I've read some smashing books this summer and wanted to do a round-up of the best,  and why, for me, they stand out.

First up, is Her Birth by Rebecca Goss (Carcanet). A memorable and moving sequence about the poet's newborn daughter who was diagnosed with an incurable heart condition and lived for sixteen months.  Her Birth is painful, unflinching and brave; it travels huge emotional distances, with a narrative arc that is ultimately redemptive. The poems are essential - they have a translucent, graceful quality. Goss' language and tone is honed and clarified. This book is the only collection I have read from cover to cover in the bath - and one of the very few to make me cry. It deserves every prize it gets. 

Kaddy Benyon's Milk Fever (Salt)  is gothic and mysterious and laced with gorgeous high-wire poems that dare to take risks. There is also a lot of Jungian darkness lacing a wild imagination and sensibility. Milk Fever is quite intoxicating, and made me think of dark rooms and opioids -

" ...Here is the slipping point, here

where chlorotic roots slacken to slime.
Lean over the river's mutable skin
and catch a twin reflected back - ...    "     'Holy Water'

Fabulous Beast by Patricia Ace (Freight Books) is sexy and sassy and funny. I loved its witty approach to womenhood - Ace is particularly good at writing about teenage girls. 'Ruby turning thirteen' beautifully displays the contradictions of being an adolescent while remaining tender -

"Her belt spells ROCK in silver studs.
Cookie Monster grins, ironically, from her T-shirt.
A guinea pig fidgets in the pocket of her hoody."

Nothing gets past Ace's eye and ear - these are fresh and often touching poems.

Sarah James' collection Be[yond] (knives forks and spoons press) is unlike anything I have read. Loosened from the ties of traditional syntax, James' confident compositions are unafraid to sing into silences on the page and holler into the philosphical 'void' with many possibilities simultaneously held at once.  There is also much sound and sense play, and a glee in experimentation with language. 
I enjoyed the freedom of this book and the sense of a mind pushing at the limits, but remaining accessible, indeed bidding the reader to come along too. 

My favourites are the poems about swimming -  the imagery of rubber swimming hats as 
"Pink/black/blue-capped matchsticks dunk around me: sparks of
damp (un)lit along this line of fire."

Semi-detached by Michael Brown (Perjink Press) is concerned with the shifts we make through our lives between physical and non-physical places, with what is held in the not-said, or "the spaces between notes".
The reader is drawn, deftly, through a range of interior and external spaces - from a station platform to the inside of a Nissan Micra.
The poems are very varied in form and subject matter, but all hold a similar wry, contemporary, sometimes 'semi-detached' tone that heightens the power of their lyricism. There is no gaudiness or ego, and the poet is not afraid to approach, obliquely and surprisingly, the 'big' questions of the human condition.
More than once, I was reminded of Larkin "groping back to bed after a piss" - Brown's is a vision in transit through toughened train windows and hotels and platforms.
The gorgeous sprung rhythms of "Grantham, Retford, Doncaster" bring to mind "Whitsun Weddings" and the bleak music of the quotidian and provincial.
The unshowiness also made me think of Edward Thomas. There is a peculiarly English sensibility at work here that is at once utterly recognisable (to this English reader, at least) and yet impossible to define. It is almost filmic, a quality of light.

The best section of the book came for me in final third where Brown writes vividly and tenderly of the acquisition of language - the violence and power of awakening to words from the "dark transit of this sleep". Thus, vowels "detonate" , margins are "loaded" and punctuation is "planted".
In honouring the pre-verbal state and its own articulacies, Brown's poems become spiritual and questing, while also grounded. 

Finally, I loved Gillian Clarke's Ice (Carcanet) - turning to the recent snowbound winters, Clarke creates an icy magic and a brittle, fragile environment without becoming heavy handed or political.  Her images of swans as galleons or a "lily in bloom" are utterly beautiful. Clarke's quality of observation and nuance, and her musical language make me swoon at their best.  She comes close to despair but there is something hopeful in her work, as nature is hopeful, and without ascribing it a moral quality.


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