative act.
Sikong Tu’s Twenty-four Styles of Poetry teaches that poets must perfect themselves internally in order to achieve perfection in what they write. Poets’ Jade Splinters translated by Barnstone and Ping contains aphoristic prescriptions and humorous anecdotes about poetry, poets, and the rules of composition. Assorted commentaries and critical evaluations focus on Chinese lyrical poetry.’
Pat Buik
Karen Dennison, Counting Rain – fav. poem “Moon Landing”
Emer Gillespie, The Instinct Against Death , fav. poems “Demeter” & “For Elly”
Lindsey Holland, Particle Soup, fav. poem “iii. The Cavity” partly because it includes the words numismatists and patinated.
Kim Moore, If We Could Speak Like Wolves, fav. poem “Train Journey, Barrow to Sheffield”
Elly Nobbs
Undoubtedly the poetry book that stopped me in my tracks this year was Robert Hass, The Apple Trees at Olema. He scatters complex ideas and imagery with such ease across the page and takes the reader on an unexpected journey in every poem.The book I’ve brought with me on holiday to enjoy at greater leisure is Catherine Smith’s Otherwhere.
Emer Gillespie
PS I can’t nominate yours to you, can I?! Because if it wasn’t you asking the question, you would be in my answer.

II have a memory like a sieve.  Publication dates fall with particular ease through its black holes.  So I apologise to all the fine books I have now convinced myself were published in 2011… But the following four do belong to 2012, and I think they are all excellent.

First, a first collection, by Kim Moore.  Her poems have been, rightly, much praised.  They are bold, funny and eloquent.  Here is a snatch of the title poem from If We Could Speak Like Wolves, published by Smith/Doorstop
[…] if my eyes
could sharpen to yellow, if we journeyed
each night for miles, taking it in turns
to lead, if we could know by smell
what we are born to […]

Follow the pack to:


Secondly, The Lost Hare, a collection, published by Anvil, by Nina Bogin.  Born in the US, she has lived for many years in France.  How have I missed her for so long?   Her work is immaculate, wise, and deeply moving. This is the close of a poem to the dead of the First World War:
they seem younger […]
the years between us shorter,
and the war they fought in
never-ending slaughter.


My third poet is Jo Haslam, who has won more prizes than I can count, and deserves still more readers. Her most recent prize was publication, by Templar, of her third collection, On the Kiso Road.  Jo’s work has an extraordinary lift and lilt. Listen to the flight of her owls:

creatures made up, like us of cells,
tissue and blood, but aerial, mysterious,
beating the bounds from the first birch tree
at the edge of the woods, to the low
dense shrub that borders our garden.


Finally, I’d suggest the joyful weight of Elizabeth Jennings’ Collected Poems.  Even if you love and own her poetry, I suspect that many fine poems here will prove new to you. If you have not yet read Jennings, here is lucid, lovely work of a rare authority:
For under all the gentleness there came
An earthquake tremor: fountain, birds and grass
Were shaken by me thinking of your name.

I have a piece about this book, (called ‘Winged’) as the last-but-one post on my blog, at http://www.alisonbrackenbury.co.uk/. It is laced with admiring quotations, if you would like to hear more from the Collected.  Better still, begin 2013 with bold decisiveness. Buy the book, at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Collected-Poems-Elizabeth-Jennings/dp/1847770681

Alison Brackenbury

7 thoughts on “A Year in Poetry”

  1. I shall treasure this in the coming weeks. Absolutely fascinating and so much to read and take in. I kept thinking OH! OFCOURSE why had I not said that one and that?…… as well as hearing about loads of books I wish i had much more time and head-space to read. Such a diverse and fruitful “list”. Brilliant idea, thanks Abi.

  2. Reblogged this on Kim Moore and commented:
    Here is a great post by Abegaiil Morley. She has asked lots of poets to recommend their favourite reads of the year – I’ve already got my reading list for 2013 sorted from this. Wish I’d thought of this idea!

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