Recommended Reads

Welcome to our Recommended Reads page (compiled by Kate Birch).

Each month we will feature a small selection of books that we think are worth forming part of anyone’s library. These will usually include:

  1. A collection of poetry, flash fiction, short stories or word & image in hardcover or paperback
  2. A similar work specifically available on electronic media (Kindle)
  3. Something we just like (or is recommended to us.) These ‘from left field’ choices can also be fiction or non-fiction

We will not always focus on new publications and may choose instead to extol works that were published, for example, two or even 200 years ago


Recommended Reads for November & December 2013

We have been so busy focusing on the publication of our first pamphlet TWELVE: Slanted Poems for Christmas that we have taken our eye off the ball in terms of this, our Recommended Reads page.

And then we thought, why not combine the two and show why it is that we approached the poets we did to be a part of our Christmas anthology.

If you like their poems in Slanted, you are going to love these….


Slanted Poets (listed in order of their appearance in the anthology)


Bobby Parker: Digging for Toys

Digging for Toys is set in a rundown town full of odd characters and the setting of Parker’s trials and fantasies whilst writing the pieces in this book. The poems and prose/stories explore the fragility of relationships and the wonders of eccentricity as a means to overcome the mundane. There are working class people passing time, marriages hurtling toward destruction, weird dreams explored to the brink of madness; there is loneliness, insecurity, in-laws, traumatic memories and haunting regret, but also lots of quirky humour. As a whole this book is one man s attempt to come to terms with a life that is going nowhere and everywhere at great speed, into the big empty nothing in the distance, leaving this book behind among the ants and flowers.

Bobby Parker’s beautiful, beautiful poems take us to the dark side and we are humbled.  See for yourself here.


Ira Lightman: I, Love Poetry

“…Ira Lightman’s work is all in the language. It’s about how what you think or see is affected by the way in which you say it. Full of grammatical hiccups, puzzles, tricks and puns, Lightman’s work defies translation (a great definer of poetry) and provides collections, strings and blocks of words that dazzle and confound with meanings that could not be got without these exact words. And to take the meaning you have to absorb the words as the poet gives them: you must be receptive to poetry.” Sally Evans Poetry Scotland Reviews

A work of ‘sounds and rhythms’ befitting a poet who regularly sets his poems to music. He has done the same with his Slanted contribution.


Penelope Shuttle: Unsent: New & Selected Poems 1980-2012 Kindle edition

Adventurous, searching, interested in the luminous instant of reality that dwells in the perpetual now of the poem, Penelope Shuttle is a poet who clearly shares Picasso’s view that ‘If you know exactly what you’re going to do, what’s the point of doing it?…

The new poems of Unsent are communications to and with her husband Peter Redgrove, remembering their shared past with love, wit, paradox, exasperation and a lightness of heart towards ageing and sorrow. With these poems Shuttle concludes her triptych of mourning for Redgrove, and ceases ‘to weep on the world’s shoulder’. If a poet’s work is her personal experience of the universe then this book takes us deep into that Shuttle-verse.

A selection of earlier published work together with new poems that perfectly encapsulates why it is that Penelope Shuttle is such a celebrated poet.


Julia Webb: Lighthouse Magazine

Julia is a poetry editor of Lighthouse, ‘a new journal published quarterly to give space and support to new talent’. She is a teacher and a tutor and well known in the Norwich poetry world. She is on the verge of completing her first collection ‘Bird Sisters’ which, if her Slanted poem is anything to go by, will be fantastic. Come on you big poetry publishers out there: are you listening?

You can find one of Julia’s poems in the Autumn edition of the Poetry Salzburg Review.


Luke Wright: Mondeo Man

Yummy mummies and debauched Tory grandees mingle with drunk Essex commuters and leering tabloid paps; a small town chip-shop becomes the site of a heart-wrenching story of failed marriage; and a televised manhunt enthrals an entire nation. Wide-ranging, approachable and formally adept, Mondeo Man both celebrates and laments a country of disappearing pubs, celebrity anti-heroes and motorway service stations, perfectly capturing the English idiom at the turn of the twenty-first century.

We see a softer side in Luke Wright’s Slanted contribution. Mondeo Man comes to us from a more ‘acerbic’ perspective!


Moniza Alvi: At The Time of Partition

This book-length poem is set at the time of the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 when thousands of people were killed in civil unrest and millions displaced, with families later split between the two countries. Inspired by family history, Moniza Alvi weaves a deeply personal story of fortitude and courage, as well as of tragic loss, in this powerful work in 20 parts. At the Time of Partition is Moniza Alvi’s first new poetry book since her T.S. Eliot Prize-shortlisted collection Europa…

This epic work is on the shortlist for the TS Eliot prize. Need we say more?


Carrie Etter: Imagined Sons

“Carrie Etter’s stellar new volume, Imagined Sons, folds the wrenching passion of displaced motherhood into a fascinating sequence of poems. Etter writes with intelligence, imagination and style—and not a shred of sentiment.  Each poem packs a profound surprise as the birthmother’s vision of a son reappears in guises equally palpable and surreal. Neither a memoir nor a narrative, the book opens lyric windows to interior experiences, and it rings with psychological truths.  This gifted poet defines poetry as she wrestles with ambiguity.”   –Molly Peacock

This poignant collection of what Bernard O’Donoghue describes as ‘haunting, psalm-like prose poems’ will be published by Seren Books early in 2014 but you will find a selection here (scroll down the page).


Bethany W Pope: Crown of Thorns

“Crown of Thorns is conceived as a total poem. The intricate patterning of the sequences releases a vortex of sonnets, which are by turns visceral, creaturely, fluid, heart-wrung, wild, true and ruthless. Taken together they create a complex, patterned magic – a swarm of language and sound gathered in with immense skill by Bethany Pope. This is a book of intense and impressive movement and momentum. ” David Morley

A compelling, sometimes harrowing, collection featuring the same subtle combination of the sonnet form and the acrostic that is found in Pope’s Slanted poem. See Fiona Sinclair’s Review for IS&T here.


Andrea Holland: Broadcasting

In June 1942, in order to train for D-Day, five Breckland villages were chosen for requisition by the Armed Forces and residents were given less than 21 days to leave their land and homes. As one village’s school mistress put it, ‘The war had taken our husbands and now our homes and way of life was to go’…Poems and original pre-requisition photographs of villagers and village life bring to light a significant episode in Norfolk history which has nevertheless been almost entirely forgotten by the subsequent two generations.

This moving work represents the fruition of Holland’s winning proposal for the 2012 Norfolk Café Writers Commission. It keeps selling out. Catch it when you can.


Tim Turnbull: Caligula on Ice and Other Poems

A century on from the rise of modernism Tim Turnbull offers a satirical survey of our subsequent cultural landscape. Drawing on popular entertainments such as the ballad, pulp ghost story, folk song and music hall skit, he lampoons human endeavour in its many fields and forms. Stripping away the lyric and bucolic strands which characterised his acclaimed debut, Stranded in Sub-Atomica, Turnbull has re-calibrated his poetic vision to stunning effect. Grim, compelling, ridiculous and hilarious, Caligula on Ice and Other Poems prophesies apocalypse … next Wednesday.

This collection defines edgy. For a taster check out the title poem here.


WN Herbert: Murder Bear

Within the pages of Murder Bear, W.N. Herbert conjures a darkly comic phantasmagoria, setting loose his eponymous protagonist — a lethal, ursine, omniseasonal anti-Santa — to lay waste to the populace and its pop culture icons, his literary forebears and language itself. Through woodland, suburb and city streets, and in the final Zeichentrickbärendämmerung (Twilight of the Cartoon Bears), Murder Bear roams, unstoppable. Herbert has been widely praised for his range and virtuosity, and his considerable comedic skill. These poems stake out strange new terrain, displaying great wit and dexterity, chutzpah and charm.

Okay, we admit it, we are slightly infatuated with Murder Bear. After all, he did make a special appearance as Hellbeareen on our pages for Hallowe’en and, now, we find we can’t get enough of him!


George Szirtes: Bad Machine

The body is the ‘bad machine’ of George Szirtes’ latest book of poems. The sudden death of his elderly father and of his younger friend, the poet Michael Murphy, remind him how machines – sources of energy and delight in their prime – go so easily wrong; and that change in the body is a signal for moving on. 

But language too is a body. Here, politics, assimilation, desire, creatureliness and the pleasure and loss of the body, mingle in various attenuated forms such as lexicon, canzone, acrostics, mirror poems, postcards, and a series of ‘minimenta’ after Anselm Kiefer whose love of history as rubble and monument haunts this collection. 

George Szirtes is quite genuinely an icon in the world of poetry and this fine work has deservedly been shortlisted for the TS Eliot prize. But he is never still for long nor do there seem to be limits to his poetic imagination, as shown in his recent word & image collaboration with Kevin Reid, Wordless.



Recommended Reads for October 2013


First of all, we must apologise as we did take ‘summer’ rather literally this year when we took a break from this page and heartily advocated that you follow the very good summer reads programme from the Writers’ Centre Norwich.  For us summer ended with the Autumn Equinox and now we are once more back on track with this page (give or take a couple of weeks!)

And for our first few October recommendations, we are going to let two of our reviewers do the talking, figuratively speaking.


Hardcover or Paperback

Hide by Angela France (Nine Arches Press)

…what is invisible is just as important as what lies within plain sight. Layers of personal history are lifted into the light and old skins are shed for new; things thought lost and vanished long ago are just on the edge of perception, yet certainties before our eyes vanish in the blink of an eye.

These poems possess their own rich heritage of stories and experiences; themes of magic, wisdom, age and absence are woven into the fabric of this skilful and succinct collection. Readers should also keep their wits about them, for these poems are cunning and quick; they hide nothing, but delight in camouflage, disguise and secrets, patiently awaiting someone who will seek.

‘Complex’ ‘fascinating’ ‘sensitivity’ and ‘scalpel-sharp analysis’ are only a few of the descriptive words and phrases that come up in Ken Head’s in-depth review of Hide which, with its very striking cover, make this third collection from Angela France something you want to go out and buy. Now!

Also available from Amazon.



teaching my mother how to give birth by Warsan Shire (Flipped Eye)

What elevates ‘teaching my mother how to give birth’, what gives the poems their disturbing brilliance, is Warsan Shire’s ability to give simple, beautiful eloquence to the veiled world where sensuality lives in the dominant narrative of Islam; reclaiming the more nuanced truths of earlier times – as in Tayeb Salih’s work – and translating to the realm of lyric the work of the likes of Nawal El Saadawi. As Rumi said, “Love will find its way through all languages on its own”; in ‘teaching my mother how to give birth’, Warsan’s début pamphlet, we witness the unearthing of a poet who finds her way through all preconceptions to strike the heart directly. Warsan Shire is a Kenyan-born Somali poet and writer who is based in London.

This collection examines the Somali civil war, the subsequent Diaspora and in particular its impact on women. When reviewing it on IS&T , Samatar Elmi, himself a poet, found Shire ‘ a cartographer of the physical as body and place become metaphorical devices imbued with sense and meaning.’ This ultimately results in a work of depth, vision and beauty that deserves to be read, enjoyed and discussed.’ It is no surprise then that Warsan Shire has just been made the first Young Poet Laureate of London

Also available in paperback.


Our Choice

Curiosity: Art & the Pleasures of Knowing, exhibition and book, curated, edited and authored by Brian Dillon

This is our left field or ‘off the wall’ choice for October. Off the wall in that it is an exhibition as well as a book and off the wall in that its subject matter is, well, off the wall.

Curiosity is among our most ambiguous impulses. It is at the heart of scientific discovery, artistic exploration and technological innovation. And yet it is also a sin or scandal: for centuries curiosity was condemned for its impious interest in secrets that belonged to God, and we live today in a world of surveillance and public confession. This exhibition gives free reign to curiosity in its many senses, contriving a kind of modern Wunderkammer in which awe, the desire for objective knowledge and a sense of the sheer strangeness of the world of things can cohabit. The show will not shy away from the more prurient or scandalized sense of curiosity.

The exhibition brings together artworks and artefacts from five centuries of rigorous inquiry and delightful strangeness. Drawing on the collections of major museums in the UK and abroad, it includes examples from cabinets of curiosities of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, paintings and drawings that reflect not only the curious mind of the artist but the collector’s immersion among oddities and wonders, and specimens from medical and natural history.

The only drawback of this excellent exhibition is that, after a summer residence in the Turner Contemporary Gallery in Margate, Norwich is the only other stop on its UK tour. Helen Ivory (IS&T’s editor) has been appointed poet-in-residence – with workshops on the 19th October and 16th November – for its duration at the Castle Museum and she and I went along to have a preview. We expected to find an exquisite curiosity cabinet, which we did,  but hundreds of slides of the dark, crime scene minatures from the 40s and 50s, sea creatures fashioned from glass and the delicate pictures made from split hairs made us catch our breath.

The accompanying book takes from the ‘eclectic, quarterly magazine Cabinet’ and has been put together with the help of the academic Brian Dillon. With copious and beautiful illustrations, essays from Dillon and Marina Warner and ‘extensive commentary on [the] individual works’ it is, as Helen puts it, ‘bella, bella’ and almost as good as a visit. But if you can get to Norwich before 5th January or to Amsterdam next summer, it will be well worth the trip!



Recommended Reads for Summer 2013

We’re taking a rest from our recommendations for the summer and invite you instead to scroll down through this page and consider a few gems that you may have passed by earlier in the year. Alternatively can we suggest the Writers’ Centre Norwich Book Club’s Summer Reads: fiction/non-fiction, short stories and poetry? And if you are lucky enough to live in or be visiting East Anglia, there are events on too.


Recommended Reads for June 2013

Those of you who peruse this page regularly – and we hope there is a smattering of you out there – will know that we are not above a bit of nepotism. However, we would never sacrifice quality for connections and nowhere is this more evident than when Ink Sweat & Tears focuses on editor Helen Ivory, whether on its Main Page or in this section. This is never at Helen’s request and often I (Kate) have to nudge her reluctantly into the IS&T limelight.

And that is the case for June, a month framed by the Norwich launch of her new collection Waiting for Bluebeard on May 29th and its London equivalent at The Poetry Café on 3rd July. Our Recommended Reads this month, therefore, have the Ivory connection.


Hardcover or Paperbook

Waiting for Bluebeard by Helen Ivory (Bloodaxe)

Waiting for Bluebeard tries to understand how a girl could grow up to be the woman living in Bluebeard’s house. The story begins with a part-remembered, part-imagined childhood, where séances are held, and a father drowns in oil beneath the skeleton of his car. When her childhood home coughs up birds in the parlour, the girl enters Bluebeard’s house paying the tariff of a single layer of skin. This is only the first stage of her disappearing, as she searches for a phantom child in a house where Bluebeard haunts the corridors like a sobbing wolf.

Waiting for Bluebeard is a deeply personal work and as I make my way through the poems I am overwhelmed by how much of herself Helen has put out there without sacrificing a certain objectivity. For an insight into the personal aspect of the work, it is worth looking at the piece she wrote recently for Peony Moon (complete with poems and artwork). And if you still don’t want to read more after that, perhaps Roy Marshall’s review on his blog will change your mind.

‘The book is compelling and immensely readable from the outset, unfolding chronologically in short poems which initially have qualities of fables, fairy tales or myths. It is in the control and craft of the writing that so much of the power of this collection resides’


The Double Life of Clocks by Helen Ivory (Bloodaxe Books)

Helen Ivory speaks in tongues and alters time in her first collection. Here are voices lost inside mental illness, divided and diverting selves as well as sinister voices. Drawing also from fairytale and myth, she creates puppet shows in which larger-than-life forces pull the strings and write the scripts

This was Helen’s first collection. Its launch was the first time I had heard her read her poems, indeed heard any poet read their poems and, from then on, I was hooked. The Double Life of Clocks marks the root of the impulse that lead to me taking over Ink Sweat & Tears from Charles Christian in 2011 and is why IS&T continues and I hope, with Helen as editor, continues to thrive.

It is now out of print and demanding rather high prices in the Amazon Marketplace but if you can beg borrow or steal it, do.


Helen’s second and third collections, happily, are still easily available and equally intoxicating.

The Breakfast Machine by Helen Ivory (Bloodaxe Books)

Inside “The Breakfast Machine” a chicken on squeaky tin legs is cooking you eggs and a squirrel plays tape-recorded birdsong high up in a tree. The Horsemen of the Apocalypse high-tail it into town as cowboys, and the fate of the world is decided by a game of cards. “The Breakfast Machine” is driven by the transformations of fairytale where the dark corners of childhood are explored and found to be alive and well in offices, kitchens and hen-houses.


The Dog in the Sky by Helen Ivory (Bloodaxe Books)

“The Dog in the Sky” offers a view of the world that is skewed, vibrant and larger than life. Here, words turn into tiger-moths or laughing birds, the Minotaur finds his Ariadne and Pinocchio’s sister cuts loose from her strings. “The Dog in the Sky” is drunk on life, on love, on air thick with peach light, but also shows the flipside where you can’t trust the earth beneath your feet. In her second collection, Helen Ivory takes you further into a world of illusions and transformations. Here are voices lost inside mental illness, divided and diverting selves, as well as sinister figures who control their madness and make things happen. She creates puppet shows in which larger-than-life forces pull the strings and write the scripts, drawing also from the darkly dramatic world of fairytale and myth.



We cannot confirm, but the Bloodaxe web site suggests that Waiting for Bluebeard may be available for e-reader at some point.

Watch this space.


Our Choice

Broadcasting by Andrea Holland. Part of the Café Writers’ Norfolk Commission series edited by Helen Ivory (Gatehouse Press)

In June 1942, in order to train for D-Day, five Breckland villages were chosen for requisition by the Armed Forces and residents were given less than 21 days to leave their land and homes. As one village’s school mistress put it, ‘The war had taken our husbands and now our homes and way of life was to go’.

Real and imaginary villagers who gave up their homes and their land for what would have been described as ‘the war effort’ appear in this sequence of poems for the [commission]. Poems and original pre-requisition photographs of villagers and village life bring to light a significant episode in Norfolk history which has nevertheless been almost entirely forgotten by the subsequent two generations.

I have to confess an even closer personal connection to this collection. My husband and I have supported the Café Writers Norfolk Commission for the past six years and it is something of which we are very proud. But it is Helen that makes it happen, collates the entries, organises the judges and the publicity and, to a lesser or greater degree depending on the poet, guides the successful recipient to publication. Andrea’s proposal caught the imagination of both Helen and myself as well as our co-judges, George Szirtes and Chris Gribble (Writers’ Centre Norwich), and what has emerged from that process is nothing short of remarkable. Previous winners’ collections (Another Use of Canvas, Strangers Hall, As The Crow Flies) can also be found in the on-line bookshop of Gatehouse Press, to which we are extremely grateful.



Recommended Reads for May 2013 Update

Who knew that poetry and bees would make such a natural union? Since we posted our RRs for May last week more suggestions have come our way and, a first for this section, we thought these demanded an update.

Our primary reason for this has been the realisation that one of the focuses of the South Banks’ London Literary Festival at the end of this month is on Bees & Nature. Look for more details here.


Melissographia by (artist) Amy Shelton and (poet) John Burnside

Taking the seminal text ‘The Life of the Bee’ by Maurice Maeterlinck …as a common reference, Shelton and Burnside created a book which offers a mind map of their engagement with the honeybee over a calendar year.

‘Melissographia’ consists of a series of new poems which are embedded within a book-form, scattered with individually embossed hand-painted pollen maps, referencing a selection of seasonal pollen loads collected by the honeybee from single plant species. ‘Melissographia’ is bound in a hand-made cover, and contains tiny botanical samples of flowers collected over the apiarist’s calendar year, which are important to sustaining the health of the honeybee.

The first limited edition (100 numbered copies) of this stunning work sold out and a second, and last, will be released this spring. John Burnside  is reading (with Sean Borodale – see below)from Melissographia and a new collaborative collection– Bee Myths – at the end of May as part of the South Bank festival while Amy Shelton is doing a childrens’ workshop with Steve Benbow (featured below) on the rooftop garden of the Royal Festival Hall . 

More details on Melissographia and a glimpse of some of the poems and artwork can be found here 


The Price of Gold: Poems about the Honey Bee With original artwork by Cathy Benson (Grey Hen Press)

A collection of poems celebrating honey bees. The current crisis of health in bee populations make this an important time to recognise their importance to us.

’Who more appropriate than women poets of today, with their quiet eye for detail, order, industry, living spaces, to explore that parallel world of skeps and keepers, queens and workers, lore, science, craft and myth all the way from Ljubljana to Aberdeen, down the centuries from the middle ages to our own, in a rich honeycomb of bee-poems.’ Anne-Marie Fyfe

Angela France brought this to our attention and we are intrigued. And with 50p from every sale going to research sponsored by the British Beekeepers Association, we feel it’s a no-brainer.


Recommended Reads for May 2013

We promote ourselves as being eclectic and magpie-like so we hope that you will forgive us for being a bit whimsical with the theme for our Recommended Reads this month. In part inspired by the long delayed advent of Spring in much of the Northern Hemisphere and, on a more serious note, by current campaigns to save these vital insects, our theme for May is ‘Bees’.


Hardcover or Paperback and Electronic

You might have thought it difficult to find poetry collections on this topic at all but a number came to mind almost instantly, all of them available in both hard copy and for e-readers.

Bee Journal by Sean Borodale (Jonathan Cape)

Bee Journal is a startlingly original poetry sequence: a poem-journal of beekeeping that chronicles the life of the hive, from the collection of a small nucleus on the first day to the capture of a swarm two years later. It observes the living architecture of the comb, the range and locality of the colony; its flights, flowers, water sources, parasites, lives and deaths.

These poems were written at the hive wearing a veil and gloves, and the journal is an intrinsic part of the kinetic activity of keeping bees: making ‘tiny, regular checks’ in the turn around the central figure of the sun, and minute exploratory interventions through the round of the year. The book is full of moments of revelation – particularly of the relationship between the domestic and the wild. In attempting to record and invoke something of the complexity of the relationship between ‘keeper’ and ‘kept’ it tunes ear and speech towards the ecstasy of bees, between the known and the unknown.

You don’t get closer to bees in poetry than this. Sean Borodale’s truly unique first collection has garnered a great deal of notice and seen him deservedly shortlisted for the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize, the Costa Book Awards and the TS Eliot Prize in 2012.

And David Morley, praising Bee Journal’s ‘unliterariness’ in Poetry Review 102:4 Winter 2012, declared: ‘It is gritty, wild and precise. Every sense of the poet is bent to the task of recording and responding. It is as much a psychic mission as it is a physical commission.’

Sean Borodale will be reading  from Bee Journal (with John Burnside) at the London Literary Festival.

Also available on Kindle.


The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy (Picador)

As Duffy’s voice rises in this collection, her music intensifies, and every poem patterns itself into song. Woven and weaving through the book is its presiding spirit: the bee. Sometimes the bee is Duffy’s subject, sometimes it strays into the poem, or hovers at its edge – and the reader soon begins to anticipate its appearance. In the end, Duffy’s point is clear: the bee symbolizes what we have left of grace in the world, and what is most precious and necessary for us to protect. The Bees is a work of great ecological and spiritual power, and Duffy’s clearest affirmation yet of her belief in the poem as ‘secular prayer’, as the means by which we remind ourselves what is most worthy of our attention and concern, our passion and our praise.

Carol Ann Duffy’s first collection as Poet Laureate seems to have a little bit of everything in it and happily skips from the classic tales of Atlas and Leda to David Beckham’s Achilles tendon. That it is beautifully presented as well as highly accessible makes this volume a delight and a perfect gift to seduce the uninitiated into the world of poetry. A book, writes Liz Lochhead in her Guardian review, to ‘sip and dip’, rather like honey.

Available for electronic media here.


The Bee’s Knees by Roger McGough (Puffin Poetry)

A brilliant collection of… poems from ‘the patron saint of poetry’. Longer, narrative poems sit comfortably with Roger McGough’s sharper observations and insightful words in this collection, perfectly illustrated in black-and-white line by Helen Stephens.

OK, so it’s not really all about bees but, come on, it’s Roger McGough, it’s engaging and fun and it is poetry for children on a Kindle. Entice those little ones away from their Leap Frogs and Nintendos!

You can, of course, also get it in paperback.


Our Choice

The Urban Beekeeper: A Year of Bees in the City by Steve Benbow (Square Peg)

The Urban Beekeeper is a fact-filled diary and practical guide to beekeeping that follows a year in the life of Steve and his bees and shows how keeping bees and making your own delicious honey is something anyone can do. It is a tempting glimpse into a sunlit lifestyle that starts with the first rays of the morning and ends with the warm glow of sunset, filled with oozing honeycomb, recipes for sensational honey-based dishes, and honey that tastes like sunshine.

Not a book of poetry but rather a practical work that can be read in tandem with Borodale’s Bee Journal to put a substance to the poet’s imagery. Or, if all these bee references have you hankering for a taste of honey, this book tells you how to make your own (or rather keep the bees to do it.) And you don’t need a vast country estate either! In fact the variety of pollen sources, read flowers, in the city make for a superior vintage. Also available for e-reader

And if keeping your own bees is neither practical nor desirable but you want to do something to reinvigorate their numbers, there are various campaigns out there, including those of Friends of The Earth’s The Bee Cause and the Scottish Wildlife Trust.



Recommended Reads for April 2013

Following on from World Poetry Day in March, April is National Poetry Month in both the US and Canada and, as more than fifteen per cent of our readership hails from that part of the world, we have chosen to focus our Recommended Reads there this month.

 In this we have called upon the knowledge of our man in Minneapolis, James Naiden. James regularly writes reviews for IS&T as well contributing poems and essays. His third novel, The Chafings of Mortals, (PublishAmerica 2011) is a Recommended Read in itself.


Hardcover or Paperback

Breaking the Rules: Starting with Ghazals by John Calvin Rezmerski  (Red Dragonfly Press)

A collection of 107 ghazals and quasi-ghazals, with an introductory essay by the author on the rules of writing ghazals and his intent in breaking them.

With, unusually, a blurb that tells us very little, we must turn to James Naiden’s review on our site on our site for elucidation:

So what is a ghazal? Many definitions follow – more than for the sonnet’s tight waist at fourteen lines, for example. In a prefatory statement, Rezmerski includes eight rules for this ancient form started by both Persian and Arabic writers and more recently renewed by contemporary poets such as Adrienne Rich and Robert Bly. So Rezmerski uses this form, varied as it has always been – as the book’s sub-title infers – and then proceeds to use his own language instincts to portray his life, his observations, the milieus of those he has encountered since his early years in Pennsylvania.

James Naiden came across Rezmerski, the man, in a bookstore near the University of Minnesota and was given a copy of this largely ignored but excellent work. He is enthralled by this offering from a man he terms a ‘a writer of considerable import.’

Available in the UK here.


Cloves & Honey: Love Poems by Athena Kildegaard (Nodin Press)

Cloves & Honey came about as the result of the author’s year-long discipline of writing a
single love poem every day—a daunting but also deeply satisfying project. The best of these poems, winnowed and reworked but as fresh as the day they were written, have been gathered here into a single volume that tracks the seasons, the various forms love can take, the ebb and flow of domestic affection, and a host of other themes captured in daily interactions with family, friends, and the surrounding countryside. In a time of anxiety and unrest, Cloves and Honey explores the mysterious power of love to heal, enliven, and inspire.

As a book of love poems written by a woman, Cloves & Honey could have made it into each of our February and March lists. It seems fitting then to offer this fine collection from Athena Kildegaard as one of our April suggestions.

Available through Amazon in both the UK and North America


The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2012 edited by Carmine Stamino and Molly Peacock (Tightrope Press)

Continuing in a long-established tradition of poetry excellence, the 50 poems in this collection are culled from Canadian literary magazines and journals. The handpicked selections include the best, and most current, representations of the vibrant Canadian poetry scene. This distinguished volume offers both a convenient introduction to contemporary poets in Canada and a collectible yearbook for seasoned poetry readers.

One in a series of annual round-ups of Canadian Poetry from Tightrope Books. The co-editors are, according to James, ‘long-established writers who have tried and succeeded, I think, in making thoughtful choices about “current” Canadian poetry. A very useful gathering of superb writing!’

Contributors include Margaret Atwood, David O’Meara and P.K. Page


Electronic Media

In addition to James’ suggestions above, we thought it worthwhile to take a look at those US and Canadian collections available in a Kindle-style format. While by no means comprehensive or even representing any kind of systematic selection, these works do prove that there is quite a bit out there for the technologically savvy.

Canadian Collections

The Door by Margaret Atwood

Gutted by Evie Christie

The Book of Longing by Leonard Cohen

And from the Laurier Poetry series:

From Room to Room: The Poetry of Eli Mandel edited by  Peter Webb

Other poets in this series include George Elliot Clarke & Tim Lilburn

American Collections

Best of the Best American Poetry by

David Lehman (Author, Editor) & Robert Pinsky (Author, Foreword)

The Complete Collected Poems by Maya Angelou

Howl, Kaddish and Other Poems (Penguin Modern Classics) by Allen Ginsberg

Later Poems Selected and New: 1971-2012 by Adrienne Rich

And from the Wesleyan Poetry Series:

My Life and My Life in the Nineties   by Lyn Hejinian



Recommended Reads for March 2013

 ‘I am woman, hear me roar…’

The 8th March is International Women’s Day and to mark it we are devoting our Recommended Reads this month to works by women about women. But the opposite sex should not be put off. These books are worth considering by anyone.


Hardcover or Paperback

Petrol by Martina Evans

Imelda thinks she’s killed her mother by wishing she was dead. Haunted, she doesn’t want to wish the same fate on Justin, her mercurial and controlling twice-widowed father, owner of McConnell’s bar and shop. When Imelda’s two older sisters, Bertha and Agnes disapprove of Justin’s young fiancé, Clodagh, Justin butters up naïve Imelda and elevates her to the position of temporary favourite.

 Petrol is a prose poem disguised as a novella of adolescence in Co. Cork, Ireland. With its dizzy pace and perfect narrative timing it is a unique work and a remarkable departure for a writer whose poetry is widely appreciated for its humour and uncompromising depiction of rural Ireland.

When we initially saw Maria C McCarthy’s recent review of ‘Petrol’, we knew we had to read this book. And once we had read it we knew that it had to be a Recommended Read. The unique narrative style, the perfectly captured voice of a vulnerable 13-year-old heroine negotiating her place in the world via a difficult father,  jealous sisters and an all too charming 19-year-old ‘beau’ culminates in a work that has been described by Bernard O’Donoghue as ‘a masterpiece: deeply original and inspired.’

Also available on Amazon.


Redgrove’s Wife by Penelope Shuttle

[This] is a book of lament and celebration. Its focus is the life and death of her husband, the poet Peter Redgrove, coupled with the loss of her father. Here, grief, depression and ageing are confronted with painful directness, but transformed into life-affirming and redemptive poetry…Redgrove’s Wife offers an extraordinary range of different kinds of poetry: both sensuous and ceremonial, elegiac and erotic, visionary and playful

Penelope Shuttle writes from the opposite end of life to adolescence. As her husband declined through Parkinson’s, arthritis and diabetes, she moved from wife to carer and ultimately to widow, at times having to cope with her own depression and anger. Her poems during this period, as she puts it, took as  ‘their task the search for a renewal of life during difficult circumstances. How to go on loving the world, which is what a poet is for, when it deals you severe blows, forcing you to give up much of what gives life its energy and delight.’

Deservedly shortlisted for both the Forward  and T.S. Eliot Prizes


Our Choice

The Knife Drawer by Padrika Tarrant

In the house where Marie lives, the cutlery is running wild …

Madness and fairy story creep hand in hand in this darkly comic tale. At the top of a narrow driveway there is a shambling Victorian house full of dust and stairs. The walls inside are ancient emulsion, sloughing off the distemper walls in gorgeous ribbons.

The mice that infest the dining room chimney-breast are living out their own dreams and nightmares, learning voodoo and the meaning of love and forgiveness. In The Knife Drawer, dead bodies miraculously vanish as if scraped to nothing by pudding spoons.

Marie’s mother has rather lost her wits since she did away with her husband. She could swear they’re out to get her; even the house gets messy on purpose, all by itself. Marie’s twin is living in a hole in the back-garden, small and round as a cherry pip, waiting to be discovered.

In ‘The Knife Drawer’ the steak knives grow so hungry that they scream. When the children murder the rent man, things get a little out of hand …

When Sarah Bower reviewed this ‘compelling’ novel in 2011 , she discovered many layers and multiple readings. Is it the tale of a single mother with girl twins and her neglect and lack of grip on reality? Has an abusive partner left her or has she killed him and sealed his body up in the Dining Room? And what about a cutlery drawer gone rogue and a mouse civilisation gone stratospheric? This is, Bower concludes, a book ‘best read in a single sitting, without coming up from its contaminated air, or in very small doses. Either way, it will haunt your dreams.’ We agree. We also think you will need to read it again and again.


And for those of you missing our Electronic section – it will be back – consider the Kindle version of Padrika Tarrant’s collection of short stories, Broken Things, which is a true precursor of The Knife Drawer

Here are voices lost inside themselves, where the world is lopsided and nothing may be trusted. A kitchen knife crawls after a little girl to keep her safe and an old lady hears her mother calling from a cupboard


And, if you didn’t know already, the thrice-yearly Magma Poetry magazine is now also available on Kindle.



Recommended Reads for February 2013

Ah February, the month of love, and one would think that it would be easy to find a treasure trove of that most romantic of literary genres, poetry. But are there collections out there that avoid the sickly sweetness of the greeting card but can still ‘lift the heart to rapture’? We sent out requests for suggestions through Facebook and Twitter and this is what came back to us


Hardcover or Paperback

Eliza and the Bear by Eleanor Rees

In powerful nocturnal encounters silent visitors travel from the dark world, take on elemental form and embrace Rees’s narrators with sensual and erotic urgency. Laced with tales of physical transformations, Rees’s use of fairy stories and night visions radically reimagines the female experience through the psychic collisions of the body and our desires.

The title sequence of this, frankly, seductive collection was transformed into a 35-minute live performance for voice and harp which toured in the NW England in 2008 and was revived briefly at The Magpie’s Nest in Islington in 2010. Reading Eliza and the Bear makes you long for another such revival.

Suggested by Angela Topping  


Love Poems by Ian Parks suggested by Angela Topping

The New Faber Book of Love Poems, edited by James Fenton and recommended by Ann Drysdale (‘An anthology that ‘takes some beating.’)

Slattern by Kate Clanchy, recommended by Tony Vowles  



Billy’s Rain by Hugo Williams

The fifty poems in Billy’s Rain chart the course of a love affair, now ended. Its complications, obsessions, evasions, secret joys and emotional pitfalls are explored with all the subtlety and irony of which Hugo Williams, among contemporary poets, is the acknowledged master. These are brilliant, wry and moving elegies for a love affair.

Who could possibly resist such lines as ‘the smell/of television lingering in the morning like a quarrel’ from this evocative 1999 TS Eliot award winning collection?

Suggested by Tony Vowles


Modern Love by Max Wallis, suggested by Angela France and one of our December recommended reads.

Boss Cupid by Thom Gunn, recommended by Anna Percy who suggested ‘anything by [the poet], he writes intimacy beautifully.’ We chose this one because, despite a cycle of poems subtitled ‘songs for Jeffrey Dahmer’, it is all about love and desires.


Our ‘Left Field’ Choice

Baby Precious Always Shines: Selected Love Notes between Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, edited by Kay Turner

Off and on, during the entire period they were together, Gertrude and Alice wrote each other little love notes. Calling her “wifey” and most often addressing her as “baby precious,” Stein scribbled her love for Toklas in quick moments of unselfconscious desire, notes that are small but significant testimonies to her long-lived love. And on occasion, Toklas penned or typed letters back to her “husband.”

These notes are brief, mantra-like enticements: tender, beseeching, caring and confessing, funny and game, sexually-charged and sincere, quotidian and queer, but always passionate. Each one marks the pleasures–infrequently, the pains–of married love. When fitted together, the notes create a tantalizing mosaic of a marriage between two women that was built to last.

It was an essay by the Poetry Foundation’s Joel Brouwer that first put us onto these and not because they are in fact great literary pieces. (‘A wag’ Brouwer suggests’ might say that Stein wrote them after she was finished writing, so they’re not literature at all.’)  What they are is a captivating and intensely personal testament to a great love and as such worthy, as are all our recommendations, of a Valentine’s read.



Recommended Reads for January 2013

We are making like a glossy magazine this month and publishing our January 2013 recommended reads well before the end of December.


Hardcover or Paperback

In the Land of the Giants: Selected Children’s Poems by George Szirtes

George Szirtes’ children’s poems comprise riddles, mysteries and parables, strange encounters, cautionary tales, and meditations on just about everything under the sun — from the sea’s hands to the wind’s face. All Szirtes’ technical virtuosity is on display, the music, rhyme and cadence fusing together with an Eastern European sensibility to provide a unique collection that will be treasured by all children and not a few adults.

It’s not too late to get this wonderful collection from Salt Publishing before Christmas. When Hilary Mellon reviewed it earlier in December, she defied anyone to be able to pick it up and then walk away without buying it and we agree. The best things for children, be they films, plays or novels should always capture an adult’s imagination as this does so completely. As Hilary puts it ‘With Christmas approaching take that 7+ literally and buy a copy for everyone on your shopping list who’s over 7.  And buy one also for anyone under 7 and keep it for them to grow into.’



Shakespeare’s Sonnets

Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets, dealing with themes such as the passage of time, love, beauty and mortality, really need no introduction.

When isn’t it a time for Shakespeare? However, the inclusion of this edition of the sonnets as a recommended read now is an acknowledgement that not all of you will be looking at this before Christmas and may instead be perusing this page during the dark days of January. The credit cards are maxed out and those bits and pieces of loose cash that normally lie around have all been gathered up. But this is free. Absolutely and completely free.

And if you have still not been given a Kindle or similar as a Christmas present, then you can find the complete sonnets here.


Our Choice

Alhambra Poetry Calendar 2013 edited by Shafiq Naz

365 poems by more than 300 poets – a desk calendar and a poetry anthology in one. Start the day with a poem: discover poems by both well-established and emerging contemporary poets, and rediscover familiar and favorite poems by classic poets. Poetry from different historical periods and styles from the 14th century to the 21st century. Encounter a wide range of poetic genres and forms. Poems about love and passion, family and friendship, happiness and loss, birth and death, youth and aging, the natural world and contemporary city life. A new feature this year: many poems are accompanied by commentary by their respective authors.

Our ‘other’ choice for January is, appropriately, a calendar. In addition to classic luminaries like Blake, Byron, a pair of Brontes, Donne, Hardy and even Henry VIII, it features a number of contemporary IS&T favourites such as Ian Duhig, D. Nurske, Pascale Petit, Penelope Shuttle and George Szirtes. There is even a poem from one Helen Ivory. The calendar can be ordered from with postal rates (from around £5-20 for the UK) dependent on how quickly you want it. In the US you can also find it here.

And there is a version for young readers, too.



Recommended Reads for December 2012

We have a slightly extended selection this month what with it being the festive season. Go on treat someone or, even better, treat yourself. You’ll feel better about the inevitable socks or bath salts.


Hardcover or Paperback

The Frost Fairs by John McCullough

The Frost Fairs is a compassionate book with a global and historical scope, tackling science and city life from a range of surreal yet poignant angles. It explores love in many forms, from modern transatlantic relationships to hidden gay and cross-gendered lives from the past…The array of voices here is striking: taxi drivers report their most outlandish fares and hermaphrodite statues flirt with observers; abandoned lovers watch frost fairs melting on the Thames and drag queens revel in the freedoms afforded by the Blitz.

How could we not recommend this wonderful collection? Having just won the 2012 Polari First Book Prize and been singled out by both The Observer and The Independent, it would have been folly to ignore it.


Modern Love by Max Wallis

In his début pamphlet, Max Wallis traces the yearlong course of a love affair and all its constituent parts: sex and sensuality, longing and loneliness, desire and disappointment, heady beginnings and inevitable endings; in a world dominated by high street brands, text messaging and social media. Featuring trademark acrobatics with language in an attempt to grapple with this fast, feisty world, Modern Love recasts love in a sincere, vivacious voice.

Given its subject, you might think we would hold off recommending this collection until February but this was the second poetry book shortlisted for the Polari Prize this year and, as such, we feel Modern Love deserves to be acknowledged now.

Also available on Kindle.



Life Saving: Why We Need Poetry – Introductions to Great Poets by Josephine Hart

Josephine Hart, author of the bestselling novel Damage, had what she called ‘a long love affair’ with poetry.

In the late 1980s, Hart…began a hugely popular event in which actors read the words of the great poets to an enraptured audience. In 2004, The Josephine Hart Poetry Hour moved to the British Library, where it remains today. By her own admission, Josephine Hart gave ‘dead poets society’. But she also gave them intelligent and exciting introductions; all of which are now collected here in this volume. They are insightful, even great, works in their own right.

Those of us who write and/or love poetry are all too familiar with the glazed look that can come over a friend or acquaintance’s eyes when you mention the word. Why is it that he who adores stand-up comedy will run miles in the other direction rather than go to a poetry slam or she who thrives on the most experimental ‘experimental theatre’ turns her nose up at a poet’s one-man show? Life Saving helps remind us why poetry matters.

Also available in hardcover.


 Answering Back: Living Poets Reply to the Poetry of the Past edited by Carol Ann Duffy

Carol Ann Duffy has asked some of the brightest lights in the poetry world to choose a poem that is meaningful — or has meant something — to them, and write a response to it. With up-and-coming poets alongside more established names, and original poems alongside the new works they’ve inspired, Answering Back promises to be a truly unique anthology; from old favourites to modern classics, it will be a collection everyone can respond to.

Answering Back also harks back to poets of the past but takes the novel approach of using them as inspiration for contemporary work. Published the year before Duffy was made Poet Laureate and including such luminaries as Wendy Cope, Penelope Shuttle and Roger McGough, it can encourage reflection or even, as in Carol Rumens response to Larkin’s ‘This Be The Verse’, simply make us laugh out loud.

Also available in paperback.


 Our Choice

The Song of Lunch by Christopher Reid

Lunch in Soho with a former lover – but Zanzotti’s is under new management, and as the wine takes effect fond memories give way to something closer to the bone. A mock-elegy for the heady joys of old-time Soho, The Song of Lunch displays the full range of Christopher Reid’s wit, craft and human sympathy.

When the film dramatisation of The Song of Lunch was screened with an accompanying discussion at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival this year, it proved a huge hit. Available in both paperback and Kindle formats, the book is definitely worth a read. But what makes it our left field choice is the fact that you can now buy the film featuring Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson on DVD from Amazon. All is not completely well however as the DVD format is Region 1, which essentially means it is limited to players and TVs configured to North American standards. Further investigation however reveals that there is a version that can now be downloaded onto electronic media. So if you are based in the US or Canada, have the proper set-up elsewhere or have invested in a Kindle Fire or the like, we encourage you to give it a go.



Recommended Reads for November 2012


Hardcover or Paperback

House of the Deaf Man by Andrea Porter and Tom de Freston

Artist Tom de Freston and poet Andrea Porter explore the dark images Goya created on the walls of his house Quinta del Sordo (The House of the Deaf Man) in the last few years of his life. Using these paintings as a touchstone both artist and poet create a world in which Goya’s ‘Black Paintings’ provide a vital and significant link between the present and the past.

The House of the Deaf Man becomes a space where a strange Master of Ceremonies guides you past walls that talk and a woman carries a severed head through a supermarket. In this house a mad band plays on as a man hangs a spoon from his nose and all the king’s and bankers’ horses come tumbling down.

We’ve previously posted a poem from this collection and reviewed it but we keep coming back to (as our reviewer put it) this ‘delightfully perverse act of ventriloquism’  because we have a bit of an obsession with Word and Image at IS&T and this is some of the best of its kind.

Andrea will also be appearing at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival this year, where she will be participating in one of the IS&T-supported Short Takes, ‘speaking for herself’ on the theme of ‘Poetry as a Lifeline.’ In addition, our new postcard (available at the Festival) will feature a poem from her first collection A Season of Small Insanities, the final section of which deals with ‘personal trauma and loss’: This is the mirror we would rather walk away from and yet the scalpel-like precision of each word, the light touch of the language beckons us in as if we already know that the ‘you’ watched in this sequence could easily be us, if we happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Breaking Silence by Jacob Sam-La Rose

It is a collection that sits on the threshold between the personal and the profound, with eyes on race and dual heritage; masculinity and manhood; definitions and senses of self. Above all, it’s a collection that’s invested in the power of the voice, in the work of giving a voice to issues and entities that would otherwise remain silent.

Published by Bloodaxe Books, this excellent work has been nominated for the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize (as well the Forward Prize for Best First Collection) thus ensuring its place on our list. Moreover, as we are obviously in favour of seeing as much poetry as possible available on electronic media, it is encouraging to see first collections available in this format.

(Also available in paperback.)


Our Choice

In Their Own Words: Contemporary Poets on their Poetry edited by Helen Ivory & George Szirtes

A celebration of the variousness of contemporary poets living and writing in the UK today. 56 poets talk about their own poetic voices and their work.

Yes, we are being blatantly nepotistic again and proud of it. Connected to this work through our shared editor Helen Ivory, IS&T can only hope to bask in its reflective glory. That it is joint edited by one of the UK’s foremost poets, George Szirtes, only enhances its value.  If you are teaching, studying, writing or reading contemporary poetry, this needs to be on your bookshelf.

Contributors include Patience Agbabi, Ian Duhig, Vicki Feaver, Ira Lightman, Eather Morgan and Penelope Shuttle.




Recommended Reads for October 2012


Hardcover or Paperback

Whistle by Martin Figura

When Martin was nine years old, his father killed his mother. Whistle is a sequence of poems, neither sentimental nor melodramtic, that leads up to that event and follows on with its consequences. Whistle is a tale told with tenderness, humour and bravery through a photographer’s eye and  has been described as ‘riveting’, ‘magnificent’ and ‘remarkable. It  has also evolved into an ‘astonishing’ stage production.

Martin is effectively one of the IS&T family being married to editor Helen Ivory but that does not mean we are recommending his collection on nepotism alone. And if you don’t believe that, then check out Penelope Shuttle’s review on IS&T.

And while you can, catch the stage version. Having already played at Edinburgh in the summer of 2011 and at the Roundhouse in London last spring, Martin is taking Whistle on what could possibly be its last tour of the UK. For details go here.



Pitch: Poems by Todd Boss

With poems about loss, home, marriage, and the inner music of our lives, Pitch is a series of variations on an overturned piano. By turns bright and dark like the keys on a keyboard, these poems demonstrate the range of one of contemporary poetry’s most musical poets, a master of internal rhyme.

A tour de force from this son of the American Midwest and enthusiastically reviewed here by IS&T’s James Naiden: ‘ We read his poetry to see how our pulse is doing – collectively, then in each of us, among these stringently woven images.’


Our Choice

The Lighthouse by Alison Moore (Kindle edition)

The Lighthouse begins on a North Sea ferry, on whose blustery outer deck stands Futh, a middle-aged, recently separated man heading to Germany for a restorative walking holiday.

Spending his first night in Hellhaus at a small, family-run hotel, he finds the landlady hospitable but is troubled by an encounter with an inexplicably hostile barman.

In the morning, Futh puts the episode behind him and sets out on his week-long circular walk along the Rhine. As he travels, he contemplates his childhood; a complicated friendship with the son of a lonely neighbour; his parents’ broken marriage and his own. But the story he keeps coming back to, the person and the event affecting all others, is his mother and her abandonment of him as a boy, which left him with a void to fill, a substitute to find.

He recalls his first trip to Germany with his newly single father. He is mindful of something he neglected to do there, an omission which threatens to have devastating repercussions for him this time around.

At the end of the week, Futh, sunburnt and blistered, comes to the end of his circular walk, returning to what he sees as the sanctuary of the Hellhaus hotel, unaware of the events which have been unfolding there in his absence.

(Paperback available through Salt Publishing or on Amazon)

Universally praised, this first novel is a no-brainer for our ‘left field’ recommendation this month. We have close links with Salt and it is so refreshing to see an independent publisher with a book that was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize (2012). That it failed to win cannot take away from what a superb work of fiction this is.