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Short and sweet poems and sonnets or lyrical and lengthy epics, sit back and relax while you enjoy the work of these wonderful wordsmiths.
From the multi-award-winning author of The Poet X and With the Fire on High comes Elizabeth Acevedo’s exceptional dual-voiced novel about loss, love and sisterhood across the sea, a story partly sparked by the fatal crash of a flight from NYC to Santo Domingo in 2001. Camino Rios has always lived in the Dominican Republic with her aunt Tia, “a woman who speaks to the dead, who negotiates with spirits”, a woman who’s like a mother to her: “Even when Mama was alive, Tia was the other mother of my heart.” Life’s not easy for them on the island, but they have it better than their neighbours as a result of Camino’s beloved Papi working in the US for most of year. To Camino, Papi is a “A king who built an empire so I’d have a throne to inherit”, and she lives for the summer months when he comes home to them. But all life is thrown into terrible disarray when she goes to meet Papi at the airport and learns that his plane has fallen from the sky, and then: “I am swallowed by this shark-toothed truth.” This story is blessed with such divinely piercing language throughout. At the same time, across the Atlantic, Yahaira Rios learns that her hero Papi has died in a plane crash. She already knew he had a wife on the island (but not of his secret daughter), and has always longed to reconcile her Dominican heritage with her American life: “Can you be from a place you have never been? You can find the island stamped all over me, but what would the island find if I was there? Can you claim a home that does not know you, much less claim you as its own?” When it emerges that Papi wishes to be buried back in DR, Yahaira’s Mami insists that she will never let her “touch foot on the sands of that tierra.” But Yahaira has other plans, not least when she’s contacted by a girl named Camino Rios who bears an undeniable resemblance to Papi, and to her too. As well as being exceptionally affecting on grief, forgiveness and family secrets, Clap When You Land is also devastatingly sharp on the exploitative tendencies of tourism. In Camino’s words: “I am from a playground place…Our land, lush and green, is bought and sold to foreign powers so they can build luxury hotels...Even the women, girls like me, our mothers and tias, our bodies are branded jungle gyms…Who reaps? Who eats? Not us. Not me.” Overflowing with truths of the heart, and truths about inequalities that need to be broken, while also addressing the complexities of what it means to be of a place, I can’t praise this highly enough. Read our 'Book-aneers of the Caribbean' listicle to find more unforgettable books by Caribbean writers. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
Juana of Castile (commonly referred to as Juana la Loca - Joanna the Mad) was a sixteenth-century Queen of Spain, daughter of the instigators of the Inquisition. Conspired against, betrayed, imprisoned and usurped by her father, husband and son in turn, she lived much of her life confined at Tordesillas, and left almost nothing by way of a written record. The poems in Citadel are written by a composite 'I' - part Reformation-era monarch, part twenty-first century poet - brought together by a rupture in time as the result of ambiguous, traumatic events in the lives of two women separated by almost five hundred years. Across the distance between central Spain and the northwest coast of England these powerful, unsettling poems echo and double back, threading together the remembered places of childhood, the touchstones of pain, and the dreamscapes of an anxious, interior world. Symbolic objects - the cord, the telephone, eggs, a flashing blue light - make obsessive return, communication becoming increasingly difficult as the storm moves in over the sea. Citadel is a daring and luminous debut.
This debut novel was inspired by the author’s work creating Run the World, an organisation that empowers women and girls from marginalised backgrounds through sport and storytelling and the authenticity of this, at times harrowing story, is palpably evident. As is the skill of the accomplished writing which makes great use of typography and layout to really make every word count. This speeds the reader through the narrative, but it also cuts deep to reveal the emotions experienced by our narrator. Amber Rai is only ‘truly alive’ when running and shows great potential. But her alcoholic, abusive, misogynistic father refuses to allow her on the track. She has seen her older sister Ruby denied university and married off against her will and her downtrodden, abused mother is literally powerless to help, trapped as much by illiteracy and lack of English as the violence of her equally illiterate, unemployed husband. Amber has friends and teachers who believe in her, but she cannot explain what really goes on at home. She is a complex and believable character with very real flaws that she painfully recognises: ‘inflicting pain on others/halves your own hurt’. But the story is cleverly structured on The Anatomy of a Revolution and inspired by her reading about revolutions for history, Amber, Ruby and her mother gradually empower each other to take small steps to freedom. This is an important, rewarding, highly empathetic read which, despite the dark subject matter, offers hope but no simplistic solutions.
The Air Year is a time of flight, transition and suspension: signatures scribbled on the sky. Bird's speakers exist in a state of unrest, trapped in a liminal place between take-off and landing, undeniably lost. Love is uncontrollable, joy comes and goes at hurricane speed. They walk to the cliff edge, close their eyes and step out into the air. Caroline Bird has five previous collections published by Carcanet. Her fifth collection, In These Days of Prohibition, was shortlisted for the 2017 T.S. Eliot Prize and the Ted Hughes Award.
Encompassing works from ancient sages, classic poets, well-known thinkers and emerging contemporary innovators from all walks of life, this involving, inclusive collection inspires, entertains, enthrals and emboldens. Alongside enjoying the work of widely-esteemed names (including Sappho, George Eliot, Sylvia Plath, Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay, Christina Rosetti, Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson and Margaret Atwood), it was a pleasure to discover contemporary poets whose work I shall seek out, among them Ruth Awola and Remi Graves, and lesser-known names from the past, for example Edith Södergran and Astrid Hjertenaes Andersen. If the diversity of voices is rich, so too are the themes, with growing up, friendship, love, nature, body image and protest covered in staggering depth and diversity. This varied chorus of bold, incisive voices makes for a collection to be savoured and shared.
POETRY BOOK SOCIETY RECOMMENDATION Flèche (the French word for 'arrow') is an offensive technique commonly used in fencing, a sport of Mary Jean Chan's young adult years, when she competed locally and internationally for her home city, Hong Kong. This cross-linguistic pun presents the queer, non-white body as both vulnerable ('flesh') and weaponised ('fleche'), and evokes the difficulties of reconciling one's need for safety alongside the desire to shed one's protective armour in order to fully embrace the world. Central to the collection is the figure of the poet's mother, whose fragmented memories of political turmoil in twentieth-century China are sensitively threaded through the book in an eight-part poetic sequence, combined with recollections from Chan's childhood. As complex themes of multilingualism, queerness, psychoanalysis and cultural history emerge, so too does a richly imagined personal, maternal and national biography. The result is a series of poems that feel urgent and true, dazzling and devastating by turns.
This is what a reading experience is all about, Ness touches, tests, pushes, strokes, inspires, and I have given this little book my heart. I have hesitated about explaining the background to Ness, but have decided that to know doesn’t unduly shape thoughts. Orford Ness in Suffolk is a shingle island which is constantly changing due to the sea and weather. It is the site of an abandoned military base where research included nuclear weaponry during the Cold War. The author and illustrator know this place, and have created a powerful lyrical read where nature takes steps to stop a crime against the world. It is a wonderful heady mix of novella and poetry-prose, a fantasy creation of word and illustration that took up lodging in my mind. A hagstone, which allows a veiled glimpse to the future or past, sits centre stage throughout the book, the illustrations by Stanley Donwood allowing a viewing station, a pause, before the next taste of action. The words by Robert Macfarlane sing, they just beg to be spoken, to be heard. As I spoke the words, I had the feeling that I was setting them free, and at the final few pages a shiver of emotion skittered down my arms. Ness is a beautiful yet fierce and frightening call, containing a warning that we should be shrieking from the rooftops. I have chosen it as one of my Liz Robinson Picks of the Month, and a LoveReading Star Book.
Paul Farley is now widely recognized as one of the leading English poets writing today. As usual it is impossible to summarise in terms of theme, as his interests are too various: there's an air of 'the innocence of childhood' being viewed through the corrective lens of worldly middle age, though, and also of mid-life, its creeping self-consciousness and decrepitude, and the distortions of perception that attend it; confusing encounters with tech, modernity and its accelerated rate of change; satirical excursions critiquing the way business and digital communications have debased language. Farley is also interested as ever in the peripheral and marginal and no-man's lands - the lives of others, and their strange occupations; the birds and unsung-by-the-pocket-guides fauna and flora you miss. 'Selfie with Sea Monsters' encapsulate one of poetry's most capacious and eclectic imaginations.
By turns gripping, meditative and elemental, and always inspirational, this treasure trove of prose, poetry and art lays bare a richness of relationships between female adventurers and the great outdoors. Shunning conventional, simplistic narratives about mankind conquering the highest this, or the deepest that, each adventurer-contributor shares their unique experiences with enlightening, engaging subtlety. In the wise words of one writer, “People go outdoors to push themselves past what they thought they could do…I go outdoors for the struggle, not to beat it.” This eloquent anthology contains over seventy pieces of writing and art, among them an enlightening piece about the motivations of an Antarctic researcher, an intimate account of a mountaineer’s connection with her father through cross-country skiing, and an exquisite evocation of the sensuous life-forces of a Dartmoor brook. It’s a delight to dip into, and the perfect gift for nature-lovers and adventure-seekers.
Here you can discover a truly lovely collection of poems celebrating friendship. With 365 on offer, you can read one a day for a year, or splurge out and just read until sated. Can I say how visually gorgeous this book is, both inside and out! Friends sits so well alongside its sister A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year, and here is where I admit to stroking the cover when I first picked it up (stroking beautiful books is absolutely, in fact more than fine in my opinion). Edited by Jane McMorland Hunter, each poem focuses on the special nature of friendship and each month is preceded by a lovely illustration by Tatiana Boyko. In her introduction she examines the different types of friendship, from marriage, to a connection with or between animals. Also contained within are some extracts from essays, novels, plays, and diaries. I found some of my favourite poets, including Christina Rossetti, William Blake, and Edward Lear, there really is the most huge variety on offer here! Friends A Poem For Every Day Of The Year called out to me, it made me smile, it is a book I will treasure, and dip into again and again. It really would make the most perfect present (alongside its sister) and I can highly recommend it.
This captivating collection comprises intensely poignant profiles of people and places; of domestic life and wild landscapes, especially Scotland’s “dark and stormy waters”, with flashes of crimson running through the poems in the form of fire, a fox, red shoes, a red balloon. Among the cast of memorable characters is Mrs Dungeon Brae, terrifying in both life and death, and The Knitter, who “knits to keep death away” and urgently recounts big life occasions knitting has accompanied her through, all the while “casting on, casting off”. Then there’s the grandmother lamenting the fact that “it’s no like the past for grannies these days...nobody knows how to make a conversation/ let alone make a home-made meal or a fresh baked scone.” Brimming with humanity - with love, anger, frustration and flashes of humour - this engaging, accessible anthology makes a richly rewarding gift for language lovers of all ages.
Uplifting and dazzlingly unique, this coming-of-age treasure explores identity and sexuality with an emboldening message to remember that “you have the right to be you”. As a young Barbie-loving boy, mixed race Michael wonders if he’s “only half” of everything, to which his mother poignantly replies: “Don’t let anyone tell you/that you are half-black/and half-white. Half-Cypriot/ and half-Jamaican./ You are a full human being.” But he doesn’t feel like a whole human being. Dubbed a “queerdo and weirdo” by bullies and subjected to “batty bwoy” taunts through his teenage years, he leaves London for Brighton University with hope in his heart. But even here Michael feels “like Goldilocks; trying to find a group of people/the perfect fit for me”. He doesn’t feel black enough for the Caribbean Society, or Greek enough for Hellenic Society, or queer enough for the LBGT Society. Then Michael finally finds a fit at Drag Society where he becomes The Black Flamingo, “someone fabulous, wild and strong. With or without a costume on.” Michael’s journey is complex, moving and told with a raw vitality that makes the soul soar and the heart sing, with Anshika Khullar’s magnificent illustrations and the smart design adding further depth, prompting the reader to pause for thought as his story requires.
From the Haiku to Xanadu, a well-crafted poem can speak of an experience of our world in a way that stays with us for a long time; often for life. Everyone has a poem they learned in school that holds increased sentimental importance as time goes by.
The ability of words and language to define us and the poet’s ability to harness it are what makes poetry such a powerful genre. The field is huge, the subjects covered too numerous to list. From the fields of Flanders to the kitchen sink there are poems that encapsulate all of human life. Funny, thought-provoking, challenging, evocative, story-telling, satire and tribute. All are here. Why not use our special recommendations to find something to inspire you today?