I read a lot of poetry and because of this I don’t review as much as I should, so I thought I’d do a little poetry round-up (Jan – Jun 19) of books I recommend, and books I recommend you avoid. It should go almost without saying that these were merely books I read during these months, and not necessarily new releases –
– Public Property by Andrew Motion
– Illumniate by Kerrie O’Brien
– The Resignation by Lonely Christopher
– Lavenderblack by Adam Lowe
– Best American Poetry 2018, ed. David Lehman
– Junk by Tommy Pico
– Big Pink Umbrella by Susan Millar DuMars
– The Trouble with Poetry and Other Poems by Billy Collins
The problem with writing reviews for poetry collections you didn’t like, or sometimes occasionally even hated, comes down to a few things. Firstly, like all poetry, it could be that it just wasn’t to your taste, like Billy Collins’ style whom I just found incredibly flat, as I did for Andrew Motion. Sometimes, it’s a book that didn’t impress you as much as another you’ve read (Adam Lowe’s Precocious, with the excellent ‘Vada That’ seemed very much a step up from Lavenderblack). Sometimes, the style just irritates, as in The Resignation by Lonely Christopher, bought on a whim from Amazon for cheap, or Junk by Tommy Pico. Mostly though, the reason why these are all on the Avoid list – some of which you might love, one of which is by a US Poet Laureate, and a whole book that has been dubbed ‘Best’ of that year – is because I don’t remember a single line from any of these collections.
– Liminal Blue by Theodore Deppe
– Orpheus on the Red Line by Theodore Deppe
– Beautiful Wheel by Theodore Deppe
– The Wanderer King by Theodore Deppe
– Touched by Luther Hughes
– Soho by Richard Scott
– Sister by Nickole Brown
– Anyone Will Tell You by Wendy Chin-Tanner
– On Balance by Sinead Morrissey
– Leaf and Beak: Sonnets by Scott Wiggerman
Reading Theodore Deppe for me this year has been a revelation – I have ploughed through everything he’s written, all of it consistently brilliant, and can fully recommend all of these. A particular standout is Liminal Blue, dealing primarily with the death of his parents, that still sticks in my mind and heart.
Regarding queer poets, this half-year’s standouts include the much-lauded (and rightly so) Richard Scott, whose first collection for Faber, Soho, is a treat: dark and lyrical, he has a deft hand. As does Luther Hughes in his debut chapbook, Touched, which I really enjoyed (and read twice straight through!). Also by Sibling Rivalry Press is Nickole Brown’s Sister which I loved – a dark story of childhood sexual abuse, the poetry is expertly wrought and demands to be read. Finally, Scott Wiggerman’s collection of nature sonnets, Leaf and Beak, shows how nature, time and the sonnet form should be done.
Speaking of SRP, I enjoyed Wendy Chin-Tanner’s Anyone Will Tell You – she is the master of short, short lines, and although I’m not sure it quite reached the heights of my personal favourite Turn, it is still an excellent book nonetheless. Finally, Sinead Morrissey’s award-winning On Balance features a vast cornucopia of topics, although it’s the title poem that, for me, still stands out.
– Survivable World by Ron Mohring (Round-Up Pick)
– The Road, Slowly by Liz Quirke
– Millennial Roost by Dustin Pearson
Millennial Roost by Dustin Pearson was another cheap Amazon impulse buy and it knocked me for six. Covering similar ground to Nickole Brown’s Sister, either could equally be in the top, but I think what tipped it for me is that I happened into this blind and it heightened the reading for me, whereas I knew what I was going into with Sister. Millennial Roost is a beautifully written exploration of the aftermath of sexual abuse, and what it does to a person: how it changes everything. How it can confuse everything, like intimacy, and sexuality, and relationships. This is not an easy read at all, and one that took my breath away at times, as the book is addressed to Mr Hen, his abuser, but by god is it a finely written, necessary read.
Have you ever read a book and you’re unable to fault anything in it? That’s how I felt reading Liz Quirke’s The Road, Slowly. Telling the story of her family life in Cork with her wife and children, the writing above all is excellent and the sheer ferocity of talent and control on display here is wonderful.
Out of every poetry collection I’ve read the past six months, the one that stands out, above all, is Survivable World by Ron Mohring. Ron’s sole collection from 2004 is a collection of love and loss, due to AIDS. There are many poetic reactions to losses from AIDS but what elevates this, above all the rest, is the sheer finery of the writing. This book is perfect, and sad, and heart-breaking, and beautiful, and you all absolutely should read it and hunt down a copy. It is a book that a poet could happily be remembered by, and praise doesn’t come much higher than that. As well as other places, you can buy it direct from him here (and I recommend checking out his press, Seven Kitchens, which has the finest poets, and lovely HANDMADE CHAPBOOKS).
And because Survivable World is my pick for this round-up, here’s a poem from it:
Telling the Family
by Ron Mohring
It was not the virus, but the opportunistic infections.
He never wanted you to worry. He swam too far
and couldn’t fight the undertow. It pained him
that you never called. He slammed his car into a bridge.
He insisted on flying alone – a sudden downdraft
swatted him into Lake Michigan. He was afraid
he might go blind. The virus had entered his brain.
The water heater exploded. He fell from the extension ladder
while cleaning the gutters. His neck. He walked out
into the deepening snow and just kept going. The twister
lifted off the roof and plucked him from his chair.
It was nothing specific. He left a note and swallowed
all his medications. He’d talked it over
with his doctor. His face covered with lesions.
The intruder slashed his throat. He died of boredom.
The bridge collapsed. It was something in the water.
It was a sudden stroke. Food poisoning. He’d lost
his job. It was the shock of seeing
through you. He’d had the same pneumonia
twice before. It’s been in all the papers;
you must have heard of it by now. Lightning,
it was lightning. His liver failed. No one knew
he’d bought the gun. He had time to arrange everything.
He never knew. It was a blessing. He dropped
seventy pounds. Choked on a piece of plastic.
Yanked out all the tubes. Fell on his sword.
He would have wanted you to know.
So that’s the Poetry Roundup for January – June 2019. We’ll be back again in January for the July – Dec 2019 roundup.