Friday, 31 December 2010

Best poetry of 2010

Trawling back through the blog archives for the year, and picking my way through my bookshelves (well, and several piles of books as yet unshelved), I've come to the conclusion that I read an awful lot of good poetry in 2010. Not all of it was necessarily published this year - I think several of the volumes I'll mention probably came out at the tail-end of 2009.

Having said that, I don't seem to have read that many of the collections that gained most column inches. I did enjoy Philip Gross's TS Eliot Prize-winning The Water Table, although I'm not sure it was necessarily superior to several previous books by a consistently fine (but low-profile) mainstream poet.

Towards the end of the year, David Morley's Enchantment justifiably gained all sorts of plaudits - I've still not had time to digest it fully, and I'll be posting a full review once I do, but its packed with both superb storytelling and sparkling use of language. And a little earlier in the year, John Ash's In The Wake Of The Day was well up to the high standards of his previous work. I thought there was a more direct political edge than has often been the case in the past, too - a welcome development.

I suspect that might be something we see a lot more of over the next few years. Certainly it was a feature of George Ttoouli's excellent Static Exile, while Mark Goodwin's Shod was a welcome example of poetry trying to engage with social issues, albeit in an enjoyably inventive way.

Simon Turner's Difficult Second Album was an absolute pleasure, full of quiet innovation and wit, while Tony Williams' debut The Corner of Arundel Lane and Charles Street deserved all the praise it got, adding some subtle European influences to a mainstream template, something that could also be said of Helen Ivory's The Breakfast Machine, which conjured a nightmarish atmsophere seemingly from nowhere. Damian Walford Davies' Suit Of Lights should have got far more attention, and I look forward to seeing what he does next.

Other collections worthy of note were Kona Macphee's eclectic Perfect Blue, Simon Perril's Nitrate (as good a themed collection as I can think of), and David Briggs' The Method Men. At the moment, I'm enjoying thoroughly digesting Gill McEvoy's The Plucking Shed, and Helena Nelson's long-awaited Plot and Counter-plot. Oh, and CJ Allen's e-chapbook Lemonade was a treat from another small press stalwart who really ought to be far more widely read.

I continued to work my way through Michael Haslam's past work with surprise and delight, and I've also liked Robert Hass's The Apple Trees At Olema: New and Selected Poems. Some of it doesn't hit the mark, but there's a lot there to appreciate.

Last, but certainly not least, there was Martin Figura's Whistle. The subject matter is harrowing and heart-breaking in equal measure, yet the end result is a collection that's genuinely uplifting and (this actually makes you feel guilty, at first) hugely enjoyable. It's a genuine poetry page-turner, but for all the right reasons, with Figura's precise, restrained telling of a story of family tragedy deserving great praise.

I may well have missed one or two other favourites, and as I said, it seemed a strong year all round. Here's hoping that 2011's even better.

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