Calm by Victoria Adukwei Bulley (Faber, £10.99)
“The bones can talk long after the flesh is gone.” Victoria Adukwei Bulley’s debut album is an exploration of the power of silence as a means of resistance, a way to carve out a place for yourself in a hostile world. Rooted in black feminist thought, the poems have a lucid elegance, underpinned by a controlled fierceness that is acute about the damage wrought by institutional vacuum, and how it forces an uncomfortable conformity: “They were too happy / to realize they were posters. girls / for the erasure of themselves. Bulley, a former Barbican Young Poet and poet-in-residence at the V&A Museum, strikes a tone that is both delicate and strong, peppered with breath-holding moments: “if your pain is alive in me / then also must be your joy”. With a generous and questioning spirit, Quiet marks the arrival of a major poetic talent.
No More Fiya: A New Collection of Black British Poetryedited by Kayo Chingonyi (Canongate, £16.99)
In this companion anthology to 1998’s The Fire People, a crucial step in documenting the work of black British poets, Chingonyi sought out “poems that vibrate across a spectrum of broadly conceived black British aesthetics”. Its 34 selected writers include household names such as Warsan Shire, TS Eliot Award winner Roger Robinson and Malika Booker, as well as emerging talents such as Kandace Siobhan Walker and Belinda Zhawi. Particularly striking is the work of Samatar Elmi, whose scathing lyrics disguise a sharp bite: “Albion, as in purgatory, or perhaps / an oasis, or mirages in the sand, / which is itself the state the most cruel of limbo”. Balancing the traditional and the radical, this is a strikingly rich set of poems and a joyous testimony to community.
Jean-Luc Champerret’s Lascaux Notebooksedited and translated by Philip Terry (Carcannet, £19.99)
The conceit behind this collection of “Ice Age poetry” is that in 1940 the French resistance sent Jean-Luc Champerret, a little-known poet, on a mission to the newly discovered Lascaux caves. Noting the doodles on the walls, Champerret realized that they could become poems: if a group of vertical lines were taken to represent a forest, rain or spears, then these symbols could be arranged to generate poems in a proto-Oulipian process. Decades later, the results of his experiments were accidentally retrieved from a crate. The book presents a plausible and pictorial recreation of prehistoric life, its quieter moments and its dangers, especially when the bison roam: “We crouch behind the cover of the trees / watch their every step / burn with fear” . It’s slyly playful throughout: “To say I ate / the fruit that / you kept in the hut // you will have to / content yourself with / roots when you break the fast // eat the fruit / I thought / how delicious how cold”.
Continuing creation by Les Murray (Carcanet, £11.99)
“I think I have about three quarters of a new book ready,” Murray told his agent five months before his death in 2019. These completed poems, found in a folder on his desk, along with 17 handwritten drafts , form its final collection. Unsurprisingly, a sense of purpose permeates the book, enriched by its characteristic quick wit, perfect attention to the sound of language, and love for the Australian countryside and its hard-earned beauties. There is an obvious difference in polish between drafts and finalized poems, the latter honed until they shine with cold, meticulous insight. Despite this imbalance, the book is a beautiful farewell to a poet who has remained faithful to his singular vision: “We bring nothing into this world / except our progressive capacity / to create it, from all that vanishes / and of all that will survive us”. .”