Some 2014 Poetry Highlights

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Undisappointing Books

First, there were several big collections I’d been geekily awaiting. Poems in magazines had been teasing for years toward what proved two excellent second books – Michael Robbins‘ Second Sex (Penguin) and Joshua Mehigan‘s Accepting the Disaster (FSG). For me, and in the best sense, these were two of 2014’s most terrifying reads. It’s always a bit awkward when poetry gets any media attention, but Patricia Lockwood‘s debut, Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals (Penguin), was another high-profile release that deserved its hype. I was also glad to have a new Matthew Zapruder book, and to try keeping up with the syntactical acrobatics of his Sun Bear (Copper Canyon). I’d seen Lavina Greenlaw read a couple of times last year from her versions of Chaucer’s Toroilus & Criseyde (Faber); it’s wonderful now to see the jagged little form she created on the pages of such a well-made book. I love everything Maureen McLane does, and can only apologise for my fanboy swoon when she read here in York from her awesome new collection, This Blue (FSG).

Other / Closer Books

Then there were books I’d anticipated as much because I know the writer, know how brilliant they were generally as human beings, or know how hard they’d been working on this book. It was a particular treat hearing Nasser Hussain with his big bad Boldface (Burning Eye) when he guested on the Next Generation Tour in York. Supporting Ágnes Lehóczky at the launch of her new collection, Carillonneur (Shearsman), in Sheffield was very humbling, and made me glad to have students along to see the maestro of prose poetry in action. I’m also grateful to Agi’s organisation of other Sheffield readings this year, and one in particular with Scott Thurston‘s haunting performance from his haunting pamphlet, Figure Detached, Figure Impermanent (Oystercatcher), followed by my first encounter with the Juxtavoices ‘anti-choir’, featuring Geraldine Monk, Alan Halsey, and waves of sweet noise. Finally, SJ Fowler‘s The Rottweiler’s Guide to the Dog Owner (Eyewear) collects so many mind-bending recent projects you’ll have to wait for my full review (very soon, I promise). Or just trust me and buy it now.

Pretty Books

Then there were books so lovingly produced in themselves that the brilliant contents felt like a bonus. Oli Hazzard‘s Within Habit (Test Centre) is gorgeous inside and out; and I can’t imagine there are many of the 250 limited edition left. Likewise, Lisa Jarnot‘s hardcover chapbook, A Princess Magic Presto Spell (Solid Objects) with paintings by Emilie Clark, deserves its place on so many year-end lists. I admit I now keep illustrator Allen Crawford‘s wild and wonderful Whitman Illuminated: Song of Myself (Tin House) close at hand for when the non-illuminated world is just too much.

Bit of Perspective

It seemed to be a year for stock-taking, of UK poetry in particular. I don’t know if the Next Generation list put everyone in the mood, but It was lovely seeing so many of the isles’ best and brightest in the special ‘Poetry from the United Kingdom’ issue of Poetry and UK & Irish Poetry issue of B O D Y in October. (Frances Leviston‘s Harriet blog essay on the NGP hoopla was also inspiring.) And what better time for David Wheatley‘s critical monograph on Contemporary British Poetry (Palgrave), out this past week and already reorienting my lay of the land? In terms of more specific re-assessment, I can’t recommend highly enough the Seamus Heaney Special Issue of Poetry Ireland Review, edited by Vona Groarke, and with its serious little essays on poets’ choices from his catalog.

An Undead Poet

John Berryman‘s centenary year provided another excuse (if we needed one) to look back at another of my very favourite writers. I was glad to make the Dublin leg of a double-conference in his honour, organised by venerable Berrymanite Philip Coleman. Philip also edited Berryman’s Fate: A Centenary Celebration in Verse (Arlen House) to launch at the occasion, where I was giddy to read alongside Anthony Caleshu, Gerald Dawe, Eilean Ni Chuilleanain, Macdara Woods, Paula Meehan, and other great friends of Henry. I’ll also hopefully have a chance soon to write up my review of Brittany Cavallaro & Rebecca Hazelton‘s pamphlet No Girls No Telephones (Black Lawrence), which does some dazzling stuff with the Dream Song form. I know I still need to get hold of the new FSG editions of Berryman’s work as well, if only for the new introductions.

So Many Live Poets

Finally, it was another year of phenomenal poetry events, constantly reminding me how much bigger than the page a poem might be. I could try and take some credit for all of the amazing things we brought to York St John this year, I suppose – Emily Berry, Helen Mort, and Rebecca Goss‘s superstar reading as part of the York Literature Festival and Claire Trévien‘s solo performance of The Shipwrecked House, directed by Tom Chivers, were particular highlights. Students still mention these and the masterclass visit from Jon Stone and Kirsten Irving from Sidekick Books this Spring on a more or less weekly basis. A symposium on poetry anthologies as part of the Sheffield Midsummer Poetry Festival was another high point, and the new poems Kate Kilalea read there are now at the top of another year’s ‘most anticipated’. Last but not least, for me, Camaradefest II at London’s Rich Mix Centre was surely the most thrilling single day of poetry of 2014, thanks again to the tireless Steven Fowler, my collaborator Marcus Slease, and the 98 other poets who read.

Of course, the huge caveat to all of this is that it’s only over the semester break now that I’ll finally have time to catch up on the year properly.

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