Saturday, June 05, 2010


Further to yesterday's quote about trying new things, I'm going to start putting up my thoughts here about the poetry collections I've been reading.

I was at a talk at Sussex University a couple of weeks ago by Chris Hamilton-Emery of Salt Publishing and he was talking abut how many people are writing poetry as compared to reading it at the moment. Then I got (from the excellent Happenstance Press) a copy of the useful How (Not) To Get Your Poetry Published which makes a similar point.

So I got all hot under the collar about this, until I was talking with a friend who made the point that actually it's very hard to find out what kind of poetry you might like to read. There are novel reviews, even short story collection reviews, by the dozen but not that many actual poetry collection reviews. Or mainstream ones anyway. You can't even browse in your local bookseller because most - although not all - have limited selections, and these are mostly the popular anthologies. So how do we know where to even begin if we're not going to poetry readings, talking to poets, and reading literary journals? And let's face it, not all of us are. I'm not as often as I'd like, for starters.

Hopefully you'll all write in and prove me wrong, and that would be great because I can start a list of places to go to find out new poets to read, but in the meantime, I'm going to start putting up here some of the collections and poets I've been enjoying - or not enjoying - recently to give you a flavour of what's out there. Please do let me know your suggestions too - and why - so again we can share the good news, and even those of us who write poetry can read some more too.

First up is Caroline Bird's Trouble Came to the Turnip, not because it's my favourite ever collection but to be honest, because it was the first from my 'special shelf' that came to hand. The fact it was on that 'SS' in the first place though shows I value it!

Caroline is disgustingly young, born in 1986, but has already won masses of awards and written plays for the Royal Court, stories for the BBC etc etc. She also runs workshops in schools, and there's an enthusiasm and vitality here that I can imagine the kids loving. I did too. She's a prime example that accessible poetry doesn't mean dumb poetry.

Even the titles make me smile - 'The Leprechaun Thinks It Matters', 'A Gentlewoman's Pornography', 'My Lovely Legless Acrobat', 'The Fairy Is Bored With Her Garden', 'My Love Made Me a Hat', and of course the title poem itself, but this is a book of more than just titles. Listen to some of the images:

It has been scribbled in the stars,
we will all trade our brains for lava lamps.
The ones with the thinnest eyebrows will survive.
(It will come to Pass)


The mementos start off small.
The jelly baby that you never ate
that's gone all hard and statuesque.

Once you stop playing with the pencil on her website (and be warned it took me a long time to get over the novelty of it but then I'm easily pleased), you can read some of the poems from this collection here, and here, or listen to Caroline read a poem here ...


BJM said...

A most interesting post! I spend time with my 3 year old grand-daughter in which we make up stories together. She loves rhyming and repeated metre. Why not, say I to myself, make up a poem? Our story sessions are always fairly short and spontaneous ... but you never know where this could lead?!

Cath Nichols said...

I started wriitng poetry 2000. I didn't read poetry but did respond to other performers. I was a jounralist so I did read in geenral (!), but it took another couple of years before I sought out poetry books. As you say, I didn't know where to start, but I just went to my nearest big library (Liverpool) and started borrowing books. I liked some (Gillian Allnut, Fleur Adcock) disliked others, and found the classmark system utterly confusing! The Eng poets are on different shelves to the Irish to the Americans, etc. But it doesn't matter - just find stuff and read.
The other thing to do is find groups of poets who will lend you their old poetry mags - that's where the reviews are, though they can be a bit same-y. But the more reading material you can get your hands on the better! Many mags now have an online presence too: Poetry London, Magma, The North...
I am now at the end of a PhD in - yep - Creative writing specialisng in poetry and a beginner in play-writing. I had a poetry collection published in 2007 and my first play (containing poetry) is on this Friday in Nottingham.

Jeannette said...

I second Cath Nichols's approach to "just find stuff and read" and agree that there are plenty of reviews in the literary mags. That's a good place to start. If you can get to the Poetry Library in London, you can browse (the old-fashioned way) to your heart's content - see

Other routes to finding contemporary poets and poems: buy the annual Forward prize anthology (usually a good mix of new and established poets), subscribe to poetry daily (drawing from mostly American sources) or check out the library of poets on the poetry foundation website,
Another great source: the longlists for the annual TS Eliot prize (awarded by the Poetry Book Society to "the best collection of new verse in English first published in the UK or the Republic of Ireland" each year).

Now, for something specific... If you are looking for something to get you going I recommend: Sian Hughes's The Missing, Hugo Williams's West End Final, and Lorraine Mariner's Furniture. Looking forward to your reviews!


BJM, what a lovely start for your grand-daughter, and yes, make poems together! Why not put one up here so I can get to say I published her first!!!


Brilliant advice, Cath and Jeannette - just read everything. But when we get to see poetry reviews in general magazines, I'll feel happier. And funny you should mention Furniture, Jeannette... watch this space!

Catherine said...

You can also become a member of the Poetry Book Society (PBS) which reviews new collections and also makes a 'choice' and other 'recommendations' - itcomes out four times a year and if you join, you receive the PBS 'choice' as part of your sub, plus discounts off other poetry collections. Also, Poetry Review, the official organ of the Poetry Society, publishes reviews of new work, as does Poetry London and The Frogmore Papers (among others).

Jenzarina said...

I loved that clip you put up. Gosh, she's good. I'll be looking out for her.