To celebrate the 25th anniversary of National Poetry Day on Thursday 3 October, we round-up the best contemporary verse of the year so far. Tackling topics as diverse as the New Cross fire of 1981, the fate of a minor character from Homer's Odyssey and a parable of wartime occupation centred on the illicit use of sign language, these are books brimming with lyricism, ferocity and power.
National Poetry Day has been a British institution since 1994 when William Sieghart, of Poetry Pharmacy fame, set up the inaugural event to foster a greater love and appreciation of poetry in all its many and varied forms and styles. Since 1999, National Poetry Day has revolved around a central theme, which, in this 25th anniversary year, happens to be 'truth.' Given the current socio-political climate it is hard to think of a more apposite topic, and there is no doubt that poets the world over have risen to the challenge of crafting profound, affecting verse on that theme.
This year's official anthology, Tell Me the Truth About Life, reflects the choices of a wide range of individuals and stands as a testament to the power and import of poetry in these turbulent times.
Wonderfully democratic and inclusive, this anthology reflects the favourite poems of the nation, as chosen by everyone from world-famous astronauts to primary school teachers. Published to coincide with National Poetry Day, this collection explores the theme of truth through a diverse and always unpredictable range of verse.
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Tell Me the Truth About Life: A National Poetry Day Anthology - Signed Edition (Hardback)
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And, five months after his installation as the new poet laureate, there is also a treat for fans of Simon Armitage. Paper Aeroplane, a career spanning retrospective of his finest work, is published in a Waterstones exclusive paperback signed by the author and featuring a host of extra poems.
The latest recipient of the mantle of Poet Laureate, Armitage has been a major figure in British poetry since the publication of his debut collection Zoom! in 1989. This stellar anthology gathers all Armitage’s best known verse, as well as a few surprises and extracts from his medieval verse translations. An essential volume from a national treasure.
Below is a round-up of the best contemporary poetry has to offer, tackling topics from the New Cross fire of 1981 to the fate of a minor character from Homer's Odyssey.
Fittingly for a poet with a passion for popular music, Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic represents Armitage’s rarities album. Gathering together one-off poems for public events and idiosyncratic commissions, much of this verse has never been presented on the page before. Always vital and in tune with their subjects, these disparate pieces combine to form a picture of a consistently great poet.
An extraordinary verse saga of resistance and reaction in an unnamed warzone, Deaf Republic builds character like the most sophisticated novel whilst retaining the spark and flash of the sharpest poetry.
The third instalment of Lovelace’s bitingly clever feminist poetry achieves just the same remarkably acute emotional resonance as its predecessors. Focusing on the trauma of sexual assault with passionate intensity and empathic sensitivity, The Mermaid’s Voice Returns in This One will delight Lovelace’s ever growing legion of fans.
Twitching with kinetic power and latent violence, this incendiary collection puts modern Britain under the microscope and finds a fragmented, dangerous place. Marrying intense lyricism to a variety of uncompromising themes and subjects, After the Formalities burns with a vicious grace.
A thrillingly illicit glimpse inside the world’s most covert state, The Red Years comprises the scintillating work of ‘Bandi,’ a lyrical truth teller still based inside North Korea. Emotionally and politically charged, these are poems of rare power and intensity as well as being invaluable reportage for the West.
An astounding, incendiary collection that takes the New Cross Fire of 1981 as a jumping off point for an exploration of injustice, prejudice and the turbulence of black lives in the decades since. An urgent new voice in British poetry, Bernard invokes Jamaican patois and the rhythms of the dancehall to craft a richly evocative verse-world.
One of the leading lights of the new generation of female poets, Charly Cox continues her scabrously funny, impassioned and emotionally exposed work with this collection examining our relationship with technology and social media in the twenty-first century. Written entirely on her phone, Validate Me both celebrates and condemns the freedoms and dangers that big tech has wrought.
Brown’s creation of the ‘duplex’ – an accomplished fusion of the sonnet, the ghazal and the blues – brings this scorching collection to full-throated life. Unafraid to explore the seamier side of the modern psyche, The Tradition meditates on the nature of evil, of fatherhood and of blackness, with an uncompromising tone and moral fire.
A breath-taking long poem that dissects death and the nature of grief through the prism of Super Mario World. A triumph of dense verse and metaphor, If All the World and Love Were Young channels Sexton’s innate understanding of video game culture to craft a work of radical unpredictability and emotional force.
Medusa, Circe, Athena; legendary female figures from the annals of Greek myth have a surprising amount to teach us about life in the twenty-first century. In poetry, prose and picture, the multi-talented Nikita Gill takes us on a whirlwind tour of classical Greece, elucidating the stories of the women who dominated their age.
The great nature poet turns her attention to the sea in this masterly account of the fate that befalls a minor character from The Odyssey. A rapturous hymn to the waters that envelop the protagonist and a roll-call of figures from the heart of Greek myth, Nobody is a limpid, liquid marvel, alive with wonder and lyricism.
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