One of the highlights of any poetry festival is the chance to discover new poets and to take home treasure in the form of books… We asked a few friends of StAnza which books they’re most excited for at this year’s festival.
All these titles are not only available at the bookstalls after events, but also at the wonderful J & G Innes, just down South Street from the Byre Theatre, who transform into a poetry lover’s Aladdin’s Cave this time of year. Make sure you take a peek!
Georgi Gill recommends:
Fugitive Colours, Liz Lochhead
If Scottish poetry were a wedding, Liz Lochhead’s Fugitive Colours would be the perfect guest, the lynchpin of the wedding party. From the Bairnsangs through to the Makar songs, there are poems to delight little ones alongside those to inspire and celebrate an adult audience, including, of course, ‘Wedding Vow: The Simplest, Hardest and the Truest Thing’ and an epithelium (‘Anniversaries’). It’s all fine stuff, but for me, the treasures are the poems that would come out late at the evening reception when everyone is whisky-tinged with gossiping, dancing, romancing and reminiscing; poems like ‘Another Late Song for that Same Dirty Diva’ and ‘In Praise of Old Vinyl’. If like me, you read poetry collections out of order, round off your read with ‘Persimmons’ an achingly beautiful poem of love and grief.
All the Prayers in the House, Miriam Nash
On first reading Miriam Nash’s All the Prayers in the House, I was impressed by her dexterity with a wide range of forms – ghazal, sonnet, epistolary verse, villanelle – all these and more are represented here. (A well-crafted villanelle like ‘Higher Maths’ is a very rare thing and deserves special mention.) If you are someone who aspires to write poetry and wants to explore technique and form, read this collection. Yet, whether you are interested in poetry’s formal possibilities or couldn’t give a sestina, read this collection for its dysfunctional divorced parents, its fascination with The Ladies Dictionary (1694) and its conversation with Robert Louis Stevenson. Most of all, read it for the balance of darkness and illumination with which Nash captures all of her varied subjects.
Pirate Music, Miriam Gamble
I am fascinated by Miriam Gamble’s Pirate Music and have been since first reading the collection a couple of years ago. Miriam Gamble is mistress of opening lines that hook you straight into poems that embrace the strange and the magical world of prophecy and ghosts. The collection also finds strangeness in the known through its domestic poems and their interactions with humans and animals. I make no claim to understand all of Pirate Music, but I do find humour and tenderness throughout it and am left with striking images that reverberate in my mind years later, a sure sign of an important collection.
Jess Orr recommends:
Wristwatch, Jay Whittaker,
I’m really excited to see Jay Whittaker’s debut collection Wristwatch at this year’s StAnza, as it manages to capture aspects of human experience which often feel unsayable or inexpressible. The tragic loss of a partner followed by one’s own suffering from a life-threatening illness is an ordeal that many find hard to imagine let alone able to write poetry about. Nevertheless, Jay’s poems combine the stark reality of her loss with a generous sense of humour and renewed sense of hope for the future, which uplifts the reader and reminds us to make every day count.
Kate Bone recommends:
The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx, Tara Bergin
The stand-out book at StAnza this year for me has to be Tara Bergin's The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx (Carcanet, 2017). Eleanor Marx (the English-born daughter of Karl Marx) was a social activist as well as being the first English translator of Flaubert's Madame Bovary, and yet is a figure that remains unknown to many. With great dexterity, wit, and imaginative flair, Bergin paints a vivid portrait of this complex woman, delving into the tragic events that led to her suicide to ask questions about the way in which women's narratives are so often silenced or obscured. This is also a book about the art of translation, and makes use of myth, folklore, and song in exploring the nuances of language itself. This is a book I will return to for years to come.
All this is implied, Will Harris
Anglo-Indonesian poet Will Harris' first chapbook All this is implied (Happenstance, 2017) is one I'll be sure to pick up at StAnza this year. A rarity amongst younger poets, Harris has proved himself a master of more traditional verse forms such as the sonnet, making great use of that 'narrow room'- to use Wordsworth's phrase- to explore issues of identity, homeland, and the complexities of British colonial history. I look forward to reading more of his work in the coming months.
Feline Streekstra recommends:
The Hunger in Plain View, Ester Naomi Perquin
Ester Naomi Perquin is not only the current Poet Laureate of the Netherlands, she could also be considered one of the country’s leading poets. In The Hunger in Plain View poems from her first three poetry books are collected, including from the much praised and awarded collection Cell inspections, for which Perquin drew inspiration from her past work as a prison guard. Perquin’s language and poems are always familiar yet alienating, beautifully captured in David Colmer’s outstanding English translations.
The Lonely Funerals, ed. Frank Starik
Since 2002 the ‘The lonely funeral’ project (‘De eenzame uitvaart’), coordinated by Frank Starik, provides a poet and a poem to a funeral that otherwise would not be attended by anyone, a funeral of someone who died in loneliness or anonymity. A group of poets in Amsterdam - and in other cities too quickly after - joined this unique project that is both heart wrenching and heartwarming. The poets alternatively attend one of these ‘lonely funerals’ to memorialise the deceased, someone the poet has only gotten to know after his/her death.