Poetry as a means of artful expression: collections to get you thinking and feeling on World Poetry Day

As a wise woman once said, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” And we couldn’t agree more with this poignant sentiment from Emily Dickinson. On this World Poetry Day, we are looking at some recent poetry collections, each in turn stark, harrowing and curious. Distributed by us at Turnaround, you can contact your local sales reps to get them in stock.

The Hindu Bard: The Poetry of Dorothy Bonarjee by Dorothy Bonarjee
Edited and introduced by Mohini Gupta & Andrew Whitehead
Honno Welsh Women’s Press, 9781912905782, PB, £10.99, 29/2/2023

The first ever collection of Dorothy Bonarjee’s verse.

Poet Dorothy ‘Dorf’ Bonarjee was born in India in 1894 into an elite Bengali family. As a child, she moved to London and in 1912 she enrolled at the University College of Wales at Aberystwyth. Two years later, she was awarded the Bardic chair at the UCW Eisteddfod, and went on to publish poems in Welsh journals. Bonarjee later took a law degree at the University of London and eloped with a French artist. France remained her home for the rest of her life.

Golden Record by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Silver Sprocket, 9798886200003, PB, £18.99, 16/2/2023

A beautiful collection of illustrated queer poetry by an award-winning graphic novelist.

Golden Record is a poetry magazine and autofiction chapbook lusciously written and illustrated by award-winning graphic novelist Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. It is an amalgamation of words and images brought together to become more than the sum of their parts, exploring the body as the site and host of all pleasure and pain, and, as its name pays homage to, a collection of dispatches from life on earth.

The Book of Desire by Meena Kandasamy
Galley Beggar Press, 9781913111366, HB, £14.99, 5/1/2023

The Book of Desire is the award-winning (and Women’s Prize-shortlisted) writer Meena Kandasamy’s luminous translation of the Kāmattu-p-pāl, a 2000-year-old song of love and pleasure and the third part of the Tirukkural — one of the most important texts in Tamil literature.  Written by the poet Thiruvalluvar, the Kāmattu-p-pāl section of the Tirukkural focuses on love and female sensuality. It is the most intimate section of this great work — and also, historically, the part that has been most heavily censored. Although hundreds of male translations of the text have been published, it has also only ever been translated by a woman once before.  The Book of Desire is Meena’s own feminist reclamation of the Kāmattu-p-pāl. With her trademark wit, lyricism and passionate insight, she weaves a magic spell: taking the reader on a journey through 250 kurals (short verses), organised under separate headings — ‘The Pleasure of Sex’, ‘Renouncing Shame’, ‘The Delights of Sulking’ — the result is a fresh, vital, and breath-taking translation. This is a book that fizzes with energy, is full of delight — that conveys powerful messages about female sensuality, agency, and desire. It is a revolution 2000 years in the making. Our January Book of the Month, read more about it here.

Along the River by Richard Fountaine
Blue Mark Books, 9781910369227, PB, £10, 1/12/2022

Along the River is a book of selected poems written across sixty years, profound but readily comprehensible, and on an astonishingly wide range of subject matters, both personal and public. Here are poems on life and love, science, religion, war, nature and humour. In short, the teeming world of people’s experience of life. The title relates the book to the centuries old role and legacy of poetry in advanced societies, and to the personal journey of the author. The book is fronted by an essay researched in Oxford with academic support over the past few years. It is, perhaps controversially, critical of the course of the trend of much modern poetry and its perceived failure to engage with many issues of importance in the world. It regrets the resultant decline in the importance of poetry for many people, especially the younger generation, and proposes new ways forward. Overall, the book opens different and exciting new channels in English poetry.

Love At First Sight by Wislawa Szymborska
Translated by Clare Cavanagh and illustrated by Beatrice Gasca Queirazza 
Seven Stories Press, 9781644212233, HB, £15.99, 6/10/2022

Love at First Sight is a beautiful poem about love, chance and destiny by the 1996 Polish winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Illustrated by Italian artist Beatrice Gasca Queirazza, Szymborska’s poem comes to life in entirely new ways for her readers and for lovers everywhere in this gorgeous book perfect for gift giving. Szymborska tells of two young lovers bound together in an instant — or were they? As the poem unfolds, the reader’s assumptions — like those of the lovers themselves — about certainty and destiny are utterly upended, revealing the paradox and mystery of fate. Here is randomness, tricks of memory, and chance, where noticing the smallest details of our intertwined lives is more essential than asking: Are we meant for each other? “Every beginning / is only a sequel, after all…”

Epic Annette: A Heroine’s Tale by Anne Weber
Translated by Tess Lewis
The Indigo Press, 9781911648451, PB, £11.99, 25/8/2022

Epic Annette: A Heroine’s Tale is written in the form of an epic poem. It is also an epic literary event: a slender book of 45,000 words that describes the life of Annette de Beaumanoir, born in Brittany in 1923. She joined the French youth communist faction and the French resistance, and rescued two Jewish children in the second world war. She subsequently trained as a neuropsychologist, fought against French colonialism in Algeria, was imprisoned by her own compatriots while pregnant with her third child, made a dramatic escape, and then worked with Ben Bella until his fall in 1965. She moved to Switzerland where she led a neuropsychology unit and thence to southern France. Read the full review on our blog!

Limbic by Peter Scalpello
Cipher Press, 9781838390044, PB, £10.99, 24/3/2022

The debut collection from Forward and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet Peter Scalpello.

Limbic is Peter Scalpello’s glittering ode to sex, intimacy, and queer discovery. Taking us on slippery nights out fuelled by chemsex, on drunken lads’ holidays, and into the quiet violence of small domestic moments, this is a world where tracksuits hide queer desire, where shame masks vulnerability, where wallets hide wraps of crystal meth. From the eager trepidation of teenage sex, to the ecstasy of parties, to the stigma around HIV, Limbic is at once a therapy and a celebration, showing how queer learning can be both soft-edged and brutal at once.

Revenge Body by Rachel Wiley
Button Poetry, 9781638340003, PB, £16.99, 10/3/2022

The third collection from the author of Fat Girl Finishing School and Nothing Is OK.

Revenge Body is a poetry collection that explores anger (righteous and not), Black identity, body image, loss, want, and mental health. Wiley invites her readers to join her on a journey navigating maternal relationships, and the love and loss that comes from a breakup.

So by John Siddique
Crocus Books, 9780946745395, PB, £9.99, 20/1/2022

A balm of a poetry collection from a master of the craft.

In an age of declarative confidence, this collection, with its Eastern-inflected, soft-falling hesitations and divinations, opens up a world of gentle possibilities, an alternative way of Being in the natural world: it’s a collection which suggests that, although for many the world is not experienced this way, this world can be: So.

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