Thursday, 24 December 2009


All the blessings of the season to everyone, and a wonderful year to come.

Living Yule

I was there, when men squatted on haunches
to chip flint and weave webs of belief
from seasons and circles of death and growth.
The stink of boar-grease stiffening my braid
and blue whorls whispering under my skin
offered hope that darkness could end.

I put on homespun robes and tonsured my head
to walk the years when dogma stalked faith;
smoothing old ways and old faces to new shapes,
nudging builders to find safe spaces in stone arches.
Heedless of changed names for the turns of the year,
I watched the ploughman bury cakes for first cut,
crooned the song of seasons round to seed-time.

I’ve paced the years’ life and I am still here to die
ever again. Hide me beneath plastic and tinsel,
dress me in red, fatten my cheeks, disinfect my story;
the scent of old circles clings to the shade of man.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Books of the year

It's that time when newspapers, radio stations et al ask various talking heads to nominate their books of the year. There is a far better alternative for poets at Michelle McGrane's blog Peony Moon.

Michelle has asked poets to suggest their three favourite poetry books (published in 2009) and she has had such a great response that it is running to eight posts. It is a real delight and education to see what others are reading and enjoying, and such a treat to see small presses getting a fair proportion of recommendations. It's also disheartening, in a way, to see my wish-list grow to such a length that I'll never catch up with it.

It is terribly hard to choose just three and, for my own choices, I decided to choose very quickly. I knew that if I took more time I would never reach a decision but would vacillate between the many books I have bought, borrowed and enjoyed this year. I chose those books that came to mind as soon as the question was asked and those I have gone back to again and again to read poems that have stayed with me.

My choices:
The Clockwork Gift by Claire Crowther (Shearsman Books)
I love The Clockwork Gift for its fresh language and startling leaps of imagination. Claire's writing is controlled and crafted but her over-arching theme of grandmothers is approached from every angle possible as well as from angles I wouldn't have dreamt of. I am really thrilled for her to see it feature in so many poets' 'best three'; at times the poetry made me exclaim out loud in delight at its leaps and twists and turns.

Bundle o’Tinder by Rose Kelleher (Waywiser Press)
Bundle o’Tinder is a collection that could be labelled as formalist - but for me, that doesn't come close to describing it. Rose's skill in meter and rhyme is formidable, and leaves me in awe, but if anyone thinks that received form is restricting or formulaic, get this book and be astonished at what can be done. She has a light touch and and quirky sensibility as well as craft; her language is sinuous and delightful (in the true sense of the word), and she demonstrates a truly original imagination.

Chora New and Selected poems by Nigel McLoughlin (Templar Poetry)
I have to admit that I hesitated before naming this one: not because of any lack in the book itself but because Nigel was my course leader on my MA and is my PhD supervisor and I am aware that choosing his book could look like sycophancy. I only hesitated briefly though because I don't see any sense in not recommending a good book because of what some unseen reader might think - and I did choose to do the MA at Gloucestershire because I liked Nigel's work so liking this book isn't really surprising.
If I had to pick just one quality to describe Chora, it would be musicality; Nigel's use of sound is superb and often leaves me envious. He ranges across a variety of themes but his relationship to landscape and his delight in humanity (especially family) is ever present. The joy in language and its possibilities is always evident in the poems and the images memorable. There is a touch of magic - of the bog-dancer - throughout this book and it draws me back time and time again.

There are so many more books I could have chosen - but have no second thoughts about choosing, and recommending, any one of these three.