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Top poetry books released in 2023


In 2023, a significant number of poets focused on the pressing issue of the climate crisis, using powerful language to capture attention and inspire action. One notable collection, Jorie Graham’s To 2040 (Carcanet), explores the theme of ecology. The poems are driven by a sense of unease and foresight, creating a vivid and frightening depiction of a possible apocalyptic future. The lines “The sun comes up burning. Say everything I say to the air which begins to thin now, say everything before it disappears. Turn us loose.” convey a sense of urgency and desperation.

Balladz by Sharon Oldz

Sharon Olds, an American poet, was in excellent form with her collection “Balladz” (Jonathan Cape). No matter what her subject may be – whether fear, sexuality, or mortality – Olds’ writing always exudes a lively generosity: “Perhaps life is a type of dying. Maybe this has been heaven.” Also brimming with energy and enthusiasm is “indiom” (Faber), Daljit Nagra’s satirical epic set in a poetry workshop, and Emily Wilson’s latest translation of Homer’s “The Iliad” (WW Norton), which features iambic pentameter that is alternately dynamic, desolate, and exquisite.

Bad Diaspora poems by Momtaza Mehri

In his work Self-Portrait As Othello, which won this year’s Forward prize for best collection, Jason Allen-Paisant suggests that our destinies may intersect and that his own unfinished life is intertwined with the speaker’s. This playful concept allows Allen-Paisant to explore the unequal treatment of different narratives of Black masculinity. In Bad Diaspora Poems, winner of Forward’s best first collection prize, Momtaza Mehri cleverly highlights the challenges of being seen as a representative for a larger group: “The conflict is always elsewhere.”

Some other impressive first collections published this year are Octopus Mind (Seren) by Rachel Carney, which uses powerful metaphors to convey the challenges of living with dyspraxia in a world that is often unwelcoming to neurodiverse individuals, and Crisis Actor (Faber) by Declan Ryan. Ryan’s collection includes pieces about boxing and mournful reflections on the decay and abandonment of places, evoking a sense of quiet hopelessness: “things are no longer perfect; / the heart is no longer in it afterwards, the switch off, / choosing not to, the not-so-great rejections.”

Octopus Mind by Rachel Carney

Dealing with a more prominent type of loss, Susannah Dickey’s debut Isdal (Picador) uses the body of an unidentified woman found in Norway in 1970 as a starting point for a critique of society’s thirst for true crime stories. Deftly balancing philosophical ruminations in prose with rhyming couplets, it is a book that suggests our obsession with female victims is at once prurient and compelling, an addiction we can’t or won’t shake, let alone interrogate.

In Granta’s We Play Here, written by Dawn Watson, we are introduced to four girls living in north Belfast during the 1980s. Amidst a backdrop of violence, the girls experience unexpected moments of hope and unintentional beauty.

Bright Fear is the second collection from Mary Jean Chan, published by Faber. It elevates their signature lyrical beauty while recognizing the sacrifices that poetry requires: “I have been taught to strip my own / ideas, take advantage of my innermost reserves”. The Home Child by Liz Berry, published by Chatto & Windus, centers on a distinct type of exploitation and tells the story of her great-aunt Eliza Showell, who was forcibly sent to Canada as a part of the British child migrant programs.

Anne-thology- Poems Re-presenting Anne Shakespeare

In the past year, three notable collections were published. Anne-thology: Poems Re-presenting Anne Shakespeare (Broken Sleep) features 67 commissioned poems, each representing a year of her life and bringing her out of her husband’s overshadowing presence. In Contraflow: Lines of Englishness, 1922-2022 (Renard), editors John Greening and Kevin Gardner creatively select and arrange poems to offer new perspectives on a well-known topic. Mapping the Future (Bloodaxe), edited by Nathalie Teitler and Karen McCarthy Woolf, brings together poems and essays from the 30 graduates of the Complete Works program, which has played a crucial role in bringing recognition to poets of color in Britain such as Malika Booker and Roger Robinson.

Trace Evidence by Charif Shananhan

Two books in particular stood out this year for the way that they wore their metaphysical concerns and interrogations with rigour and beauty. Charif Shanahan’s second collection Trace Evidence (Tin House) is a plangent meditation on what it is to live and love between identities. He has an enviable ability to express simply the complexities of multiple belongings: “Or you appear within / But remain on the outside // Which is to say in other words // A part and apart – ”.

Lutz Seiler’s book, Pitch & Glint, originally published in 2000 by And Other Stories, employs disjointed and faulty language to mirror the divisions of East German past. Despite this disruption, a deep understanding is formed: “and thus we slide homeward, uncovering the weight / we hear it ticking, the clock, his heart / beating like a Geiger counter”. These poems, along with their translation into English by Stefan Tobler, are a remarkable feat.

The most recent release from Rishi Dastidar is titled Neptune’s Projects, published by Nine Arches.

Source: theguardian.com