Read our National Poetry Day selection of anthologies
To celebrate national poetry day we chatted to some of our favourite modern poets to find out which anthologies they love most:
Picking my favourite three poetry collections or anthologies, new or old, is impossible—so many people are doing good work! Here are three that come to mind.
The work in Martin Carter, University of Hunger: Collected Poems and Selected Prose, ed. by Gemma Robinson (Bloodaxe, 2006) ranges from lyrics to arguments to riddles. Carter’s poetry, known by heart by his fellow Guyanese, deserves to live deep in global memory. Responsive to the white dust and red flowers of his homeland, for Carter the political is personal. Jailed for his part in the independence struggle, he foxed surveillance photographers by displaying poems on his home. Whether in tenderness for ‘green, green love’ or in furious search of a ‘comrade stargazer’, he desires a freedom that would write a ‘happier alphabet’.
Furies: A Poetry Anthology of Women Warriors, ed. by Eve Lacey
Furies: A Poetry Anthology of Women Warriors, ed. by Eve Lacey (For Books’ Sake, 2015), offers ‘new verse’ that releases wronged ghosts from the repetitive sayings and behaviours of haunting. Poets responding to an international open call include Malika Booker, Rebecca Goss, and Claire Trévien. Their reclaiming of female-identified figures raises the spirits and raises consciousness. For Books’ Sake shares the profits from sales of Furies with Rape Crisis England and Wales. In Jenni Fagan’s words, this anthology understands rape as a ‘war’ in every country, and challenges it. Energizing to hear and exhilarating to read, this is a fine Christmas present.
When I remember reading Shara McCallum’s Bocas Litfest poetry prize-winning collection, Madwoman (Peepal Tree, 2017), I seem to remember dancing with and without a partner; running; running away; losing my mind; finding sweet common ground with young and old, even in shuttered towns or under poisonous manchineel trees; being close to someone else’s growing up. McCallum’s book is brilliant in dealing with the contradictions placed on her Caribbean and Creole peers, before and after Charlotte Brontë’s Bertha Rochester or Jean Rhys’s Antoinette. It is astounding, with its dynamic, conversational or dreamy use of space on the page. It is, above all, moving.
Venus as a Bear by Vahni Capildeo is out now published by Carcanet Press
I first came upon Akbar’s work in the New Yorker, a poem called “What Use Is Knowing Anything If No One Is Around” and it rattled my soul with its deeply poignant language and use of simple fact to convey deeper meaning. I bought his debut collection “Calling A Wolf A Wolf” 24 hours later and it has remained one of the best books of poetry I have ever read. An unflinching portrayal of the insides of addiction using measured and beautiful language, this anthology is full of hard-won and much needed wisdom, moments captured in fear turned to elegant revelations. A must read for any poetry-lover.
This one hit home, and hard for me. Asghar’s haunting portrayal of Partition and the generational trauma that is tied to it, as well as being a young Muslim woman in America, and a critical look at the effects of the current administration make this book a visceral read. Asghar’s descriptions are immensely imaginative, racialized violence showcased in all it’s harrowing depth, grief, compassion weave themselves in and out gracefully through her words. A strong debut and a highly evocative read from one of best voices in our generation.
Emily Dickinson will forever be my favourite poet for her bold experimentation with poetic tone and uncommon metaphors. Her poems were unconventional for her time, and continue to enthrall poetry lovers across the world, evergreen in their knowledge, taking on new interpretations in this modern world. Dickinson’s work is a perfect example of how short poems can still be full of meaning, depth and heavy subject matter, in a skilled poet’s hands. It is no surprise that her work continues to influence modern poetry till this day and will continue to do so for generations to come.
The Poetry Pharmacy: Tried and True Prescriptions for the Heart, Mind and Soul edited by William Sieghart Penguin
The runaway poetry hit of the year, this anthology is the best antidote we know to loneliness and grief. In matching poems to the various ailments of the human spirit, Sieghart offers lifelines to his readers. The right poem at the right time, he says, is like a hand reached out to take yours. Expect classics—Kipling, Keats, Larkin—but also surprises like Oscar Hammerstein’s You’ll Never Walk Alone, plus a selection of living poets, including the fabulous Wendy Cope, Imtiaz Dharker, Wendell Berry.
Poetry For a Change: a National Poetry Day anthology illustrated by Chie Hosaka Otter-Barry Books
I love having poems introduced to me: it feels as if I’m being given a present. This little book contains only 43 poems, all offering a fresh take on the theme of change. The contributors include some of the UK’s best children’s poets—Rachel Rooney, Joseph Coelho—who have each been asked to nominate a classic poem, and to say why they like it. It’s a really rich approach: I loved reading Marjorie Lotfi Gill’s poem, thinking it was just about sunflower seeds, and then realising how gracefully it touches on the great unknowable changes in our lives, just as Emily Dickinson’s poetry does, and Hardy’s, and Yeats’.
England, Poems from a School edited by Kate Clanchy Picador
Oxford Spires Academy is a small comprehensive school with thirty languages spoken in its classrooms - and one special focus: poetry. Over the years, the children taught there by poet Kate Clanchy have won just about every national prize for their work. Their secret? They read, listen, watch, perform and write in a language that is still new and exciting to them: they come to English from Farsi, Arabic and Nepalese as if it were freshly minted for them, personally. The treatment of subjects - migration, exile, loss, love, longing - is immensely varied, as are the nationalities represented. My instant reaction, on finishing this book, was to buy armfuls of copies and press them on friends: be warned, it may have the same effect on you.
Susanna Herbert is Executive Director of the Forward Arts Foundation, which runs National Poetry Day
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