Sun, sea and two Salt poetry books

I’ve just returned from a ten-day break in Majorca – a chance to unwind after a very difficult six months or so, and to celebrate my first wedding anniversary with Mrs Yogic. We always stay in my aunt’s flat in Puerta Pollenca in the rugged north east tip of the island. This was our first time ‘on season’, which meant that what’s usually a ghost town in November or January is a buzzy – but not gratuitously so – resort for holidaying Brits seeking sun, sand and sangria. We had plenty of that, but I also topped up my reading with, amongst others, two poetry books from Salt Publishing.

The Best British Poetry 2011 is an addition to Roddy Lumsden‘s oeuvre as an editor-cum-poetry-kingmaker, and what makes it particularly welcome is that the seventy-odd poems are chosen solely from magazines (print and online) released during the year in question. What this means is that you get far fewer ‘big names’ from the ‘big publishers’ than with most anthologies. The book makes quite a big deal of this, with a list of mags at the back for instance, a nice touch. I must confess that I rarely read poetry magazines anymore (especially print ones) but the few that I do still peruse are well represented – especiallyPoetry London.

Now, I’m not really a list-making kind of person, but in honour of Roddy (who is) I thought I’d select my top 5 poems from the book. My Best of his Best, as it were.

In alphabetical order:

Emily Berry, ‘Sweet Arlene’
Amy De’Ath, ‘Lena at the Beach’
Jen Hadfield, ‘The Ambition’
Colette Sensier, ‘Orpheus’
Michael Zand, ‘on a persian cairn’

There were another five or so that I felt were good enough to return to again. I could easily have included, for instance, Chrissy Williams‘ very funny and inventive ‘Sheep’ or Chris McCabe‘s ‘Kingfisher’, though of course they are both friends too, and Poetry Librarians!

I was struck overall – and this is born out by my ‘top five’ – by how many of the stronger poems were by women. And young women at that. Just an observation, no more.

At the end of the book, each poet has been asked to contribute an explanatory note on their poem, and I’m rather ambivalent about that. I guess you’re always going to end up with some really interesting, constructive or illuminating notes, and some which are useless or evasive or whatever. A few of them start, inevitably, with something like, ‘I’m not used to explaining my poems…’

I know if I were asked, that’s what I’d say!

The other new Salt book I read was The School of Forgery by Jon Stone. Jon’s a mate, and I’m not going to say very much about this, or review it in great depth, but only to say that it’s a wonderful, accomplished and very readable collection; inventive, fun and intelligent, and also genuinely beautiful in parts. His sequence of poems about swifts (clearly something of an obsession of his) is just perfect. The Poetry Book Society, who gave it a Recommendation, are totally spot on. There’s always that fear with poets who are all surface bluster and clever-dick games that underneath there will lie a heart of stone with no stories to tell, but – and with apologies for the pun – you’re never in doubt with this book that Stone’s heart (and I mean this as a cypher for all sorts of vague and fundamental things like vision, depth, ideas) is entirely served and generated by the poems’ verbal playfulness. Top stuff, Jon.

Finally. Not only did I manage to read some poems – I also wrote some, a rarity for me nowadays. These will follow on this blog, possibly.


  1. I like your choices, Tom. ‘Sweet Arlene’ was my first pick, followed by Matthew Gregory’s “Pterodactyl” and Christopher James’ “The Retired Eunuch”

    There are so many great poems in the book, I found it hard to pick three I liked.

    I wrote about it here:

    1. Tom Chivers says:

      Cheers Christian. I think Sweet Arlene is the best thing in the book.

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