Staying Human by Neil Astley (Bloodaxe £12.99)
The word ‘anthologia’ is Greek for a collection of flowers or beautiful things — thus we have the delight of poetry anthologies, perfect for Christmas presents. Neil Astley’s serious and inspiring Staying Human (Bloodaxe £12.99) follows the deserved success of Staying Alive, Being Alive and Being Human — all invigorating, essential collections.
Here is work by poets familiar and unfamiliar on timeless themes (including bereavement), but Astley also brings us right up to the present with the particular pain and stress of 2020.
Ana Sampson’s She Will Soar (Macmillan £14.99) is subtitled Bright, Brave Poems Of Freedom For Women, which sums up why this glorious, exhilarating anthology makes the perfect choice for any woman you know, of any age.
I begin each morning with Allie Esiri’s Shakespeare For Every Day Of The Year, which will now be joined by her new collection A Poem For Every Winter Day (Macmillan £14.99) — a sparkling, seasonal choice perfect for sharing.
Trust me, starting the day with a poem calms the spirit. That’s why any anthology that will lure younger people to those delights adds to the good of the world — and the illustrator Chris Riddell has carved a niche with his accessible, varied and beautifully illustrated anthologies. Poems To Save The World With (Macmillan £12.99) contains enough humour, pathos and passion to enthral any bookish teenager.
From anthologies to individual collections, Rupi Kaur is a young person’s poet who says: ‘Poetry is the new pop’. Good! The 28-year-old is an Indian-born, Canadian poet and illustrator who has gained a huge following through social media.
Her story (she started by self-publishing) and typical style — lyrical, emotive and honest — has inspired thousands. Home Body (Simon & Schuster £12.99) explores one woman’s experience in order to encourage self-love in the best sense, because, ‘It feels good to reclaim your life’.
Poems To Save The World With by Chris Riddell (Macmillan £12.99)
Indeed — and reading Margaret Atwood has helped reclaim my own spirits at a stressful time. Before writing novels, Atwood was a poet, but Dearly (Chatto £14.99) is her first collection for more than ten years. It follows the death of her life-partner Graeme Gibson, but don’t expect this great writer to dwell morbidly on grief, although she says: ‘I loved him dearly’. Her voice is wise, playful, wry and oblique, whether writing about the environment, passports, words or an old cat. Yet ever-present is an awareness of age and loss, all the more moving for being shrugged off.
I had no idea the much-loved novelist Alexander McCall Smith wrote poetry until a beautiful meditation dropped into my inbox during the strange days of Big Lockdown.
I forwarded it to friends; thus the single poem (encapsulating the reflective quietness of the time) brought comfort to thousands. Now it’s enshrined within a wonderful book, with the same name.
In A Time Of Distance (Polygon £12.99) is structured in sections introduced (in his unmistakably warm, friendly voice) by the writer: journeys, books, places, Scotland etc. There are sonnets, reflections on time, and cries of restrained pain for the fate of animals.
If you had never read one of his novels, these poems would make you love a writer whose optimism and grace give you hope for the world, ‘its beauty revealed afresh’.