Summer holidays – the perfect time to brave that teetering pile of books under the bed (and on the bed. And across the floor…). The long weeks of August are ideal for really getting to grips with some reading, and we’ve asked YPNers and Foyle Young Poets to share their summer reading, watching and listening suggestions.
Tilt by Jean Sprackland, winner of the 2007 Costa Poetry Award, is full of accessible and beautifully crafted poems about ‘a world in freefall’ and tries to find the extraordinary the ordinary. The collection includes ‘Third Day of the Honeymoon’, a restless poem about a holiday by the sea- appropriate seaside reading while you relax on the beach!
If you’ve avoided Chaucer thus far, now’s the perfect time to start. It’s not nearly as arcane as it’s made out to be; the language can be a stumbling block, but the content ranges from fairy-tale to stand-up comedy to 14th century Carry On film. ‘The Pardoner’s Tale’ is a cruel, moralistic yarn spun by poetry’s most hateable hypocrite – get the Cambridge School version for lots of context and a little help with vocabulary, or if you’d rather not tangle with Middle English at all, you can find a modern translation. ‘Older’ young poets could also pick up the startlingly graphic ‘Reeve’s Tale’ or ‘Miller’s Tale’ – but you didn’t hear that from me.
‘Do You Have Any Advice for Those of Us Just Starting Out?’ by Ron Koertge
Perfect for those who find themselves desk bound and trying to churn out poems for a seemingly never-ending list of competitions and publishers. Takes a fresh look at the art of poetry writing and encourages young poets to go out in the world and shake the population by its ankles.
“the perfect read for a sunny afternoon spent lazing in a city park, or for sheltering inside a café waiting for the rain to stop”
The poem that I would suggest would be ‘More Than Enough’ by Marge Piercey. Whilst the poem does not explicitly suggest that its focus is summer, it features frequent mentions of the “first of June” and what it symbolizes, accompanied with lush descriptions of the figurative path that summer takes.
‘Dream Variations’ by Langston Hughes. This poem creates a strong sense of summer through the use of just a few words. For example, “To fling my arms wide / In some place of the sun” immediately makes the reader think of standing under the summer sun. Also, “cool evening” implies that there is a respite from the heat, while “night comes on gently”. The word “gently” reminds the reader that everything in summer is soft and benign.
‘Sea Timeless Song’ by Grace Nichols. I love this poem because Grace Nichols tells us what she thinks about the sea at the same time as she tells us what the sea sounds like: “sea timeless / sea timeless / sea timeless”. The soft repetition of the lines sounds like a wave advancing and retreating, advancing and retreating again. The sibilance at the end of “timeless” elicits thoughts of the hiss of sea foam and rush of water. The whole poem reminds me of what it’s like to stand on a beach on a summer day, watching the sea make its way towards me.
Sunspots by Simon Barraclough (Penned in the Margins)
Since it’s summer, a poetry collection about the sun seems apt. Inventive and playful, this collection jumps from concrete poetry to haiku and everything between, each piece orbiting (ahem) around the topic of our nearest star.
Neu Reekie Unbound – 26th August
Any event Neu Reekie puts on is definitely worth your time, especially when it’s free. The Scottish poetry evening/ performance super-collective/ “avant-garde noisemakers” (The Skinny) often likes to blend the lines between high and low culture, and this event is no exception— the line-up includes T.S. Eliot prize-winner Sarah Howe and rock band The Sexual Objects. It’s at the Spiegeltent, Edinburgh International Book Festival, from 9pm.
Nobody Told Me by Hollie McNish is the perfect collection to be dipping in and out of. You could read five or ten minutes here and another half an hour there. It has poems intertwined with diary excerpts. The theme of the book is Hollie becoming a parent – however, it is one of my most favourite collections because she talks about so many other topics – commercialisation of nearly everything, gender divisions, airbrushing and racism to name a few.
My other pick is Clare Shaw’s Head On, which I read in one sitting. It is perfect for a long flight or if you have a few hours down time. The collection focuses on speaking up about things, not creeping around or ignoring them.
My summery poem is ‘Heat’ by Anna de Noailles (originally written in French as ‘Chaleur’). I think ‘Heat’ is the perfect summer read because it shows of an international love of summer using a purely happy voice.
“The soft repetition of the lines sounds like a wave advancing and retreating, advancing and retreating again”
‘The Year of the Pin-Up Calendar‘ by Imogen Cassels (published in The London Magazine): A beautiful and multi-layered selection of short poems that refuse to allow the reader to linger on any one interpretation for long, and it grows more stunning with each reading.
The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas: “A nest of mercies” for when the summer holidays seem to be dragging on for just a little too long, Dylan Thomas‘s poetry beats with a blooming life that is bound to enrapture any reader.
Terror by Toby Martinez de las Rivas: Much like Dylan Thomas, Martinez de las Rivas writes with an almost agonising grasp of life’s intensity, and this collection pushes at the boundaries of both poetic form and religious faith.
Tender, edited by Racheal Allen and Sophie Collins: A quarterly journal dedicated to work by female-identified individuals, Tender is beautifully vital in its presence in the poetry world. Featuring authors such as Vahni Capildeo and Emily Berry in previous issues, Tender is a must-read for anyone interested in contemporary poetry.
“I worshipped my copy last summer”
For my pick I decided to choose 21 year-old Australian poet Erin Hanson. She self-publishes her work through social media and I came across her poetry on Pinterest. All her poems are easy to read – making them perfect to summer – yet they are not at all simplistic in content. Erin’s poetry is usually metaphorical and lyrical (which is something I love), as she often connects human emotions to much greater themes. Her poem ‘Applause’ is a particular favourite.
I recommend is ‘And Still I Rise‘ by Maya Angelou. I worshipped my copy last summer. It is full of bright, inspiring poems that should really shake anyone from a state of repose this summer, and get them out there doing things.
Right now I would have to recommend a pamphlet called Glass by Elisabeth Sennitt Clough; it’s a dreamy narrative of family drama and tragedy largely set against the idyllic backdrop of the Cambridgeshire fenlands where she grew up.
As for a single poem, I love ‘In Praise of Limestone’ by W. H. Auden which I believe was inspired by the Italian island of Ischia. I was lucky enough to go there last summer and Auden’s beautiful poem haunted my stay.
Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara
Lunch Poems is full of quick and busy poems in O’Hara’s characteristically relaxed style. It’s a collection packed with summery images of city life and (expectedly) long lunches with friends: “we go eat some fish and some ale it’s/cool but crowded…” (‘Personal Poem’). It’s the perfect read for a sunny afternoon spent lazing in a city park, or for sheltering inside a café waiting for the rain to stop.
What are you reading this summer? If there’s some poetry you’d like to recommend, or a gig, reading or festival event you think definitely shouldn’t be missed, let us know about it in the comments below, or get in touch with us via Twitter or Facebook. Happy reading!