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 Also GM had one of those epic, tragic lives, dying young, Sylvia Plath-like & unpublished till after his death (unlike Sylvie).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


Drafting a Poem

Drafting a  Poem

wastelandEarlier in the year I wrote a piece for The New Writer about drafting poems. As the new year approaches I thought it might be time to dig out some of those poems in the 2012 drawer and give them an overhaul.

When is a poem ready to send out? Sometimes we’re too eager to submit our work when a little reflection and polishing might pay dividends in the long term and avoid those rejection slips. It’s becoming a costly business to submit to magazines and competitions (it costs £1 in stamps to send our work out with an SAE) so it’s important that what we are putting out there is our very best and to do that we must draft and redraft our work.

I know some poets who put their poems away in a drawers and come back to them later with a little more objectivity. Eliot started to write Little Gidding in July 1941 and put it aside for about 12months before picking it up again. After five drafts he sent it out and it was  published in New English Weekly.

I’m not suggesting you leave a poem for months at a time, but often a little distance can be useful and avoids rushing something out to that’s not quite ready. It’s really helpful, almost essential, to workshop your poem or show it to people whose opinion you really value. I value Kim Moore’s opinions and have asked her to talk me through the process of drafting her poem The Thing which appears in If We Could Speak to Wolves (Smith/Doorstop).

We’re in good hands as this collection was a winner in the Poetry Business Competition judged by Carol Ann Duffy and Kim is a recipient of an Eric Gregory Award and the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize. So over to Kim.

When I’m writing first of all,

I like to write in a notebook.

When trying to decide which poem to focus on for this first draft to last draft exercise, I noticed something quite striking. A lot of my first lines in my first draft versions of poems remain the same in my final, published versions – it’s almost like the poem has to have that first line or ‘tune’ to get me started. I then had a look at all the false starts I have of things that are still just pieces of writing in a folder that I’ve given up on, and sure enough the various versions of these had different first lines for every version.

PS logo

This poem came from a free writing exercise in a Poetry School workshop. I think this was one of the first times I’d ever done free writing. The tutor gave us the line ‘It was a morning like this’ and then told us to write without lifting the pen from the page for two minutes.  I remember being surprised by what came out of that rather innocuous line

I was reading Don Paterson’s Rain at the time, and my favourite poem from that book was ‘The Lie’ and I think this poem is heavily influenced by that poem. At first I worried that it was too close to the poem to stand on its own and be original, and I did check this out with various writer friends.

When I’m writing first of all, I like to write in a notebook. Then I leave the notebook for a couple of days, and come back to it, and type up anything I think has something interesting. This first draft would have been written out as prose in my notebook – I don’t put any line breaks in until I put it on the computer.

The reading aloud section completely vanishes

after that first draft


There are 10 drafts altogether of this poem but by draft 2 I’d organised it into four line stanzas. By draft 2 I’d realised ‘so you didn’t wake it’ wasn’t quite right and changed it to ‘so you didn’t disturb it’. It took me till draft four to realise that left me with ‘disturb’ and ‘disturbing’ very close to each other, and it was then I changed it to alarmed.

The reading aloud section completely vanishes after that first draft, and never comes back again – looking back now, although poetry doesn’t have to be true, it does have to have truth in it, and that doesn’t seem believable to me, that the speaker wouldn’t ask any questions, so I decided to not elaborate on what the protagonists in the poem think about The Thing – but rather just to show what happened to them instead.

I remember liking the bit where The Thing is compared to various animals – it took me till draft 6 to take the two ‘crys’ and change one to ‘voice’ which makes The Thing appear more human than animal.

The pavement image came in draft 2 – relatively early on, although it’s not in the original first draft, and I knew that the ending to the first draft wasn’t right – it seemed to fizzle out and lose its energy but it took until Draft 8 until I was brave enough to put the two questions in to the poem – I’d been told by one tutor or another not to put questions in a poem unless it was for a very good reason, and it took me a while to get my confidence up to do this.

I don’t put any line breaks in

until I put it on the computer

My first drafts tend to be quite long – I imagine them as a huge lump of rock that I have to chip away at to get at the poem inside and to find the shape that it should be. I think this is why I think free writing is so important – because it gives you a chance to get all your ideas out without that critical voice in your head telling you they are a load of rubbish. I also print out each draft and keep them all in a folder, in order, one behind the other. I know this is   scarily obsessive – but I have a mortal fear of deleting something that I might want later on.


The Thing (1st draft)

It was a morning like this when you carried in
the thing.  There was no-one to see but me,
how it curled in your arms like something
with feelings, how you moved like a ghost
so you didn’t wake it.  That night as I read
aloud to you, I thought there was little point
asking you where it had come from, or what
it meant.  At night its cry was disturbing.
It was like a cat that asks for food at first
and then like a dog that’s been stepped on
and finally, when it realised itself abandoned
its cry was suddenly human and lost.
It drank all the colours in our house, sucked
the red right out of everything – the walls,
the tablecloth, my jumpers.  We blamed
each other for leaving the curtains open
so it could steal the blue from the sky
and when it turned to us, left us grey
as faded newspapers, we didn’t look
at each other anymore.


The Thing (Published Version)

It was a morning like this when you carried it in.
There was no-one to see but me, how it curled
in your arms like something with feelings,
how you moved like a ghost so it wasn’t alarmed.

That night, its cry was disturbing, at first like a cat
wanting food, then like a dog that’s been stepped on,
and then, realising itself abandoned, its voice
became suddenly human and lost.

It drank the colour from our house, sucked the red
right out of everything – the walls, the tablecloth,
my jumper.  When it turned to us, left us the colour
of pavement, we forgot how to see each other.

I blamed you for opening the curtains so it could
steal the blue from the sky.  You went to get help,
the thing at your heels, bright as a bouquet of flowers.
How could you know that after you left the colours

came back, creeping, careful, wary? Each day
I wait for your return, the sky grey, like something
washed too many times.  Will we leave it unspoken,
that the thing, like all things, needs a name?


from ‘If We Could Speak Like Wolves’ pub. Smith/Doorstop


Kim Moore lives in Barrow-in-Furnesskim-moore

and has an MA in Creative Writing from

MMU. Her poems have appeared widely

in magazines and her writing placements

include Young Poet-in-Residence

at the Ledbury Poetry Festival.