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The best recent poetry – review roundup | Poetry


Days like these: a Alternative Guide to the Year in 366 Poems by Brian Bilston (Picador, £16.99)
The poem-a-day format of poetry publishing is ripe for subversion. It’s suspected that the “poet laureate of Twitter”‘s tongue is in his cheek as he celebrates historic occasions as diverse as the execution of Charles I, Dylan goes electric and… Bilston finding one of his books in a charity shop. He succeeds when he describes the specific in the mundane, as on television: “I used to believe that the tiny people in the magic box / looked at me while I looked at them – / looked at someone another inside a tiny box”.

A small resurrection of Selina Nwulu;
Photography: PR

A small resurrection by Selina Nwulu (Bloomsbury, £9.99)
“I was once an angel. It doesn’t matter, but it’s true. Right from the start, the first collection of a former young poet laureate from London commands attention. Running through poems dealing with deportation and repatriation, trying to find a home between cultures and describing the impact of this on black bodies, Nwulu’s voice is direct and disarming, fueled by quiet anger. She is particularly good at illuminating the swirl of grief, thanks to her ability to freeze decisive moments. When his father died in hospital, there were “scattered around him the remains of a silent bomb”. A convincing start.

Zaffar Kunial's England Green;  Based on Sylvia, edited by Ian Humphreys

England green by Zaffar Kunial (Faber, £10.99)
Kunial’s second collection sees him finding serenity in the roar of modern England. He asks us to look not only at war memorials and hedgerows (“This place is full of them”), but also at cities and “the crown of locked stones/highways”. Her ability to convey moments of pure beauty remains unmatched; his style is simple, declarative, elegant. A careful sense of the spiritual provides another thread to tie the poems together. Ings, a long poem that weaves JL Carr and a course in speed awareness into a meditation on grief, is a shining example: “There is something / locked up in mourning, but there is something / horribly unlocked in mourning.

Based on Sylvia, edited by Ian Humphreys and Sarah Corbett

After Sylviaedited by Ian Humphreys and Sarah Corbett (Nine Arches, £14.99)
Almost 90 years after her birth, Sylvia Plath remains a reference for many writers. Here, 60 established and emerging poets, including Kunial, Pascale Petit and Mona Arshi, celebrate Plath’s influence on them despite, as Corbett says in his introduction, that it is not easy to write after her. Karen McCarthy Woolf’s Ariel is an eye-popping effort, combining precision, delicacy and rage. Contributors don’t shy away from problematic parts of Plath’s work, such as Degna Stone’s essay on his use of racist language. Ultimately, the anthology will send you back to the poems, the best kind of homage. As Emily Berry says in Last Poem, “And everything you wrote is alive.”

Journeys Across Breath: Poems 1975-2005 by Stephen Watts

JOurneys Across Breath: Poems 1975-2005 by Stephen Watts (Prototype, £15)
Watts has, for the past 45 years, been one of the UK’s most singular poetic voices. Friend and influencer of WG Sebald, Watts forged connections across cultures and countries, finding common humanity – sometimes even rapture – between us. It has been difficult to source his work, so this selection is welcome. His main concern is how the language we need to really express ourselves is still out of reach, but we have to keep trying to speak: not an opening / on an open field”. It’s a wonderful way to get to know a wonderful poet.

Rishi Dastidar is co-editor of Too Young, Too Loud, Too Different: Poems from Malika’s Poetry Kitchen (Corsair).

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