Thursday, December 19, 2013

My Favourite Books in 2013

There are, of course, many books I have not yet had a chance to read this year, some of which might have sneaked into this Top 10 list e.g. recent collections from Alexander Hutchison and August Kleinzahler for starters, as well as thick tomes by Christopher Middleton, Geoffrey Hill and Gottfried Benn. But here, in no order, are ten books I have read.

Adonis – Selected Poems, translated by Khaled Mattawa (Yale University Press, 2010): an indispensible collection from the great Syrian modernist, often credited with changing the face of 20th century Arabic poetry. Strange, complex, beguiling work.

Luke Kennard – A Lost Expression (Salt, 2012): always engaging, humorous and memorable, Kennard also manages to be affecting and personal without retreating into sentiment. This is his best collection yet, including ‘The Harbour Beyond the Movie’ which I thought he would never top.

Ahren Warner – Pretty (Bloodaxe, 2013): you have to take time with this collection, but it pays dividends. Not everything works, but what does is brilliant, and (speaking as someone who receives hundreds of poetry collections as review copies every year) I admire its ambition. It immediately stands out from the pack and takes its cue as much from French as from British influences.

Gillian Allnutt – indwelling (Bloodaxe, 2013): I could say the same about this book. There is nothing else like it. This is poetry that brings new depth to descriptions like “austere” or “sparse”. I haven’t seen many reviews of it, probably because it doesn’t recommend itself to easy poetic categories or review clichés.

Matt Merritt – The Elephant Tests (Nine Arches 2013): a good writer publishing his best collection so far without much fanfare or publicity or reviews (as far as I can tell) while inferior books grab most of the headlines. Such is the life of many talented poets in the UK...

Pippa Goldschmidt – The Falling Sky (Freight, 2013): a novel about an astronomer, an astonishing discovery and an emotional life in collapse, this book is gripping right up until its brilliantly ambiguous final sentence.

ed. Thomas R. Smith – Airmail: the Letters of Robert Bly and Tomas Transtromer (Bloodaxe, 2013): these letters covering 40 years of literary friendship are consistently absorbing. My 3000-word article on them in The Dark Horse issue 31, will hopefully convince you to buy this book.

ed. Andre Saffis-Hahely& Julian Stannard – The Palm Beach Effect: Reflections on Michael Hofmann (CB Editions, 2013): a stimulating collection of essays, reflections, memories and a few poems on one of the most influential poets of our generation.

Andrew Philip – The North End of the Possible (Salt, 2013): of course, Andy is a friend of mine, but that has no bearing on his latest book being terrific. Laurie Smith said of it in Magma issue 57, “It is hard to think of other recent poetry of such seriousness with such a range of means and such emotional depth.”

Dai George – The Claims Office (Seren, 2013): I don’t know how old Dai George is, but he is not old and has no right to be writing such assured poetry with such energised language in a first collection. This book is also fascinatingly counter-cultural and is worth your careful attention.