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Recommended poetry book list

Every two years, Poetry on Loan publishes a list of poetry books recommended by library staff. Some of them may be familiar to you; others might not be. Dip into them, or read every book on the list, cover to cover - either way, there's something here for everyone.

Here is the 2018 list, Take this..., with reviews written by West Midlands library staff

Inside the wave 
Helen Dunmore   

This is Helen Dunmore’s last collection, written when she knew her prognosis wasn’t good; she died of cancer in June 2017. A theme of water runs throughout the book, but the central theme is life on the border of death. It’s not morbid, though. The poems have a light touch, often looking at the past and travelling along.

Inevitably, there are poems of her experiences in hospital. The last poem in the book, Hold out your Arms,  envelops us all as we move from life to death, cradled but not afraid: “ we’re nearly there”. Beautifully written poetry from an exceptional poet, and a well-deserved winner of the Costa Book of the Year award.  A very poignant farewell.

Published by Bloodaxe


Poundland Rimbaud 
Jonny Fluffypunk

Jonny Fluffypunk (or Jon Seagrave, as he is sometimes known) is a sustainable nihilist poet, so he says. In this collection, he takes us from his childhood in the mundane wastes of Little Kingshill to a fantasy world where all things are possible. He journeys in poetry, prose and a play, from teenage rebellion to fatherhood, collecting along the way self-reproach and disillusionment in a comic tour de force, with serious undertones. The language is strong, but so are the poems. Read this, even if just for the wayward footnotes. Read this and dream.

Published by Burning Eye


Sex & love & rock & roll
Tony Walsh 

Tony Walsh’s poetry was brought to the eye and ear of a wider public with his poem for Manchester, heard all over all the world after the Manchester Arena terrorist attack. But Tony has long been known and loved at poetry nights as Longfella (he’s very tall!), a spellbinding performance poet. His poems are often songlike, full of rhythms and intricate rhymes – songs of love and parenthood and poetry, and they work on the page as well as on the stage. These poems will echo in your footsteps.

Published by Burning Eye


The unaccompanied
Simon Armitage

Simon Armitage’s The Unaccompanied is a collection of contemporary poetry exploring social and political themes in an easily accessible conversational lyricism.  Razor-sharp and unapologetic imagery jumps out of the pages and makes the reader re-evaluate their personal views. You won’t board an aeroplane, or go into Poundland, or attend an office party again without remembering these poems.

Published by Faber & Faber


Assembly lines

Jane Commane

Jane Commane’s latest collection is set in urban areas of the Midlands and brings heart-warming imagery about life in this industrial setting. Melancholy of the past is intertwined with realism and these poems paint a beautiful picture of forgotten lives in a humane and compassionate way. 

Published by Bloodaxe


Anecdotal evidence
Wendy Cope

Wendy Cope is known for her witty, well-crafted poetry. Anecdotal Evidence includes her trademark humour and also reflective poems of love and loss. There are poems about going away to school; long dead parents and ‘Absent Friends’. I recommend ‘Statue’, a sonnet in praise of Eric Morecambe.

 If you have ever asked yourself what the use of poetry is, you may find an answer in the title poem, ‘Evidence’, as being something, like birdsong, we may respond positively to. The poem ends:

What’s the use of poetry?
You ask. Well, here’s a start:
It’s anecdotal evidence
About the human heart.’

Published by Faber & Faber


Our beautiful scars
Jane Seabourne

Jane Seabourne’s poems celebrate everyday objects and people of the past: they’re filled with scones and poached eggs, with great aunts, grandmothers, miners, teachers and our past selves. There’s nothing nostalgic or sentimental here; the poems are suffused with warmth, kindness, humour and biting wit. The quiet precision of language and observation makes these poems a joy to read.

Published by Offa’s Press


The poetry of Staffordshire
Edited by Simon Fletcher and Emma Purshouse

This collection features established poets including Roger Elkin, Jean Sprackland and Carol Ann Duffy, alongside exciting new Staffordshire voices. We visit pot banks and cafes, pumping stations and country parks, and meet historical figures from Clarice Cliff to Dr Johnson, Sir Stanley Matthews to the Kidsgrove boggart. A great read for anyone who loves Staffordshire, or who loves poetry.

Published by Offa’s Press


Beginning with your last breath
Roy McFarlane    

This is a moving and personal debut collection by Roy McFarlane.

Beginning with poems about heredity and belonging, the book covers growing up as the son of Jamaican parents in the West Midlands, and experiences of love, ending with his mother’s death. The collection is lightened by such poems as A Poet in Amsterdam  (there’s bikes, bikes everywhere).

An extremely accessible collection of poems by a supremely talented poet, whose poems come from deep in his soul, with music and politics as background. It would be hard to read these without a tear or two.  But do try, they are very worthwhile!  You will not be disappointed.

Published by Nine Arches Press


The poetry of the Black Country
Edited by Emma Purshouse, Dave Reeves and Simon Fletcher

How do you capture the Black Country in poetry? Obviously you need poems about blast furnaces and Bilston enamels, but you can’t do without homing pigeons and the flamingos in Dudley Zoo. All these are in this book together with a visual poem about the West Bromwich ring road that looks like spaghetti junction in print. There’s nostalgia here, and compassion and drama, and a smattering of dialect.

With more than 50 poems from 39 poets, this anthology shows clearly that poetry in and of the Black Country is alive and well, and in skilled hands.

Published by Offa’s Press


Here is the 2016 list, with reviews written by West Midlands' library staff :


edited by Mark Fisher

In 2016, Ledbury Poetry Festival celebrates its 20th anniversary. Hwaet! (it means Listen! in Anglo-Saxon, and is the opening of Beowulf) is an anthology of poems by 200 poets who have performed at the Festival over the years. There’s something for everyone - poems from round the corner and all over the world; poems from poets who are household names and those you may not have heard of; poems serious, funny, thoughtful, sensational. A magnificent buffet of poems to dip into now and then - although you will find yourself coming back to it until you have tasted it all.

Published by Bloodaxe


Nobody told me: poetry and parenthood

Hollie McNish

Hollie McNish was on her way to her first Glastonbury Festival poetry gig when she found out she was pregnant. Nobody Told Me is a diary of poems and stories written from that day onward: “A diary of all the things / I couldn’t talk about”. Whether she’s breast-feeding her six-month-old daughter in a public toilet, or tackling a ten-hour train journey with a tired two-year-old, Hollie’s writing is honest, direct, witty and moving. This is an engaging read which will appeal to readers who are new to poetry as much as to seasoned poetry fans.

Published by Blackfriars Books


Black Country

Liz Berry

Even people who don’t usually read poetry find themselves drawn into Liz Berry’s world with this collection. The poems can be appreciated on a first reading but with further reading you see how beautifully made they are. Liz Berry doesn’t just write about the industrial past, her poems have contemporary themes – Carmella the hairdresser; the Steam Room; the man who bought a milking pan for a Christmas present.

There is a real feeling in this book that Liz Berry writes from the heart about what is important to her in the language of the people and the places she loves.

Published by Chatto and Windus


Over the moon

Imtiaz Dharker

This is Imtiaz Dharker’s fifth collection, and includes some of her stylishly detailed drawings - a beautifully crafted book of poetry. 

Many of the poems have urban settings, reflecting her cosmopolitan upbringing and her current life. They span a huge range of human emotion and experience - love, loss, hope, memory, staying and leaving, youth and old age. They have a life-affirming theme, and some emphasise the poet's passionate belief in the uplifting strength of women and girls as shining and joyous lights in the world.

A book full of treasure! 

Published by Bloodaxe



Sarah Crossan

This novel written in free verse is the story of conjoined twins Tippi and Grace. All their childhood they have been home-schooled, but now in their teens they have to face the hurdle of going to school for the first time. School brings cruel notes and staring but also friendship and romance. As their family struggles emotionally and financially the twins have to deal with the media and with their possible separation. A beautiful, heart-wrenching book that can be read in one breathless sitting. Recommended for teenagers who think they have problems fitting in and who say they don’t like poetry.

Published by Bloomsbury


The nailmakers’ daughters - poems from the Black Country

Emma Purshouse, Iris Rhodes, Marion Cockin

From Black Country ironwork and factories to ballrooms, tow paths and meadows, these poems resonate with memories and experiences evoking a powerful connection to the past. Accessible, grounded and entirely without pretension, the poems has a strong sense of place, and all three poets describe the region’s landscapes with pride and affection. Many of the poems are written in dialect and sometimes it was as if you can actually hear the voices when you read them. Humorous, poignant, and nostalgic - there is something very comforting about the poems in this collection which leaves you with an overall sense of peace.

Published by Offa’s Press



Jo Bell

Kith is the second collection by Canal Laureate Jo Bell. It promises us “love, sex, boats and friendship” but gives us so much more. This fresh and vibrant collection will make you laugh and cry, and will touch all points in between. The poems are accessible and direct, yet have a curious subtlety, enabling the reader to see the world in a new light. Jo Bell’s deft touch and powerful imagery ensure that you will want to go back to these poems time and time again.

Published by Nine Arches Press


The beautiful librarians

Sean O’Brien

Sean O’Brien’s The Beautiful Librarians collection has a bitter political theme with a sense of nostalgia for the mid-century life. It unapologetically points out the loss of social values and empathy throughout the years. This is truly a book of great variety of theme and form.

Published by Picador


The emergency poet: an anti-stress poetry anthology 

edited by Deborah Alma

This anthology is full of poems skilfully selected by the Emergency Poet, Deborah Alma, from classics to contemporary, to soothe your soul. Whether you are looking for a pick me up or a gentle caress you can find it in this collection.

Published by Michael O’Mara


Loop of jade

Sarah Howe

Winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize 2015

Sarah Howe compares her own life and upbringing with that of her mother, and attempts to understand her dual nationality in a modern multicultural world. Many of the poems are in prose format and they look at traditional Chinese stories which have an element of sadness about them, such as in the poem Tame which considers the Chinese proverb, “It is more profitable to raise geese than daughters,” and puts a twist on it for the modern reader. 

Well worth the effort to discover this new voice in the world of poetry.

Published by Chatto and Windus