Lyrical solutions to lockdown blues: BEL MOONEY's poetry roundup

Lyrical solutions to lockdown blues: BEL MOONEY’s poetry roundup for National Poetry Day


Poetry Roundup for National Poetry Day

In testing times, people need words to channel their feelings, uplift and console — and they often turn to poetry.

Alexandra Harris makes this point in her introduction to the scintillating new Forward Book Of Poetry (Faber £9.99), out now to mark National Poetry Day on October 1.

As chair of the judges of this year’s Forward Prizes, she noticed that, during lockdown, ‘almost everyone, it seemed, wanted a poem of some sort’.

The perennially useful Forward cornucopia is usually more challenging than calming, but none the worse for it, and it remains an indispensable yearly introduction to the best of the new.

Lyrical solutions to lockdown blues: BEL MOONEY’s poetry roundup for National Poetry Day 

Another must for anthology lovers is The Fire Of Joy (Picador £20), the book Clive James completed just before he died last year.

The late, great critic and poet doesn’t so much look forward as back; these are old favourites (Byron, Wordsworth, Masefield, Owen) from a lifetime’s reading, with personal notes on each one. I found it moving as well as a joy.

My favourite living poet, Michael Longley, is now 81, with an imagination fired by thoughts of mortality: ‘We gaze on our soul landscapes / More intensely with every year.’ His latest collection The Candlelight Master (Cape £10) is full of perfect moments contemplating art, memory, war, nature and family love. Each new volume from this distinguished poet makes me shiver with a sense of the miraculous.

Family is also a preoccupation of the prize-winning American novelist Barbara Kingsolver. How To Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons) (Faber £14.99) is a revelation: the penetrating wisdom of her prose distilled into poem-sequences about taking her elderly Italian mother-in-law on a trip home, accepting imperfection, and our inescapable connections with the dead — all the more as we age.

The voice is mature, wry and speaks as if she knew what you were thinking all along, but couldn’t put into words.

As for new voices, Cannibal (Picador £10.99) is the dazzling debut volume of Safiya Sinclair, born in Montego Bay, Jamaica and living in the U.S. Her poems shimmer with the rich colours and sounds of her homeland, but running through is a sense of escape and of exile.

Sinclair has described being brought up by a tough Rastafarian musician father and the poem Autobiography recalls how she ‘wore the bruisemark/of my father’s hands to school in silence’.

Another lists the ways a black child’s skin might be whitened by well-meaning adults with anything from talc to baking soda. The tone is laconic — which makes this all the more shocking.

Another fresh, exciting voice is Rachel Long’s. She writes of family, race and sexuality — and her debut, My Darling From The Lions (Picador £10.99), was shortlisted by Forward, which brings me full circle. The exhilarating work of these two young women reminds me that though we age like autumn leaves, the greenness is always there, waiting for spring. 

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