Best Books of 2021: Poetry

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Yemen’s wild fox
by Threa Almontaser, Picador £ 10.99 / Greywolf Press $ 16

The confident debut of this Yemeni-American poet is a moving and immersive portrayal of the space between countries and language. In formal verses interspersed with Arabic words and writings, Almontaser contrasts poverty and ease, painful hunger and abundance of food, the richness of tradition with the harshness of conflict.

Winter recipes from the Collective
by Louise Glück, Carcanet £ 12.99 / Farrar, Straus and Giroux $ 25

Glück’s first collection since receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2020. Memories, missing voices and clocks speak of the passing of time, of the loss and decay left in the wake of time. Yet there is also acceptance, adaptation and – as the title’s “collective” suggests – an invitation to readers “who will know what I mean”.

Howdie-Skelp
by Paul Muldoon, Faber £ 14.99 / Farrar, Straus and Giroux $ 27

With his signature swagger, Muldoon interweaves pop culture with a skewer of recent history, targeting American politics, public discourse, pandemic life and even offering a playful, unfiltered, and vivid ekphrastic streak on the visual arts canon. Like several collections this year, Howdie-Skelp also features a poem in memory of the late Ciaran Carson.

Books of the year 2021

Cheryl’s Fates
by Stephen Sexton, Penguin Press € 9.99

The follow-up of If everyone and love were young, which won the Forward Award for First Collection in 2019, is an act of time travel full of wit and compassion. The title Cheryl sees in and from the future, while a series of sonnets is devoted to an imaginary conversation between WB Yeats and Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins.

Rocks
by Kevin Young, Poetry Cap £ 12 / Knopf $ 27

The New Yorker poetry editor is also a prolific and praised poet. Here, in the front row of Rocks are those of the cemetery; one repeated image is of a toddler playing among the resting places of his ancestors. They are slow poems, at the same time sparse and generous; windows onto a world of ancestral homes and family history.

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