2014 in Poetry (and other things)

by Clairet

Ah yes, the inevitable end of year list. Like last year I thought I’d do a month by month list of books I’ve enjoyed, and personal things achieved, but it turns out of course to be even trickier to track the former, as I’ve been increasingly buying directly from publishers and authors, so I’m afraid I’ll have to rely mostly on my memory.

I’ve been saying a fair amount that I can’t wait to get rid of 2014 and move on to 2015, but looking through my timeline and order histories, I realize that’s rather harsh. In many ways, 2014 has been very good to me, allowing me to cross off numerous things off the bucket list, including:

and one or two things I can’t yet share but am very excited about. So yes, 2014, you may have been very difficult to deal with at times, but you’ve definitely had your ups too!

It’s also been a great year for reading with numerous works of high quality getting published. Not everything that I read this year was published this year though, I belatedly discovered and loved works like Mani Rao’s Echolocation, Charlotte Bronte’s Villette, Mia Mckenzie’s The Summer We Got Free, Vénus Khoury-Ghata’s Nettles, Jemma L. King’s The Shape of the Forest, Susanne Ehrhardt’s Rumpelstiltskin’s Price, Marie Ndiaye’s Hilda, Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Saga, Anne Charnok’s A Calculated Life, Richard Fortey’s Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms: The Story of Animals and Plants that Time has Left Behind. I make no apology for mixing together all sorts of genres in that list, from poetry collections, to plays, to fantasy to pop science.

Here is a more orderly list of some other highlights from this year (published this year), to which I’ll add the recommendation to susbscribe to the never disappointing Modern Poetry in Translation.

10 Poetry Highlights

Aimee Herman’s meant to wake up feeling (Great Weather For Media, 2014). I discovered Aimee’s work at a poetry reading in Brooklyn this November. What I love is that she is not only a great performer of her work, but that the poems are formally exciting on the page too.  It’s a really fascinating exploration of gender, of the body, of identity, that I found very inspiring.

Ten: The New Wave, ed. by Karen McCarthy Woolf (Bloodaxe, 2014). Now here is one exciting anthology in a year of exciting anthologies. It features some of my favourite poets and the framing of each poet with a fist-bump from their mentor is pretty charming too. Standouts for me were Warsan Shire and Rishi Dastidar, for completely different reasons, but really, there’s hardly a dud note in the entire anthology. I look forward to seeing where these ten poets go next.

Kei Miller, The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion (Carcanet, 2014) and Liz Berry’s Black Country (Chatto and Windus, 2014). It feels a bit boring to champion two lauded collections, but frankly they deserve the attention and kudos. I’ve been waiting for Liz Berry’s first collection for an age, after gushing some praise on her pamphlet back in 2012.

John Clegg’s The True Account of Captain Love and the Five Joaquins (The Emma Press, 2014). Loved this pamphlet so much that I used it in a poetry school workshop, leading to a six-handed Tripadvisor-style review!

Tom Chivers’ Flood Drain (Annexe, 2014). I suppose it doesn’t get much more biased than that: written by my publisher/director/producer and published by a long-time collaborator of mine, but hearing Tom read this dream-sequence poem at the Museum of Water with a perfectly timed projector behind him, was one of my favourite performances. Yes, it’s technically fascinating, creating at times some gorgeous soundscapes, but it’s also very funny, ‘can you give a horse an ASBO?’ will never not make me laugh.

David Attwooll and Andrew Walton’s Ground Work is a gorgeously produced collaboration between a poet and a painter based around Port Meadow in Oxford. What I love about it is how Attwooll debunks nature poetry while at the same time creating some of the most exquisite nature poetry I’ve ever come across.

Hannah Lowe’s Ormonde (Hercules Editions, 2014). Hercules Editions is fast becoming one of my favourite micropresses with their gorgeously crafted pamphlets, each one really is a work of art. This is no different. Based on the first post-WW2 ship to carry a significant number of Jamaican immigrants to the UK (including Hannah Lowe’s father), this pamphlet is part historical document part poetry pamphlet, and the combination creates a very special object indeed.

W.N. Herbert’s Murder Bear (Donut, Dec. 2013). I was really chuffed when Murder Bear won the Saboteur Awards for best pamphlet as it is a complete delight to read if you’re into grim humour. Another gorgeously produced chapbook from the sadly now closed Donut Press, though it looks as if it can still be bought here.

Wendy Pratt, Museum Pieces (Prole Books, 2014). I ended up reviewing this collection almost accidentally, and I am so glad I did. As I said, ‘You would think we’re about to reach peak-museum, yet Pratt’s gorgeous control over form, and unexpected images manage to make the genre, like the best kind of exhibition, still feel alive and relevant.’

Pascale Petit’s Fauverie (Seren, 2014). My inclusion of Petit on this list will surprise exactly no one. I have a review of it coming out in the next Poetry London, but suffice to say I found it ‘taut and dangerous’ and ‘the whole painted as recklessly as any fauvist painting’.


5 non-poetry books from this year that I recommend:

No Christmas by Evangeline Jennings (Pankhearst, 2014), a novella on teen pregnancy set in the near, bleak future. It will anger you in all the right ways hopefully.

In the Catacombs by Chris McCabe (Penned in the Margins, 2014), I’m cheating a bit as this could count as poetry too. I can’t remember the last time I read a book so fast. A fascinating exploration of West Norwood cemetery in search of a lost great poet.

Girly and Things to Make and Break by May-Lan Tan (Future Tense, CB Editions, 2014). Two perfectly formed books by the super talented May-Lan Tan. The first is a chapbook, the second a short story collection shortlisted in the Saboteur Awards. I’m so glad I nominated Things to Make and Break for a Guardian First Book Award as it led to her being shortlisted for the prize (as well as the Bad Sex Awards!) and brought wider attention to a highly talented writer.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. I’m a latecomer to Mitchell’s work and furiously catching up now. I absolutely loved his playfulness with genres here, each one given such detailed attention, and the whole binding together beautifully. Master storyteller.

The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman. If you like stories about women boxing in the eighteenth century then this is perfect for you. I missed my bus stop because I was so engrossed in the story, and desperately rooting for characters with plenty of odds stacked up against them.