April lived up to its name as the cruellest month this year as the sky roars with thunder and rain. Nonetheless spring has sprung and still remains the dewy-haired muse for all things poetic. This season we are celebrating the announcement of the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize, Tracy K. Smith, whose collection Life on Mars (Graywolf, 2011) was described by the prize committee as “a collection of bold, skilful poems, taking readers into the universe and moving them to an authentic mix of joy and pain.” Smith’s third collection demonstrates the wondrous power of poetry: its ability to convey the most powerful of feelings. With the magic quality of alchemy, poetry has the ability to transform the ordinary into something extraordinary. And the true wizardry of verse is its distillation of pure emotion – whether happiness is found in golden daffodils, love in a summer’s day or transience in a Grecian urn.
Our glorious ode to poetry continues with a surprise victory at the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature. A bolt out of the blue, it was relatively unknown Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer who received the world’s most prestigious literary award. He is the first poet to take the award since 1996. Earthy, surreal and rich in memories, Tranströmer’s verse was praised by the judges for its “fresh access to reality”. Despite being the most famous poet in Scandinavia, it is only now that Tranströmer’s beautiful collections are given the recognition they deserve.
So in honour of these wonderful literary achievements, we have selected books that welcome the dawn of spring in true poetic style. Whilst poetry might have the reputation of being the flowery stuff for clever people, budding writers and lovelorn teenagers, it is a genre that can (and should) be enjoyed by all. Here is a handpicked assortment of books that offer a gentle introduction to the world of poesy old and new:
Emblems of Desire
Selections from the Delie of Maurice Scève
Translated by Richard Sieburth
Archipelago Books, 9780977857654, p/b £10.99
Love and poetry, there is no sweeter match. From decades of dedicated sonnet scribbling á la long-term courtly lover Petrarch to the romantic avant garde verse of e.e. cummings, love is the bread and butter for poets throughout history. In this gorgeous lyrical collection, French poet Maurice Scève’s 449 dizains make up a book-length cycle of poems dedicated to love. Originally published in 1544, this translated collection retains its emotional immediacy today and is an exhilarating journey through the ecstasy and agony of the heart. This edition includes the fifty allegorical woodcuts that illustrated the original edition. Simply beautiful.
A Woman’s Journey Through Poems
Selected and Introduced by Caroline Kennedy
Hyperion, 9781401341459, h/b £17.99
She Walks in Beauty draws on poetry’s eloquent wisdom to ponder the many joys and challenges of being a woman. Inspired by her own reflections on more than fifty years of life as a young girl, a woman, a wife and a mother, Caroline Kennedy, daughter of former US president John F. Kennedy, selects her favourite poems that celebrate the most important elements of life’s journey. Includes classic works by Elizabeth Bishop, W.H. Auden, Dorothy Parker, Adrienne Rich, Emily Dickinson and many more.
New and Selected Poems
By David Trinidad
Turtlepoint, 9781933527475, p/b £13.99
This magnificent collection confirms David Trinidad’s place in the poetic firmament. A curious blend of melancholy, pop music, Barbie accessories and Sylvia Plath’s famous frosted layer cake, Trinidad writes with formal ingenuity, tenderness, humour and plenty of soul. Smattered with cultural references, old Hollywood stars and haunted by the ghosts of famous literati, Trinidad’s poetry often jets off into unexpected and vividly imaginative directions.
Tracy K. Smith
Graywolf, 9781555975845, p/b £10.99
A brilliant, other-worldly collection of poetry that rockets into a universe both familiar and strange. Smith searches the stars in her exploration of the relationship between our lives and the universe. In a vast space where the cosmos is glittered with familiar detritus of life, Smith contemplates the ‘dark matter’ that keeps people both close and distant. With allusions to David Bowie and interplanetary travel, Life on Marsimagines a soundtrack for the universe, accompanying the discoveries, failures and oddities of human existence and establishing Smith as one of the best poets of her generation.
By Tomas Tranströmer
Graywolf, 9781555973513, p/b £10.99
A collection of the best-loved poems of Tomas Tranströmer – winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature. Mystical, versatile and sad, the poems (in verse and prose) have earned him international acclaim. A broad retrospective of his work, The Half-Finished Heaven is an excellent English-language introduction to this notable Swedish poet. It’s not to be missed.
Available October 2012
Edited by Sasha Dugdale
Salt Publishing, 9781907773259, p/b £9.99
No literature collection is complete without Salt’s bestselling anthology of contemporary British Poetry. A bursting compendium of the finest, most engaging poetry found in British-based literary magazines and webzines over the past year. In this edition Sasha Dugdale guest edits the selection, offering a chance for readers to unearth the best work being written in the UK at the moment. An indispensible guide to the UK poetry scene.