National Poetry Day is about celebrating poetry old and new, spreading the word that not only is it powerful and important but also diverse and, believe it or not, accessible. No two poets are alike and that's the beauty of poetry; it is completely personal. Just because one writer's style or topics didn't strike a chord with you, doesn't mean that you are impervious to poetry. It just means you haven't found the right poet yet. So, if, like me, you are unable to attend any of the National Poetry Day events in person, then here are five poetry collections I'd highly recommend to anyone and everyone, the confident and the wary, the avid poetry reader and the novice.
Winter Trees by Sylvia Plath
I had to start this list by recommending Sylvia Plath. It would be incredibly easy for me to recommend her most famous collection, Ariel, which contains such giants as 'Daddy' (the first poem I ever fell in love with), 'Lady Lazarus', and 'Edge' but, instead, I've opted for this one. Published posthumously, Winter Trees features poems that were written during Plath's most active creative period. As with all of her later poetry, there is a furious energy seething behind the words (very much like the ocean that she constantly alludes to in her writing), and it is also heavily autobiographical. Both are reasons why Plath's work is so riveting as well as relevant and relatable.
The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over The Hills by Charles Bukowski
Bukowski: a writer who manages to be crass and tender all in one breath. His prose is blunt and straightforward, so if flowery writing leaves your stomach in knots, Bukowski is definitely the poet for you. Frankly discussing sex, drink, bodily functions, grief and love, he will have you repulsed one moment, touched the next, and then probably repulsed again because he's Bukowski. One of my favourite poems of all time is 'For Jane: With All the Love I Had, Which Was Not Enough', which is a bare, painfully raw poem that illustrates Bukowski's knotted thoughts as he struggles to process mortality and the tenuousness of life. It's overwhelmingly beautiful and I'm moved to tears every single time.
Smoothie by Claudine Toutoungi
As much as I love the classics, I'm very passionate about promoting new voices in poetry, and Toutoungi's debut collection is one I urge you to pick up. Smoothie features a sweet and sour blend of voices from an array of different characters, examining the desire to be heard and understood. Toutoungi's writing is absolutely sublime, at times sparklingly funny with poems such as 'My Monster', then at other times, utterly disturbing and unsettling, such as 'Depth Perceptions' and 'Winter Wolf'. This collection is a flurry of gorgeous imagery that will stay with me for a long time, lines such as 'Yesterday when you were upset, I / wanted to tell you — things get / rubbed out all the time / faces, thoughts, lines of communication. Take this empty space, /around which the artist has sketched' ('Without Moorings') and '--A jagged note, / torn, raw energy / not of eulogy / for the ball in the net, / more like a bricked-up / screeching creature / skirling and freaking out / in a room where it's lost / it's way' ('Solo'). Please, please, please pick up this book. It is still in my thoughts.
The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx by Tara Bergin
In this collection, Bergin paints a portrait of Eleanor Marx, Karl Marx's daughter, who sadly poisoned herself at the age of 43 upon discovering her husband's infidelities. The biographical and the creative blur beautifully here, simultaneously informing and stimulating the imagination of the reader, and I just found it so powerful, with poems like 'Oh My Little Eleanor', which strongly reminded me of the mournful poem 'Requiescat' by Oscar Wilde (a poem I highly recommend you read also), and 'Painter My Valentine', which contrasts its seemingly romantic title with violent imagery and a jagged, staccato rhythm. This is the second collection by Bergin (see also her first book, This is Yarrow) and her voice is only growing stronger. I cannot wait to see what she produces next.
Ten: Poets of the New Generation edited by Karen McCarthy Woolf
Finally, I think an anthology is called for. Anthologies are wonderful tools to discover what you enjoy when it comes to voices, presenting an array of very different voices without asking you to commit to just one writer. What I especially love about this anthology is the variety and the diversity of the authors within, as well as the fact that they are all new poets who are experimenting with their style and voice. The book also introduces each of the authors with a small biographical note prior to their poems, detailing their background, themes and interests; it's a real insight into their work. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection as a whole, although of course I came across a few particular favourites: Omikemi Natacha Bryan ('Queen'), Ian Humphreys ('The Mind Gap'), and Victoria Adukwei Bulley ('Why can't a K be beautiful and magick?').