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What Was the Best Poetry Collection of 2009?

Here’s a difficult but pleasurable task. If you were asked to recommend to other Magma readers one poetry collection (or critical work) published in your own country in 2009, what would you choose? Optionally, you can also recommend one poetry collection from any other part of the world and one poetry pamphlet/chapbook. But no more than one in each category!

Now, many newspapers and blogs have been running such surveys and people have often been recommending books by their friends. I don’t really object to that. If a friend’s book is any good, I can see why people would want to do their friend a favour, as it’s hard to get poetry books noticed out there.

However, for this particular survey, books written by friends aren’t allowed. By ‘friend’ I don’t mean a ‘Facebook friend’, or someone you’ve chatted to at a poetry festival bar or exchanged a few emails with because you liked their book. I mean someone who is actually a friend in the traditional sense.

So let’s have your Best of 2009 nominations – a link to the book would also be appreciated. Please post yours as a comment below. Include the book’s title, name of author and publisher. There’s no prize for the book that gets the most votes, but perhaps the recommendations will result in much-needed sales for some hard-working individuals and publishers and hours of pleasure for readers.

This Post Has 118 Comments

  1. Poetry in prose: anyone read ‘The Little Friend’ by Donna Tartt? There are some passages in that book that I go back to two or three times. Her use of metaphor is stunning and her descriptions are like poems.

  2. I’d hesitate to call prose ‘poetry’ excatly, but the one novel I read all year, ‘We Need to Talk about Kevin’ by Lionel Shriver, was better written and more profound than most poetry I read.

  3. I will look up the Donna Tartt and Lionel Shriver books now, thanks for the recommendations. Adele, I also read Ishiguro’s book Never Let Me Go some time ago and it still haunts me. He is a writer of much power, despite his pared back style of writing. (I also loved his book When We Were Orphans.) I’ve just read Sian Hughes’ The Missing. A powerful collection which left me out of breath. It includes her poem The Send-Off which got her a lot of unwanted attention apparently and which I hadn’t previously read. I came away profoundly moved by this woman’s struggles, how very human they are. And isn’t it amazing that we can create poetry in amidst all of this?

  4. Yes, The Send-Off is a terrific poem.

    I thought I should add to my previous comment that, although Lionel Shriver’s novel was better written than most poetry, I don’t find that to be true of most novels.

  5. You’ve reminded me that one of the best books I read this year with poetry in it was a novel. It was The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker. Baker is known for writing novels that go through the minutiae of the main character’s daily life, and in this case it’s a minor poet and poetry tutor who has been asked to compile an anthology. Who would think a whole book could be about somebody obsessed by poetry, but I think anybody interested in poetry would identify with him. He can’t compile the anthology, of course, but just spends ages with ‘editor’s block’ trying to work out how he should justify one poet over another. Plus loads of his thoughts about poetry itself – use of metre and rhyme and the reasons some poets have gone out of print and favour. Well, I’ll let you guess why it was one novel that appealed to me as a poet! I only wished it was longer, it has a real history of poets and poetry in it and you just have to look up all the poets and minor poets he mentions.

    He’s not a friend of mine, by the way, and I am not Nicholson Baker!

  6. Well, my favourite was “Ghosts & Others” by Geraldine Monk, but I’ve met her several times and I like her, so does that count?

    It’s still an extraordinary book.

  7. Sigh. I nominated a friend’s book because I failed to read the instructions properly (though can you really resist the line, ‘At the jumble sale no one fails at nothing’? Jackie Hagan, ‘The Wisdom of the Jumble Sale’). Also my website is utterly out of date and the pic of me makes me look like a dull serial killer so please don’t visit it. But having been fascinated by the comments on this threrad, I would like some advice. One of my friends is planning to start a small press and wants to publish my first collection. Naturally I’m delighted; but etiquette and netiquette are such nightmares. I’m not prepared to suck up to people I don’t respect or be dishonest. I am a Facebook tart though and I would mention the book to all my friends both real and virtual. But apart from that, promotion seems to be such a nightmare. How and where to promote without being pushy or fulsome?

  8. Ovid, you make some important points about the arbitrariness of calendar year-based declarations of ‘the best’. Similarly, I think it’s a real challenge to find a collection which contains consistently good poems. I have read many collections in the last little while where, in truth, only about two or three poems really moved me. The rest seemed underworked. Is anyone else finding this? What I’m wondering is if poetry is the art of compression (amongst other things) shouldn’t a poet be working towards a few significant poems rather than publishing (vast or regular) collections of underworked poems? Especially given there’s little (or no) money in it, why the rush to publish? On a less whiney note (sorry!) I just finished Endpoint and Other Poems by the late novelist John Updike, which had several beautiful poems in the Endpoint section. (I really enjoyed the Anthologist too and thought Baker was laugh-out-loud hilarious at times, esp because of the poet insider jokes.)

  9. It was so funny to be laughing at poetry ‘in jokes’ in The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker. I can’t think of any other novel that can surely only be enjoyed by poetry fanatics. I was going to give it away but I know I’ll want to read it again. I wrote a review of it on (a much neglected blog – how do people find time to keep these things up-to-date?) and Completely Novel keeps sending this review out in their emails.

  10. I loved Mariella Nigro’s “El tiempo circular” (Circular Time), published in Uruguay. Beautifully crafted poetry, with a touch of the slightly menacing alongside the wistful/melancholy. Her intelligence and unexpected yet perfect imagery never fail to surprise me.

  11. There’s an element of the Emperor’s New Clothes when it comes to judging poetry collections. A critic says they like a particular collection and immediately others jump on the bandwagon. That said, for me the best collection of 2009 was Julian Colton’s Everyman Street which I came into contact with via the Hand + Star websites top rated books. Colton’s collection proves that good poetry can be streetwise, accessible and socially relevant. I imagine a lot of critics don’t know quite what to make of it’s heady mix of tragedy, soap and excellent verse. In 2009, Colton’s brilliant collection was streets ahead.

    Min Morgan.

  12. Ovid, just wanted to thank you for excellent advice and for making me laugh too.
    Thinking about the incestuous nature of the pobiz, I’ve never met any of you, but my partner was taught by Sheena and says she had a great influence on him, which has then passed on to me (remember Keir, Sheena?) – I rather like the inter-connectedness of it and the fact that it’s mostly good-natured. I’m not really bothered about toadying to journos – I’ll take selling the odd copy to mates and interested people any day.
    Best wishes to all,

  13. Definitely Orphaned Lattitudes by South African born writer and poet Gérard Rudolf.
    He writes with his blood.

  14. Amongst the ones I most enjoyed were:

    George Szirtes: “The Burning of the Books” for it’s subtle mastery of form and the feel of history and memory in the verses. One gets the sense of being part of both the horrors and joys of events. Plus there’s a lot of human wisdom too.

    Robert Bly is a favourite of mine. His “Reaching Out into the World-New and Selected Prose Poems” brought some old favourites (often revised) but stunning to read with a strong sense of involvement in objects, things etc.

    Finally, one that was issues in 2008, but is now out in paperback – Zbigniew Herbert, “Collected Poems”. 500 pages of masterpieces that I read from cover to cover. One of the truly great poets of the 20th century from Poland. World Class!

  15. My vote would most certainly have to go to Orphaned Latitudes by Gerard Rudolf. It’s a beautiful, thoughful, vivid view of a life-in-progress and a wounded country left behind.

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