I’m hopeless at selecting poetry books to buy, but it’s hard to go wrong if you use award nominee lists as a guide
One award that throws up wonderful poetry books and has introduced me to several new poets is The Irish Times Poetry Now Award which has been around since 2005. Over the years this award has gone to the likes of Dorothy Molloy, Harry Clifton, Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Sinead Morrissey, Paddy Bushe, Leontia Flynn,Dennis O’Driscoll, Theo Dorgan, and Caitriona O’Reilly.
Five wonderful poets appear on this years shortlist and I have ordered all of the books bar one which is still listed as preorder. I have added links to each poetry book on its title.
The nominees are Jane Clarke, for When The Tree Falls (Bloodaxe), Vona Groarke for Double Negative (Gallery Press), Medbh McGuckian for Marine Cloud Brightening (Gallery), Paul Muldoon for Frolic and Detour (Faber & Faber) and Eileán Ni Chuilleanáin for The Mother House (Gallery Press).
The lyrically eloquent poems of Jane Clarke bear witness to the rhythms of birth and death, celebration and sorrow, resilience and re-growth. An elegiac series, influenced by her father’s death, passes through this second set with grace. Rooted in the mystery of daily life, here are poems to savor and come back to, for the enjoyment of finely sharp lines that vividly evoke depth of our relationships with men, place and nature. Jane Clarke’s first novel, The River, was published to both critical and popular acclaim by Bloodaxe in 2015.
This is Clarke’s second collection with Bloodaxe. She published All the Way Home, an illustrated booklet of poems in the Mary Evans Picture Library in London in response to a First World War family collection.
In this, her seventh collection, Vona Groarke considers the subject of ageing, fearlessly exploring its culverts and cul-de-sacs while also checking this earnestness with sharp wit and trademark style.
Here candour is mediated by humour. These are sensual and sensitive poems, written in language asked to be beautiful, wry and true about topics usually either ignored or obscured with greyness and cliché.
Hailed by The Irish Times as ‘a poet of great self-awareness and meticulous craft’, Vona Groarke’s Selected Poems was praised as a ‘collection of almost sublime purity’ (Dublin Review of Books).
Double Negative breaks new ground in subject and approach. It is a daring and distinguished work from one of Ireland’s leading poets.
Medbh McGuckian is one of my personal favourite Irish Poets. She was born and educated in Belfast, she worked as a teacher and was an editor and Writer in Residence at Queen’s University, Belfast (1985-8) and is currently honorary lecturer at Queen’s
Her first works came out in two two pamphlets, Single Ladies: Sixteen Poems and Portrait of Joanna, in 1980, the same year she received an Eric Gregory Award. She co-published Trio Poetry 2 with Damian Gorman and Douglas Marshall in 1982, and collaborated with Nuala Archer on Two Women, Two Shores in1989.
McGuckian’s, The Flower Master (1982), which explores post-natal breakdown was her first major collection and she was awarded a Rooney prize for Irish Literature, plus Ireland Arts Council Award, and an Alice Hunt Bartlett Award (1983).
Mc Guckian was winner of the Cheltenham Prize in 89 for her collection On Ballycastle Beach.
Other honours include Bass Ireland Award for Literature, Denis Devlin Award, plus the American Ireland Fund’s Literary Award. She was winner of the 2002 Forward Prize for Best Poem for “She Is in the Past, She Has This Grace.”
McGuckian is the author of Horsepower Pass By! A Study of the Car in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney (1999), and the poetry collection My Love Has Fared Inland (2010).
Frolic and Detour is a book that is engaged and challenging at once, intertwined with delicate threads of history and geography that not only reflect our profound interconnectedness but the fragility of those very relations. From poems which take the Native American leaders Joseph Brant and Mangas Coloradas as their focus, through the Great War, the Irish Rising, hunting with eagles, the house wren, the daily attack
of twenty-first century America. This is a wonderful collection of poems.
The Mother House is rich in images of orphans, exiles, refugees, degradation, devastation, famine, tragedy, the cloistered, the drowned, the poor, and memory, music, and loss. The poems talk of myths, as allegories of our generation, in Ireland and elsewhere. However, the poetic is not given as a salvo or as a rescue, for as the poet asks, “We made the long journey // to deliver the gesture, but who has noticed us?” Nevertheless, Ní Chuilleanain shows that when the mirror is held at the right angle, the past will shed a telling light on the present, noting with great empathy that “it was like memory, held there / in view of another age.” In this impressive volume, art and literature represent human misery and survival across many boundaries.
The judges for this years contest are poet Colette Bryce, editor of Poetry Ireland Review; Scottish poet and novelist Jackie Kay, who has been Scotland’s national poet laureate since 2016 and chancellor of the University of Salford, Anthologist, broadcaster and author of poetry text books for students, Niall MacMonagle.
Last year’s winner was Derek Mahon’s wonderful poetry book. Against the Clock (Gallery Press).
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