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Here are some recent poetry reviews that received high praise.

All Souls by Saskia Hamilton

Saskia Hamilton’s All Souls, published by Corsair for £10.99.

This fifth collection, which was published posthumously, addresses the universal issue of death and the poet’s own impending demise with raw honesty and graceful strength. The danger, as the poet puts it, is to say something insincerely. However, there is nothing artificial in this beautiful collection of sequences and shorter pieces, which includes prose poems and lyric verse. In her final work, poet Hamilton, who passed away at the age of 56, paints a vivid and sensuous picture of the world, from “flowers that embody religious, secular, and sexual aspects” to the “mealy” late-season pear that serves as a reminder of its former self. She also shares family ghost stories and memories, where even family members have become ghosts themselves, “carefully stepping out of a burgundy car in the evening”. With her profound literary and emotional intelligence, Hamilton’s closing sequence titled “Museum Going” weaves together childhood memories, references to Proust (known for his exploration of lost time), and the story of a family friend who introduced her to both Proust and museums and narrowly escaped death during the Dutch resistance. It serves as a fitting conclusion to her reflection on life and death, acknowledging that there may be no remedy for our mortality, but death is the only true escape.

Kwame Dawe Sturge Town

Kwame Dawes’ book “Sturge Town” (published by Peepal Tree) costs £12.99.

Sturge Town was named after one of the first free villages in Jamaica, which was also the family home of Dawes. The book is a thought-provoking and detailed exploration of home and identity, starting from this location. Divided into five sections, the book follows the writer-narrator as they go through a deep process of synthesis. The first section introduces the half-imagined “elegant homestead” that is decaying, followed by poems about family, childhood, friendship, and self-awareness. The third section includes poems about living with one’s identity, where Dawes rejects the idea of being charmed by the beautiful landscape that a white man sees as “Silence” and instead acknowledges the “Bones in the Soil” of those who were once enslaved there. In another section, “The Making of a Poet,” Dawes recalls indulgently watching as a teenager. The following section includes poems about revelation and prayer, describing it as a sincere gesture with eyes tightly closed to see the spirits moving around. The final section, “Sturge Town Redux,” is a symbolic return to the dark valley that represents a personal journey with universal significance.

Selected and New Poems by John F. Deane

The book “Selected and New Poems” by John F Deane, published by Carcanet, is priced at £16.99.

The final, untitled poem of this collection, “I will have known the edgy festival of the poem”, is a testament to the brilliant phrasemaking that readers have come to expect from this Irish poet. However, with this brilliance comes risk. The poems within this collection are indeed an “edgy festival”, filled with unexpected dives into the metaphysical world and shimmering physical descriptions. They are a reflection of the ongoing love affair between the self and the world. The nine collections from which these poems are selected are deeply rooted in the poet’s rural childhood on Achill Island over 70 years ago, before modern conveniences like electricity had driven away any belief in angels or supernatural beings. But at its core, this collection is about revelation itself, with vivid descriptions of bog-cotton resembling white moths and the heathers that breathe and lift easily into the slopes of Slievemore. Deane may be considered unfashionable in today’s troubled times, but his mysticism is a necessary reminder of the things we often overlook.

A Handsel- New & Collected

A Handsel: New & Collected Poems by Liz Lochhead (Polygon, £25)

When Lochhead was appointed as Scotland’s national poet in 2011, she had already established a successful career as a playwright and translator of classical drama. While her impressive body of work may overshadow her first published poetry collection, Memo for Spring (1972), and subsequent influential collections released at varying intervals, A Handsel serves to bring together her extensive poetic output, allowing readers to fully appreciate its coherence and depth. The themes of reclaimed folktales from The Grimm Sisters (1981) continue to weave through subsequent books, while Fugitive Colours (2016) showcases Lochhead’s mastery of persona poems and narrative verse, featuring subjects such as a “Dirty Diva”, Lord Byron, and Scottish poet Eddie Linden. Lochhead’s writing is highly enjoyable, blending elements of confession, fable, and feminist perspectives in a way that leaves readers wanting more. Additionally, her keen ear for language produces free verse that appears effortless yet is perfectly balanced. These are poems meant to be read aloud and savored both individually and together.

Mapping the Future- The Complete Works Poets by Karen McCarthy Woolf and Nathalie Teitler

Mapping the Future: The Complete Works Poets, edited by Karen McCarthy Woolf and Nathalie Teitler (Bloodaxe, £14.99)

This anthology celebrates 15 years of the impactful project created by Bernardine Evaristo and directed by Nathalie Teitler. This project has greatly influenced the work of British poets with diverse backgrounds, increasing their representation in mainstream poetry from less than 1% to over 20% since its launch in 2008. The 30 fellows of Complete Works include influential poets such as Raymond Antrobus, Jay Bernard, Malika Booker, Sarah Howe, Roger Robinson, and Warsan Shire. This collection showcases the success of the mentorship and real-world opportunities provided by the programme. The poems featured demonstrate a wide range of styles, from Nick Makoha’s postmodern politics to Kayo Chingonyi’s myth-making, and from Janet Kofi-Tsekpo’s powerful short pieces to McCarthy Woolf’s authoritative verse. Additionally, there are 11 exceptional essays written by contributors. This volume is not only exciting and inspiring, but also serves as a guide to understanding “how thought becomes manifest” and the endless possibilities of poetic expression, as described by Eileen Pun.

Source: theguardian.com