I don’t usually write about books I’ve bought at any given time, mainly because I don’t tend to buy a lot at once. But this month I did, plus I was gifted a few too. Some I’ve started reading, some I haven’t, but they all grabbed my attention for one reason or another. So, here’s the first part of my haul for this month, focusing on poetry collections. I’ve included their blurbs too, so you have an idea of what each collection is about:
Bear by Chrissy Williams – The lively ‘bears’ in this playful and poignant collection will surprise you on every page. They are poems of love and death, life, loss and grief. The ephemera of popular culture is used to confront mortality, and you’ll be transported from the British Library to the Alps to the International Space Station, along with a vibrant cast of Vikings, videogames and Angela Lansbury. From the ludicrous to the domestic, these profound, wry and very real bears affirm that hope may be found even in our darkest moments.
Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals by Patricia Lockwood – What if a deer did porn? Is it legal to marry a stuffed owl exhibit? And what would Walt Whitman’s tit-pics really look like? Free-wheeling and surreal yet deadly serious, and including the viral hit ‘Rape Joke’ (‘An oblique mini-masterpiece’ – Guardian), this book shows one of our most original poets at her virtuosic best.
The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy – That saying? Behind every famous man . . . ? From Mrs Midas to Queen Kong, from Elvis’s twin sister to Pygmalion’s bride, they’re all here, in Carol Ann Duffy’s inspired and inspirational collection, The World’s Wife. Witty and thought-provoking, this is a tongue-in-cheek, no-holds-barred look at the real movers and shakers across history, myth and legend. If you have ever wondered, for example, how exactly Darwin came up with his theory of evolution, or what, precisely, Frau Freud thought about her husband – then this is the book for you, as the wives of the great, the good, the not so good, and the legendary are given a voice in Carol Ann Duffy’s sparkling and inventive collection
Take This One To Bed by Anthony Dunn (hardback signed edition): The poems in Antony Dunn’s fourth collection explore the passions and tensions of how we live together – as neighbours, as families, as lovers, and as companions to our own various selves. Here are stories of experience and imagination – of a man’s clothes taking on a life of their own, of a city overcome by an epidemic of weeping, of two goldfish left in an emptying house: touching and enchanting tales that combine bittersweet comedy with an unflinching account of human nature. At the heart of this deeply affecting collection are poems that dwell on the domestic crises that define our lives, that tell ‘how our hurts come down … hard and without warning’, and ask how we might live with them.
Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis by Wendy Cope (1986 edition) – Already well known for her hilarious send-ups of contemporary writers, Wendy Cope is perhaps the most accomplished parodist since Beerbohm. This first full-length collection includes work by Jason Strugnell, the subject of the Radio Three programme, Shall I Call Thee Bard?, as well as other parodies and literary jokes. There are, in addition, telling lyrics and a number or remarkable love poems – candid, sometimes erotic, and very funny indeed.
The Air Mines of Mistila by Phillip Gross & Sylvia Kantaris (1988) – High above the plain, beyond the village of Hum, up where the mountainside melts into cloud, lies an unmapped plateau. Here people appear out of thin air. And disappear. Or so they say. Mistila…
Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith – In this brilliant collection of new poems, Tracy K. Smith envisions a sci-fi future sucked clean of any real dangers, contemplates the dark matter that keeps people both close and distant and revisits kitschy concepts like ‘love’ and ‘illness’, now relegated to the museum of obsolescence. With allusions to David Bowie and interplanetary travel, Life on Mars imagines a soundtrack for the universe, accompanying the discoveries, failures and oddities of human existence and establishing Smith as one of the best poets of her generation.
The Ghost Orchid by Michael Longley – Following on from the remarkable riches of Gorse Fire, the poems brought together under the title The Ghost Orchid share some of the same concerns, but take many different approaches. Whether in the west of Ireland, Sissinghurst or the stone gardens of Japan; whether confronting the blood of the Iliad or the Odyssey or undergoing Ovidian metamorphoses; whether testing poetic form or renewing Ulster Scots dialect; whether in Buchenwald or Belfast, Longley speaks with pared delicacy, passion and huge vulnerability about love, life and death. A lyric craftsman of genius, Michael Longley has written a book that is fragile and exquisite – like the evanescent ghost orchid itself – yet full of tragic intensity; it is his finest achievement.
The Hungry Ghost Festival by Jen Campbell (pamphlet) – The Hungry Ghost Festival [a traditional Chinese festival]. On the 15th night of the seventh lunar month, the boundaries between the living and the dead break down, and the dead visit the earth looking for food and entertainment. Jen Campbell’s festival celebrates the presence of the past, in this case childhood and adolescence in the North East, as it floats through the present adult consciousness.
Staying Alive edited by Neil Astley (anthology) – ‘Staying Alive’ is an international anthology of 500 life-affirming poems fired by belief in the human and the spiritual at a time when much in the world feels unreal, inhuman and hollow. These are poems of great personal force connecting our aspirations with our humanity, helping us stay alive to the world and stay true to ourselves.
So that’s all the poetry books I’ve gathered this month. A few were recommended by Booktubers, but most were finds in local bookshops. I might review a few once I’ve read them, there are one or two I already want to talk about in more detail.
Stayed tuned for part two: Fiction and Non-fiction.