What Kind Of Woman (Orion Spring, £14.99, 112 pp)
Someone once described poetry as a ‘distillation of empathy’ — a way of understanding what it means to be human. Surely you read poems to discover more about other people, the world, yourself? But tastes change for different generations.
Two collections in this autumn crop illustrate my point. Michael Symmons Roberts is one of the finest poets writing today, and his latest volume, Ransom (Cape, £10, 112 pp) is another fine step on his soul journey. Two magnificent sequences — one an elegy for his late father, the other exploring belief, doubt and sacrifice — moved me greatly.
In contrast, the appeal of Kate Baer’s What Kind Of Woman (Orion Spring, £14.99, 112 pp) is more for my daughter’s generation. This devastatingly honest exploration of sex, love, marriage, children and womanhood will make them feel less alone. For My Daughter On A Bad Day unites the generations in hope. Does this poetry appeal to men, too? It’s an interesting question, but reading it might enlighten the puzzled ones.
Raymond Antrobus was born in Hackney, East London, to an English mother and Jamaican father, and is hearing-impaired. All The Names Given (Picador, £10.99, 96 pp) explores his complex racial and cultural identity, family history, marriage and ambivalent feelings for parents — the latter a vehicle for some of the most profound poems.
There are almost-blank pages and ‘caption poems’ (phrases in brackets) which attempt to ‘fill in the silence between poems’. This is a thrilling, thought-provoking collection.
And how can we reach out to the animal spirits which insist on love and respect, even in a cruel world? Reading the much-loved American poet (and former Laureate) Billy Collins would be a start. In Whale Day (Picador, £10.99, 80 pp) he walks his poor old dog but ‘she sits down on her worn haunches / and looks up at me with her rheumy eyes . . .’ It’s a touching poem that will resonate with many.
Whale Day (Picador, £10.99, 80 pp)
In his hands, birds and even a spider are fitting subjects, and the title poem celebrates the mighty creatures which cruise the oceans and thrill humans who ‘tell their friends about the day they saw a whale’.
Always refreshing, Billy Collins’s poetry tends to be direct and deceptively simple.
The same can be said of the uber-popular Pam Ayres, whose new volume On Animals (Ebury £16.99, 216 pp) collects poems written during her career which celebrate and mourn all manner of birds and beasts.
Yes, there are jokes, but it would be wrong to dismiss her work as merely light-hearted, because many poems are sad and angry. Her autobiographical explanations are excellent, too. This is a book for the whole family to read aloud — sharing a deeper understanding. Which is exactly what poetry should achieve.
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