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BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2023

Updated: Jan 5

We asked a selection of our authors for their favourite poetry books of 2023.

 

EDITORIAL TEAM


AARON KENT, EDITOR, AUTHOR OF THE WORKING CLASSIC

Ben Lerner - The Lights

The Lights made me reconsider everything I knew about poetry, in the best possible way.


Fran Lock - Hyena!

Fran Lock is one of the most important writers in contemporary poetry. Hyena! holds within it the minutiae of working-class grief, of being told where you belong, of freeing ourselves from the cages of class expectations.


Matthew Mitero - Poems for a Dangerous Harvest

What left is there to say about Mitero's work besides the raging empathy he feels for the ways in which we burden ourselves with the complexity of daylight.


STUART MCPHERSON, ASSISTANT POETRY EDITOR, AUTHOR OF END CEREMONIES

Sabeen Chaudhry - Rimming the Event Horizon

Explosive, angular, experimental, but deeply engaging, it discusses race, gender, identity and environment in a profoundly unique way. It's a cyclonic collection of poetics, of resistance, that entangles the reader, destroys their zone of comfort and forces them to look differently.


Ian Patterson - Shell Vestige Disputed

Just an absolute master of language, of the complex. These poems contain multiple layers that demand to be explored. Sometimes surreal, and both overtly and covertly political, this book is a must for anyone wanting to steep themselves in progressive poetics.


Fee Griffin - Really Not Really

It's poetry like no other. Immediately accessible but painted in such surreal brush strokes. There is something so relatable about this book, like you understand all of the different perspectives as a part of your own experience of life's bizarreness.


CATHLEEN ALLYN CONWAY, ASSISTANT PROSE EDITOR, AUTHOR OF BLOOFER

Jessica L. Walsh - Book of Gods & Grudges

Read “When My Daughter Says I Was Never Punk”. My soul started to slip from my body the first time I read that one.


Majda Gama - The Call of Paradise

Majda Gama’s work reflects the shifting political topography of her world, from the Gulf States to the United States, speaking in the languages of her parents with a voice distinctly her own. The Call of Paradise is a long-overdue debut from someone I have loved and admired for years.


Trapper Markelz - Childproof Sky

(Trigger warning for those that need it, because I sure do…)

Trapper Markelz’s Childproof Sky is an exploration of a bereaved father’s grief over losing a baby to SIDS. These poems are perfectly balanced, somehow managing to be beautiful and exquisitely formed from a pain that terrifies me to the bone.


ANDRE BAGOO, EDITORIAL ASSISTANT, AUTHOR OF NARCISSUS

Mary Jean Chan - Bright Fear

“All fear is grief”, declares this collection in its opening pages. There’s a lot in that simple assertion. Perhaps all fear reflects something primitive and instinctual about the finite nature of life, about death. If so, grief, the transubstantiation of death among the living, is the expression of a collective anxiety. But the line goes on after the window of a colon: “All fear is grief: how my mother wants / me home, how tears come on like poems.” The rest of the book, thus understood, is something of an elegy; each poem a mourning for something lost. The general is narrowed into something specific. But this is not dilution. It is attenuation: “I am a poet, I said to the world’s rage, its grief. Now I offer this / in return, the way trees do.” This is a book that is sure and steady in its unflinching gaze at transitory and wandering things. There is a force and power here that accrues through an elegant plundering of the queer, immigrant experience: each illumination felt like a truth I instantly recognised but had seldom been able to name. However, this is also a book about the general anomie that ensues in a world in which power and privilege silence and everything is at odds with stated values, dreams, imaginings. The result is a retreat into poetry. “Try living in the romanticised elsewhere,” the book wryly suggests, alongside, “I left home for the poem” and “What were we, as a species, doing?” One poem ends with the idea that the “coloniser’s / gaze” is “your own”. The riddle of this flowers long after reading.


Ben Lerner - The Lights

There is something otherworldly about the prose poem in Ben Lerner’s hands. Not lyric, not prose – what exactly is a prose poem? Is it an inchoate form: not yet fully one thing or another? Or has it superseded both of its polar opposites, obliterated them? Lerner suggests there is something alien in prose poetry’s liminality and this collection mines that to terrifying effect. An extra-terrestrial voice takes over and manages to slip the grip of language: at one stage a conjunctive “that” strings together a groups of subordinate clauses that might be as much wishes as reportage: “that they are here / among us, that they love us / that we invited them / in without knowledge / into our knowledge, its cavities / that we have asked to be destroyed / that they are deliberating / in us, that they are part of our sexual life…” Talk about creepy. Of course the usual metaphor of ET as stand-in for foreigner, foreign national, non-native, immigrant, emigrant, émigré, incomer, newcomer &c attends. But the visitor here also declares: “I have come from the future to warn you.” Upon reflection, I think of prose poems as, to quote from these pages, “immense glass cases filled with scale / models of machines, utensils, curios”. If that is so, then Lerner has reconciled “the other” with its comparator; inside with outside. Perhaps that is what the prose poem is, a bridge. “Form,” this book states, “is always the answer to the riddle it poses…”


Mary Ruefle - The Book

This book is summed up best through a litany comprising its poem titles: ‘Untitled’, ‘The Photograph’, ‘Pixie’, ‘The Wrapped Book’, ‘Nettles’, ‘The Bark’, ‘Nope’, ‘We Need to Talk About Ice Cream’, ‘The Candy’, ‘House Hunting’, ‘A Lesson in History’, ‘My Life as a Scholar’, ‘The Cashew’, ‘My Memory of a Story by Lydia Davis I Read Years Ago and Never Forget’, ‘The Stagehand’, ‘The Trees’, ‘What Happens When You Die’, ‘The Cloud Beaters’, ‘The Translator’, ‘Golden Crumbs’, ‘Love Story’, ‘The Wind’, ‘The Color’, ‘The Perk’, ‘The Heart, What Is It?’, ‘I Dream of Jung’, ‘Lucky Dragon’, ‘My Dying Friend’, ‘Dear Friends’, ‘Letter to Elizabeth Bishop’, ‘The Gables’, ‘Affordable Vacation’, ‘An American Haiku’, ‘Teeth of Noon’, ‘The Effusive’, ‘The Novel’, ‘The Book’, ‘Chilly Observation’ and ‘The Plum and the Devil’. Litany or miscellany? If you want to find a narrative in these titles, then you are perfectly free to do so. If not, that’s cool too. For this is how we swim through these prose poems: along pathways that defy expectations, taking us on surprising peregrinations to both sublime climaxes and haunting dead ends. Mystery, bafflement and play—all such senses are integral here in a sometimes meta book that “seemed to be written especially for me".


KIT INGRAM, EDITORIAL ASSISTANT, AUTHOR OF AQUEOUS RED

Jonathan Kinsman - The Fireman's Daughter

A courageous work that casts a personal journey in mythic-poetic terms, giving it a universal resonance. The poems exhibit a wide range of feeling and style, fleshing out sexual metaphors within Christian and classical mythologies. Subversive, timeless, and wonderful.


Alicia Byrne Keane - Pretend Cartoon Strength

Poems of enormous craft, generosity, and ingenuity! It isn’t often I encounter work so well-considered and finely tuned. Keane blend the physical, spatial, natural, and political effortlessly and compellingly.


Paul Edmondson, Aaron Kent, Chris Laoutaris, Katherine Scheil (Editors) - Anne-thology: Poems Re-presenting Anne Shakespeare

An essential re-angling of the spotlight from William to Anne Shakespeare. An imaginative, tender, witty, and exuberant journey through Anne's life and dreams across sixty-seven years and as many poems. Essential reading.


BROKEN SLEEP BOOKS AUTHORS


JILL ABRAM, AUTHOR OF FORGETTING MY FATHER

Arji Manuelpillai - Improvised Explosive Device

As research for this book, which has a theme of extremism, Arji interviewed people who had been affected by it, including members of the Tamil Tigers and of far right groups, such as EDL, and a mother who lost her son to Isis. I have seen him read from the book and he prefaces each poem by talking about the encounter and playing a clip of the interview which inspired it. It's remarkable how people opened up to him and makes for a unique set of poems, which have a great impact.


Paul Stephenson - Hard Drive

Paul has always been very good at word play, which I much admire, and these poems combine that with subject matter of such great emotional effect you have to read it in short bursts.


Safiya Kamaria Kinshasa - Cane, Corn & Gully

Safiya has developed her own form and notation of choreopoetry to portray the stories and dances of enslaved women, in particular from Barbados where her own roots lie. The performances in which she combines dance and poems are astonishing and outstanding.


ASTRID ALBEN, AUTHOR OF COLLECTED WORKS

Philip Hancock - House on the A34

Following on from his acclaimed debut City Works Dept., Philip Hancock’s House on the A34 further examines human inter-/reaction played out in the workplace. These are refined studies of the decorator’s lifeblood and exercises in the refinement of a poetic style.


Lavinia Singer - Artifice

Artifice by Lavinia Singer is a debut collection brimming with dynamic exploration. Finally, a poet not afraid to stumble, pick up and dust off the poem and allow it to be its startled, new self.


emmett williams - selected shorter poems 1950-1970

I spotted selected shorter poems 1950-1970 by emmett williams collecting dust in a display unit in Boekie Woekie, the famous artist run bookshop for books by artists in Amsterdam. His humour, intelligence and his letting go of whatever it is we need to let go off he executed in his concrete poetry and Fluxus flutters: Emmett, lover, feeder of my poetica acquisitiveness, where have you been? Take me to your planet!


SIMON BARRACLOUGH, AUTHOR OF IARNRÓD ÉIREANN (DIVINE HOURS FORTHCOMING)

Isobel Dixon - A Whistling of Birds

This book feels like a mighty crescendo in terms of Dixon’s art. One of our best poets of flora, fauna, landscape, and the complexities of experience, she subtly lenses the just-glimpsable figure of D.H. Lawrence in poems that dance with linguistic playfulness and channel a generous humanity. Alongside the poems are magnificent illustrations by Doug Robertson. In some books, words and images juxtaposed tend to wrestle, with one eventually pinned to the floor, but Robertson and Dixon seem to help each other reach new heights in their work.


Shash Trevett, Seni Seneviratne, and Vidyan Ravinthiran (Editors) - Out of Sri Lanka

This generous, essential anthology of “Tamil, Sinhala and English Poetry from Sri Lanka and its Diasporas” is endlessly varied, moving and enlightening. I spent some time in Sri Lanka in 2003 and occasionally risk a poem about my month-or-so there. This tide of poetry makes my poems feel like a couple of dead pixels on an IMAX screen showing the Indian Ocean in real time. While it is, of course, focused on specific histories and experiences, the suffering and the questions it raises remain painfully resonant for the wider world at the ruinous close of 2023. I haven’t finished it yet and will take it with me into 2024.


M. L. West (translator) - Greek Lyric Poetry

You said I could pick an older book and these poems are pretty old. But their subject matter is not. Satires, eulogies, calls to arms, enigmatic fragments: moving, surprising, outrageous, rude, and frequently hilarious. I’ve been reading lots of Ancient Greek plays this year and this slim volume slotted nicely alongside. If you don’t like my choices, well, “There never was nor ever will be born a man who pleases everyone throughout his life” (Anonymous, from the Theognidea).


CHARLIE BAYLIS, AUTHOR OF A FONDNESS FOR THE COLOUR GREEN

HLR - Ex-Cetera

Harmonic, lurid, ravishing. HLR's poetry stands for danger, or for the price of a signed blank cheque, I'll whisper her name into the beat of your eardrum's bang.


Jasmine Gray - Open Your Mouth

A little mix of muses, moods and mauve.


Tom Branfoot - This Is Not an Epiphany

Sparkle and heartbeat.


TOM BRANFOOT, AUTHOR OF BOAR

Ben Lerner - The Lights

Vital and sublime work by a master of repetition’s uncanny nature. The Lights sees Ben Lerner exhibiting the tricksy mechanics of poetry via an x-ray projected onto the night sky.


ALICIA BYRNE KEANE, AUTHOR OF PRETEND CARTOON STRENGTH

Mark Ward - Nightlight

Reading, I had the feeling that many of the poems in Nightlight were spare and concise, seeming to say things at a glance or say only what they needed to. Then the book adds up to give such an empathetic and full perspective on its speaker(s)/narrator(s). I was astonished by the skill this must take. The cover of this book depicts a dim-lit city room at night, and the light in the collection somehow behaves in a similar way, as a picture is slowly built up.


Susannah Dickey - ISDAL

This book was surreal, challenging, and seems to completely rewrite everything we think of a poetry collection as doing. It reads: part minimalist play, part fictional podcast, part academic condemnation of contemporary obsessions with 'true crime' stories. Every now and then you read something completely original and that reminds you of nothing else, and ISDAL was this book for me.


Antony Joseph - Sonnets for Albert

I read this collection in the early months of 2023, although it had been published in the previous six months. So not exactly a 2023 book but I think I've been trying to find ways to talk about it ever since. What has stayed with me is the prose-like clarity in these poems, how you can read the book like a memoir or novel - and how this style seems somehow connected to the quick clarity of grief, in its complex and storied portrait of a family member.


ROSA CAMPBELL, AUTHOR OF POTHOS

Nikki Giovanni - Poems: 1968 - 2020

This book isn't out yet but it feels as though it's already living in my soul (read: living in an open tab on my computer). I keep going back to Giovanni's 'A Poem Off Center' and its opening question: 'how do poets write / so many poems.' Good fucking question.


Alexa Winik - Close River

A beautiful book of poems that came out in the pandemic and therefore deserves more flowers now that we — I — can actually read again. An exquisite blend of mythology, ecopoetics and incredible lyricism; drink it up.


K Patrick - Mrs S

I saw Josie Giles interview K Patrick at the Edinburgh Book Festival in the summer and entirely shared Josie's view that what we all need to remember is that butches are Very Very Good and Hot.


J. R. CARPENTER, AUTHOR OF CITY OF MARVELS

Mahmoud Darwish - Memory for Forgetfulness

Attempting to grapple with events unfolding in Gaza I turned to the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish's Memory for Forgetfulness, translated by Ibrahim Muhawi, set during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The prose poem essays defy time and genre. Set in the war-torn streets of Beirut on 6 August, which also happens to be Hiroshima Day, these meditations on writing, memory, exile, and resistance unfold with sparkling wit and shimmering rage.


GENEVIEVE CARVER, AUTHOR OF LANDSICK

William Letford - From Our Own Fire

I love hybrid work, things that sit on the intersection between poetry and other forms. William Letford's latest collection melds poetry with narrative fiction, alternating verse and prose passages to create a sci-fi story of an ordinary working class family in an age of AI rule. Full of fresh and surprising moments, characters and language.


Fran Lock - White / Other

Not technically a poetry collection, but again I'm drawn to the intersections between forms. This intensely powerful longform lyric essay lays bare so much that isn't talked about regarding class, mental health and the economics of oppression. Every time I read anything by Fran Lock I'm wowed by her gut-wrenching style and the unique sharpness of her mind.


Lalah-Simone Springer - An Aviary of Common Birds

A shout out to this debut from fellow Broken Sleep author Lalah-Simone Springer. Reading this collection is like getting drunk with a best friend; laughing, dancing and crying together.


JOS CHARLES, AUTHOR OF A YEAR & OTHER POEMS

Jasmine Gibson - A Beauty Has Come

A collection of poems, architectural yet capacious, that move like the mind around an ever fleeing target. Still, they target. This collection makes me believe again in poems that can target.


POPPY COCKBURN, AUTHOR OF LIQUID CRYSTAL LOVESICK DEMON

Nadia de Vries - Know thy Audience

I like the way Nadia de Vries wields language. Sharp and imagistic, her short poems cut through the shit fast and leave you laughing fearfully.


Sylvia Legris - Garden Physic

The language is so dense, so verdant, when reading Garden Physic, many seeds are planted in the psyche. This book blooms and blooms.


Naomi Foyle (Editor) - A Blade of Grass: New Palestinian Poetry

This important anthology offers a poignant glimpse into lived Palestinian struggle and experience. The poems are as beautiful as they are painful. It reveals the power of translation in exposing our shared humanity and is all the more heart-breaking for it.


MIKE CORRAO, AUTHOR OF THE PERSIMMON IS AN EVENT

A.V. Marraccini - We the Parasites

A.V. Marraccini is an incredible critic, with this acute talent to approach her otherwise academic, rigid, utilitarian genre through uniquely poetic means. The works of Updike, Rilke, greek mythology, nature, encircle themselves, engulf one another, knot the strands of thought that tether them together. The parasitic, bloodsucking position of the critic should not be ignored, but it should not be belittled or disregarded either.


Nuala Loges - Ontologies of Environmental Collapse

A long poem critical of the ways that we store and catalog information, how those methods hurt our planet, how they hurt indigenous populations, all carried by a relentless voice, dragging you forward into the unobscured reality of the situation.


Logan Berry - Casket Flare

I feel ambivalent including this book amongst my three favorites, since I spent many hours working on it as the typesetter and designer, but to not include it in a list of the year's best feels off. Casket Flare is a haunting work of plosive poetry that cannot be ignored. Uttered in the semi-lucid moments between fasting, sleep deprivation, and possession. The reader bears witness to the diabolical obsessions of decaying architecture and the phantoms that cling tightly to it.


PATRICK DAVIDSON ROBERTS, AUTHOR OF THE TRICK

Abigail Parry - I Think We're Alone Now

Brilliantly realised and very, very, very close to the eye. A major book.


Fran Lock - Hyena!

A full broadside of intellect and agenda to floor the sleepy and wandering.


Declan Ryan - Crisis Actor

The most clear-sighted and exact debut of the year if not past five years. Everything is said, nothing is unnecessary.


JAYDN DEWALD, AUTHOR OF THEN DARKNESS

Jacob Sunderlin - This We in the Back of the House

Winner of the Saturnalia Books Editors Prize, Jacob Sunderlin's This We in the Back of the House is my favorite book about the psychic knot(s) of art, labor, commerce, and various other conflicting impulses/values.


Victoria Chang - Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence, and Grief

Victoria Chang's Dear Memory is an epistolary, cross-disciplinary exploration of her most meaningful relationships, past and present, admitted and undisclosed, understood and misunderstood. One of my creative writing students described Chang's letters, each addressed to a different loved one, as "arrows in slow-motion."


Jessica Poli - Red Ocher

Jessica Poli's Red Ocher, a finalist for the 2023 Miller Williams Prize, is among the best debut collections I've read in years---a pastoral, eco-poetic, huge-hearted book of lyric fire.


STEVE ELY, AUTHOR OF LIVES OF BRITISH SHREWS

Michael Stewart - The Dogs

The Dogs is a profound, provocative, intensely moving and often very funny account of the human/canine relationship that does for dogs what Ted Hughes does for crows.


MacGilivray - Ravage: An Astonishment of Fire

A toweringly original - multi-genre, documentary, polyphonic, heteroglossic - tour-de-force from MacGillivray, reminiscent of her The Last Wolf of Scotland in its unique and restless form and visionary imagination. No one else is writing like this. No one has ever written like this. Except maybe Kristjan Norge.


Les Murray - Poems Against Economics

Shamefully, I only started to take notice of Les Murray's peerless oeuvre this year, and have begun the process of reading his many collections in chronological order. This, his third collection (never published as such in England) is literally breath-taking. The visionary epithalamium, 'Toward the Imminent Days' is only one of several poems in the book that put him right up there as one of the best poets ever to write in the English language.


SAM J. GRUDGINGS, AUTHOR OF THE NATION'S SADDEST LOVE POEMS

Ciarán Hodgers - Solastalgia

It's a fantastic, compassionate, fiercely mythological book flirting incorrigibly with the disasters we face in a structurally fascinating & linguistically intricate way whilst still offering hope.


Poppy Cockburn - Liquid Crystal Lovesick Demon

One of the joys of getting books sent to you is discovering writers who you would never have come across but are dredging the same pool of consciousness as you, this was a wonderful glitch drowning to pull myself out of & return to from the safety of the shore.


Johannes Goransson - The Sugar Book

Because it's a horrible piece of work, rippling with horrendously ugly, wondrous, stomach churning, poems & the world needs more horror poetry & I want to learn how.


NICHOLAS HOGG, AUTHOR OF MISSING PERSON

Declan Ryan - Crisis Actor

Tender portraits of legendary fighters, capturing the brutal moments in the ring, and the defeats outside of the rope. Absolute goosebump use of a Martin Luther King quote in Ethiopia Shall Stretch Forth Her Hands.


Louise Gluck - Poems 1962 - 2020

I bought this after Louise Gluck passed away, just as I was beginning to really read and connect with her work. There is an austere clarity to her poetry that I find compelling and thrilling, and this collected poems will no doubt be a treasure trove for years to come.


Edgar Kunz - Fixer

I have to thank Joe Carrick-Varty for putting me onto Edgar Kunz, whose factotum existence in various locations across the US reminds me of a precarious life I also had in my twenties. The rhythms of a day labouring are musically captured in vivid and striking verse. Already waiting on his next collection.


LUCY HOLME, AUTHOR OF TEMPORARY STASIS

Katie Farris - Standing in the Forest of Being Alive

It is hilarious, touching, intimate, rebellious and utterly humane and Katie Farris is an inspiration.


Nick Laird - Up Late

For the startling Forward-prize winning elegiac title poem centred on his father’s death and for poems like Attention that take your breath away with the depth of feeling and sheer musicality of the lines.


Mary Jean Chan - Bright Fear

Such expertly drawn portraits of familial ties and parental expectation which really resonated with me and I admire the elegance and scope of Chan’s poetic imagination.


NATHANIEL KING, AUTHOR OF GHOST CLINIC

Ben Lerner - The Lights

I adored this collection. It feels like a culmination of all Lerner's poetic preoccupations over the past fifteen years: dream logic, the fluidity of time, star maps, subjective memory, cinema. I’m a sucker for any kind of hybrid texts and the way he seamlessly leaps between poetry and prose is a masterclass in how to do it well. His previous collection, No Art, was a big formative influence on me when I first started taking the art of poetry ‘seriously’ and I had kind of come to terms with the fact that he was only going to release novels going forward. It was a delight to read this in 2023, returning to what he does best. The Granta reprints are lovely as well.


Colin Herd & Maria Sledmere - Cocoa & Nothing

This was such a fascinating little book. A collaboration by Colin Herd and Maria Sledmere which uses confectionery as a stimulus, their voices compliment one another wonderfully in a series of delectable little poems about sweetness. Playful, experimental and a pleasure to hold and read. Also at 400 pages, it’s a generous offering. Cocoa & Nothing is a book I return to again and again to be reminded about the mutability and joy of using language.


Broken Sleep Books, various authors

I'm not sure if this is allowed but I’m dedicating my final selection to a range of Broken Sleep books. This year, I've been introduced to so many wonderful poets on the imprint that it would be remiss not to mention a few titles which have had an impact: Plastic Tubed Little Bird by Wendy Allen, A Fondness for the Colour Green by Charlie Baylis, Boar by Tom Branfoot, Liquid Crystal Lovesick Demon by Poppy Cockburn and End Ceremonies by Stuart McPherson. Finally, a shout out to the editor-in-chief himself, Aaron Kent, whose new collection, The Working Classic, published by the87press, is a searing and essential examination on how working class voices are marginalised and erased within the establishment arts sector. As someone growing up in Cornwall who experienced many of the same barriers, this really hit home. Also surprisingly funny and surreal, as all serious poetry should be.


VIKRAM KOLMANNSKOG, AUTHOR OF RHYHEIM: A PORN POEM

Rajiv Mohabir - Antiman: A Hybrid Memoir

I love reading prose and poetry mixed together in one book. This hybrid memoir includes song and poetry in Guyanese Bhojpuri, Hindi and English. While Rajiv’s story is different from mine, much resonates with me as a queer-of-colour man with mixed (including Indian) heritage living in a white majority culture.


Ada Limón - The Hurting Kind

I first heard Ada Limón speak about some of her poetry on podcasts and immediately liked her. I think there’s not a single poem in this book I didn’t appreciate. Something that resonates deeply with me and my own work is the relational and ecological perspective throughout.


Gulzar (Translation by Neha R. Krishna) - Triveni

Gulzar is one the most popular contemporary poets in India. Triveni is a form he’s developed. My Hindi is not great so I was happy to find this bilingual edition. In her translations, Triveni has been transcreated as Tanka. I’m interested in Indian and Japanese(-origin) forms so I’ve really enjoyed this book.


MATTHEW KOSINSKI, AUTHOR OF YOUR HUMAN SHAPE

Mike Corrao - The Persimmon is an Event

A late-breaking entrant that just arrived at my doorstep last week, The Persimmon is an Event (from this very press) is classic Corrao, a transformative, transitional work that blends the visual and textual into a great shifting mass that never sits still. Less something you read, and more something that acts on you.


James Tadd Adcox - Denmark: Variations

Denmark is a collection of imagined alternative stagings of Hamlet that range from the surreal ("A version of Hamlet in which the performance is a stone") to the sadistic ("A version of Hamlet performed within an airtight room, with a limited supply of oxygen.") Each variation feels like a threat: against my life, against the literary canon, and against the world that produced us both.


Nanao Sakaki - Real Play

This summer, when my son was only a handful of weeks old, I was looking for something to peruse while he thrashed about on my lap. I randomly pulled Sakaki's 1981 collection of impish zen parables off the shelf and started to read it aloud. You won't believe me, but I swear he stopped flailing, opened his little eyes, and listened quizzically to every verse.


JULIA ROSE LEWIS, AUTHOR OF NEARLY IDENTICAL SHARKS

SJ Fowler - The Great Apes

I love the ways in which Fowler carries the complexity of evolutionary developmental biology as a metaphor throughout the collection. It is full of difficult topics and vivid imagery.


David Spittle - Decomposing Robert

There is an extraordinary mixture of grief and grandeur in this book. It is biologically literate, and yet, so full of feeling and formal experiment.


Christie Collins - The Art of Coming Undone

This collection reads like a combination of memoir in verse and ekphrastic lyric poetry. It is the intertwining of image and self insight that makes this book more than you expect.


JESSICA MOOKHERJEE, AUTHOR OF DESIRE LINES

Liz Berry - Home Child

This book was both important historical testimony, a kind of ancestor worship and brilliant use of folk language as poetics.


Ada Limón - The Carrying

Reading this book felt breathless and exhilarating as music and in parts as quiet and delicate as prayer, it also painted vast vistas in my brain, expansive and yet personal.


Yousif M. Qasmiyeh - Eating the Archive

This book should be read by everyone - the poetry of testimony and trauma most definitely however; it is also testimony to aesthetic ability and the clarity of his poetics that Qasmiyeh can make art - exquisite art - from rubble, pain and the knots of conflict.


NORA NADJARIAN, AUTHOR OF IKTSUARPOK

Kim Hyesoon - Phantom Pain Wings

A fascinating collection which makes you wonder about how poetry (even in translation) can push the boundaries of language as far as they’ll go. ‘Experimental’ and ‘Surreal’ acquire new meaning in the work of this extraordinary poet. Eerie and beautiful, my favourite poem is Double S, Double S – its lines return to haunt me.


Jorie Graham - To 2040

This pitiless open letter to the future made me think about the damaged world I live in and the damaged air I breathe in, the questions I ask as opposed to the ones I should be asking. “Did you live. Did it feel like life to / You.”


Fran Lock - Hyena!

These poems are so alive. I loved the exclamation mark in the title, loved the energy and feral vigour of the language, the dazzling word-play throughout. I loved the ‘otherness’ of the character Hyena, both threatening and tender, tearing at the meat of grief. A stunning collection.


KIRSTEN NORRIE, AUTHOR OF AN AMERICAN BOOK OF THE DEAD

U.G. Világos - Collected Experimentalisms 2005 - 2008

Poe is perhaps Világos' inevitable nocturnal co-walker in these night glimpses which burn on the eye as flaring dream. There is a eulogy in this: the night field is also a field in which loss is grazed: its pain, its tender outcomes. With lines such as: 'I can still hear everything / you have contorted to miss' this Broken Sleep edition truly earns the end page maxim: 'Lay Out Your Deep Rest', though I suspect Világos runs on a deeper fuel than sleep, deeper than dream and deeper still, than nightmare. His experimentalisms tap this fuel at the root to extract a tender and lonely poison: one careful drop changes the chemical make-up of any other nocturnal vision.


Matt Bryden - The Glassblower's House

Matt Bryden is a poet of subtlety and measure whose work remains below the radar: it's his precision and acumen, coupled (and wounded by) his experiential knowledge that gives this material real weight - a sense of real pain - so that the lightest of touches is made by a scalpel, rather than a pencil, and the everyday, domestic environment becomes a sphere of seething emotion. Yet, there's a sunniness to it all: something like love, it must be, irradiates from the pages in Bryden's descriptions of his daughter, especially. I think this is a work of great courage and that Bryden possesses a pertinent and unique voice in the scene as it stands.


Kit Ingram - Aqueous Red

This is a masterwork of short-changed alchemy, whose estranged offerings are presented to various gods in the form of gin, salt-water and skulls. Careful sonics sear the ear's inner lining, pared back to equip silence with stealth. These lithe vignettes, full of the cloth and cull of lived experience, turn in erotic and longing lights, blood-tinged with the nuance of regret and are at once darkly humorous. The gesture is betrayed, the dagger sweats behind the arras, the instinct to love is polluted and pilloried in the soft, flexing light of neon. Ingram's perception operates by scent and sleight of tongue in this charged and deceptive theatre of brilliance.


IAN PATTERSON, AUTHOR OF COLLECTED POEMS

John Wilkinson - Fugue State

This is John Wilkinson's fifteenth book. It's intellectually alert, politically and socially acute, aesthetically stimulating and inventive.


Peter Gizzi - Now It's Dark

I've always liked Peter Gizzi's writing and this latest book is full of lyric cadence, often in short lines, that looks simple and isn't. The turns and developments in each poem are precise; the unsaid speaks through the reading. The poems glow in the dark.


J. H. Prynne - Hadn't Yet Bitten

All of J. H. Prynne's recent books have been variously full of interest, but this one strikes me as being composed with what I can only think as a kind of kindness. There is lexical profusion, formal variation, tonal control and stimulus to thought; the syntax is fluid, unattached to persons and contexts, 'gusting mind adept'.


NATHANIEL ROSENTHALIS, AUTHOR OF THE LENIAD

Mary Jo Bang - A Film in Which I Play Everyone

These terse, pointed poems blow me away every time I read them. Bang writes such exactitude that it makes realities of the world I’ve never thought before levitate off the page, right before my very eyes.


Brenda Shaughnessy - Tanya

This book inspired me with its agile, living poems that move like quicksilver— such speed and lightness remind me of that chiaroscuro quality of paintings in the Met that seem impossibly dimensional.


Dorothea Lasky - The Shining

No one writes poems like Lasky. Whenever I read her work, I get the itch to write poems. This book is so jagged and punchy and impossibly fierce.


MERVYN SEIVWRIGHT, AUTHOR OF STICK, HOOK, AND A PILE OF YARN

Douglas Manuel - Trouble Funk

This collection does something new and refreshing. Taking the music titles and the tones of his mother and father to find the poems painting their life story. Going back to listen to the sixties to eighties music with the poems add a dimension not felt anywhere else, leading me to the concept of a musical form can be aligned with music itself.


Claudia Rankine - Citizen, An American Lyric

This was published some time ago and I referenced it during my master's program. I re-read it late summer as I was going to an event called Africa Write, held at the main British Library where the author would be speaking . The collection reminds me that the conventions and structure of poetry do not have to be define. This collection places a reader is narratives that question their place in society.


Kwame Dawes - Sturge Town

The newest and 27th collection by Kwame Dawes is a reflection of the quality he always provides. This is book is a reference guide on how to write poetry without being a reference guide. Analysing the writer's techniques is a gold mine of nuggets, places more tools into what a poem can do.


PENELOPE SHUTTLE, AUTHOR OF NOAH

Iestyn Tyne - Unspecified Spaces / Stafelloedd Amhenodol

Formally adept sonnets, wonderful deep atmospheres, poems making the world strange and yet crucially familiar. When this reader looks up from the page, everything I see around has changed and begun to shine. I loved this book's rich and yet tentative sense of inhabiting spaces and exploring spatial and emotional perspectives. It bewitched me.


Ruth Wiggins - The Lost Book of Barkynge

A work of great importance giving back voice to these silenced sisters. Wonderfully researched but never sinking under the weight of scholarship, the poet brings to life a neglected female past, the power of medieval women, their losses, and their grace. I loved it.


Kwame Dawes - Sturge Town

The newest and 27th collection by Kwame Dawes is a reflection of the quality he always provides. This is book is a reference guide on how to write poetry without being a reference guide. Analysing the writer's techniques is a gold mine of nuggets, places more tools into what a poem can do.


VICTOR TAPNER, AUTHOR OF PLAINSONG

Kim Addonizio – Wild Nights: New and Selected Poems

The collection, which I recently re-read, is alive with edgy diction, brazenness and erotic humour. Poems startle with their intimacy, while sensual imagery underscores emotions. Female characters are determined to throw off inhibitions, though perhaps only in their imaginations. The author’s fabulous poem ‘What Do Women Want?’ is included.


Romalyn Ante – Antiemetic for Homesickness

These poems are, for a Western reader, an Asian cultural feast, spiced with Tagalog references and a deep nostalgia for the author’s childhood in the Philippines. As the poet is a registered nurse in Britain, medical imagery pervades, along with yearnings for a mother seemingly absent abroad at crucial moments of childhood. The collection is a striking personal picture of someone awake in a new land while dreaming of a lost earlier life.


TIFFANY ANNE TONDUT, AUTHOR OF WANTED

Harry Man and Endre Ruset - Utøya Thereafter: Poems in Memory of the 2011 Norway Attacks

This pocket-sized book is monumental – akin to a yearbook opened in memoriam. And though only a portion of the 77 victims, it is overwhelming at times – even when Ruset and Man look away to reflect on nature and take breath. There are other forms of writing included, equally taught and significant, but it’s the faces that haunt me... painstakingly arranged with words that are weighted both poetically and personally, including final moments and where each victim was found.


Aaron Poochigan (Translator) - Poems and Fragments of Sappho

The thing about fragments is they leave us wanting more... This version by Aaron Poochigan is a stylish and worthy reboot…. Sappho is a bee on a blossom branch…. …. a sting in her proverbial… yes, she knows how to work it.


STU WATSON - FERNSEHTURM BERLIN

Lonely Christopher - Lavender Silk

Brilliantly composed dramatic monologues combining the author's interests in queer histories and Ancient Roman themes.


Joseph Minden - Backlogues

Uniquely versed meditations on the intersection of the personal and political written in a time of plague.


Kelly Hoffer - Undershore

Expansive collection exploring the limits of the lyric in both its formal turns and visionary scope

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