Shortlist, Costa Poetry Award 2017

Shortlist, 2017 Costa Poetry Award


Moniza Alvi    Poet

Kiran Millwood Hargrave     Author

Nicholas Wroe Guardian Writer and Editor

This (from below my italics) is from the poetry page of Costa, for the results of all shortlists click for link:   Costa Awards 2017 shortlist

Many other links you could choose as alternative, I would also offer the Guardian pages

The main question for me is which title/author  will I plump for reading as I have not read any of the books?  ‘All’  is not a useful answer as I have to start with one and the judges comments guarantee each one needs to be read.

So, its the debut collections first as the poets are new to me.  Next, is it the new take on ‘Nature’ (Useful Verses) to  ride on my long-term interest in said subject or the challenge of race and identity (Kumukanda)   which also ticks a large box despite my being ‘old, white and British’?  …… but it is ‘being an outsider/onlooker’ that marries into both, maybe all poetry……  so maybe for me the interest is also a challenge of  seeing and feeling through other peoples eyes what I cannot expect to really understand but would like to try.                      So Kumukanda, is the one I will   buy and review first


by Kayo Chingonyi     (Chatto & Windus)

Translating as ‘initiation’, kumukanda is the name given to the rites a young boy from the Luvale tribe must pass through before he is considered a man. Kayo Chingonyi’s debut explores this passage: between two worlds, ancestral and contemporary; between the living and the dead; between the gulf of who he is and how he is perceived. Underpinned by a love of music, language and literature, this debut collection is a powerful exploration of race, identity and masculinity, celebrating what it means to be British and not British, all at once.

Kayo Chingonyi was born in Zambia in 1987, and moved to the UK at the age of six. He is the author of two pamphlets, and a fellow of the Complete Works programme for diversity and quality in British Poetry. In 2012, he was awarded a Geoffrey Dearmer Prize, and was Associate Poet at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in 2015.

Judges: ‘Energetic, skilled, tender and bold – this is an outstanding collection by a major new talent.’



Inside the Wave     by Helen Dunmore (Bloodaxe Books)

To be alive is to be inside the wave, always travelling until it breaks and is gone. These poems are concerned with the borderline between the living and the dead – the underworld and the human living world – and the exquisitely intense being of both. They possess a spare, eloquent lyricism as they explore the bliss and anguish of the voyage. Helen Dunmore was a poet, novelist, short story and children’s writer. Her poetry books have been given the Poetry Book Society Choice and Recommendations and won several prizes including the Cardiff International Poetry Prize, the Alice Hunt Bartlett Award and the Signal Poetry Award.  Her poem ‘The Malarkey’ won the 2010 National Poetry Competition.  She published fifteen novels and three books of short stories – most recently, Birdcage Walk in 2017.  She died in June 2017.

Judges: ‘We were all stunned by these breathtaking poems.’


On Balance by Sinéad Morrissey (Carcanet)

Set against a backdrop of ecological and economic instability, Sinéad Morrissey’s sixth collection revisits some of the great feats of human engineering to reveal the states of balance and imbalance that have shaped our history. The poems also address gender inequality and our inharmonious relationship with the natural world. Sinéad Morrissey was born in 1972 and grew up in Belfast. She read English and German at Trinity College, Dublin, from which she took her PhD in 2003, and has published five collections including Parallax (2013) which won the T S Eliot Prize. She’s lived in Germany, Japan and New Zealand and lectured in Creative Writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University in Belfast and now lives in Northumberland where she’s Head of the Creative Writing programme at Newcastle University. She’s also Belfast’s inaugural Poet Laureate. Judges: ‘This collection appropriately strikes a balance between technical mastery and range and depth of enquiry.’


Useful Verses by Richard Osmond (Picador)

Richard Osmond’s debut collection follows in the tradition of the best nature writing, being as much about the human world as the natural, the present as the past. Osmond, a professional forager, has a deep knowledge of flora and fauna as they appear in both natural and human history, as they are depicted in both folklore and herbal – but he views them through a wholly contemporary lens. Chamomile is discussed through quantum physics, ants through social media, wood sorrel through online gambling, and mugwort through a traffic cone. In each case, Osmond offers an arresting and new perspective, and makes that hidden world that lives and breathes beside us vividly part of our own. Richard Osmond was born in 1987. He works as a wild food forager, searching for plants, fruits and fungi among the forests and hedgerows of Hertfordshire and co-owns an award-winning wild food pub, The Verulam Arms, in St Albans. He received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors in 2017.

Judges: ‘A contemporary, agile and original take on the intersection of the natural and human worlds.’

Category winners announced 2nd Jan. 2018;  main winner announced 30th Jan. 2018.



Lorna Goodison: Guinea Woman and Selected Poems

After reading ‘I am Becoming My Mother’, I take a look at Guinea Woman and For My Mother, a collection published in 2000.

Guinea Woman & Selected Poems

Lorna Goodison

paperback       published 2000,    Carcanet

Maybe it is me but there is always a lushness to Lorna Goodison’s poetry.  The feel of her words surrounding you as you read, a sorrow or bittersweet note coloured by the undergrowth of her formative island home.  Even the harshness of some poems are influenced by the colour and warmth of her environment in the Caribbean, others to the more  sombre landscapes of  the North and Europe.  Even here she is able to prick the poems with colour.

Lorna Goodison’s poetry is a distinct counterbalance to the bright-glittering lines of my last read: Smoothie, by Claudine Toutoungi (Carcanet)

Guinea Woman  contains poems from the publications: I Am Becoming My Mother and   Heartease plus a great many as ‘New and Selected’

I mention above ‘lushness’ and depth (undergrowth) and her tone of bittersweet.  I should pick up also on the fact that within these emotions lies a core of flashing steel; or maybe I should refer you to her poem ‘On Becoming a Tiger’ which for me suggests her need to become such, maybe as a self-portrait.  Deeper into this collection and her poems become more extended.  Throughout she frequently places the role of the poet to sit with the people, those torn away and subjugated but still surviving.  Their history, her history, and the catching at truth in the midst of the islands.  Yet despite the hardships of the past or her then present, the enveloping plants and sweet smelling herbs give succour and support.  Her poetry is frequently about the ‘injustice’ (To put it oh-so too mildly!) of people against one another, of the world of transportation and slavery and how that ‘hinge’ has weighed down so many people.  Yet hope, beauty and humanity survive despite the failure of history to truly recompense and the continued need to call for true freedom.

Read.   Elephant.

and:  In city gardens grow no roses as we know them

I have never been to Jamaica but in reading Lorna Goodison I can believe in the heat, the colour, the rhythm of life and language, the humour and both injustice and truth of this sensuous world she shows us.

You can meet her family here and a wealth of people in the pleasure of her verses and the justly acute observations on history and still the present, that sadden and frustrate.  When she is far away from her origins you hear that too.  Her anger and maybe scorn sometimes surprises the reader in poems.

Noting the particular pleasure I had in reading : The Mango of Poetry, I offer this to any poet, would-be or active as a balance to some texts on writing poetry.   I have just see that this poem is is also highlighted on the back cover of her latest full collection since she became Poet Laureate of Jamaica on 17th May 2017 ( until 2020).

All-in-all, this may be a collection published in 2000 but it is a grand set to read and covet.  But then, now a more complete selection is published  perhaps that should become my standard!    Of her work, to quote the last verse of  The Mango of Poetry:   ‘And I say that this too would be/ powerful and overflowing/ and a fitting definition/ of what is poetry.’


I Am Becoming My Mother may be a classic poem, ripe for study, but to gather the fruits of this author you really need to dig only a little deeper and Guinea Woman: New & Selected Poems should satisfy any reader of Poetry whatever their main interest.

I have indicated a few favourites in the text above, others in this memorable collection to recommend are:

To Mr William Wordsworth, distributor of stamps for Westmorland..….( a poem for students of the W.W. too, surely?).

Annie Pengelly,   God a Me,  and  Guinea Woman

I am sorry to have missed her visit to England in July 2017.  Maybe another time.


Smoothie, by Claudine Toutoungi: A Graph Review

         Smoothie                                                     A Graph Review

average 67 points   

By Claudine Toutoungi                                  

A first collection of poetry.


Published by Carcanet.   Sept 2017

£9.99.  Paperback    978 1784104122


62 poems; more than some first collections, all good reading.

With many a light touch the author carries humour and adventure into the surreal; across numerous voices and subjects through beautifully constructed and varied poems.  Images bend between the real and a dreamworld where relationships can hide or be revealed .  You may not feel the touch on your flesh but some poems will pick at old wounds while you smile or even laugh at their words.  The varied voices all carry truth; of a sort!

The very first poem, This is Not a Fad  drops you unexpectedly into the poet’s world and ensures you stay hooked when she insists in the last verse:

this is for real.  I shall remain here,

unmoved by sheep and hedge trimmers,

until you notice me.’

Where is Claudine’s voice?  Insinuating through sunshine and chimera, inventive lines and choicest words with deft undertows of broken glass.


From the first verse of : Apostrophe……….

Tonight the white moon is as slim as a fingernail.

Slick as grammar, this slender curl,

the night sky’s Apostrophe of Possession.’

Or from last verse….. The Local Gods…….

Anubis has a job as an armed guard at the Esna Lock.

Rifle-clad, he lolls smilingly in the sun

but his silhouette does not smile.’

Smoothie is a collection of obvious quality.  Re-reading will be a habit difficult to break.

John Clare: Nature, Criticism and History: Newly Published

John Clare: Nature, Criticism and History

by  Simon Kovesi         Published  4th Sept 2017

£66.99   hardback only

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

ISBN-13: 978-0230277878

  • Size: 8 x 1.8 x 21 cm

This book investigates what it is that makes John Clare’s poetic vision so unique, and asks how we use Clare for contemporary ends. It explores much of the criticism that has appeared in response to his life and work, and asks hard questions about the modes and motivations of critics and editors. Clare is increasingly regarded as having been an environmentalist long before the word appeared; this book investigates whether this ‘green’ rush to place him as a radical proto-ecologist does any disservice to his complex positions in relation to social class, work, agriculture, poverty and women. This book attempts to unlock Clare’s own theorisations and practices of what we might now call an ‘ecological consciousness’, and works out how his ‘ecocentric’ mode might relate to that of other Romantic poets. Finally, this book asks how we might treat Clare as our contemporary while still being attentive to the peculiarities of his unique historical circumstances



  • John Clare and Place              Kövesi, Simon
  • Clare and Ecocentrism           Kövesi, Simon
  • Clare Making Text; Making Text of Clare                  Kövesi, Simon
  • Looking, Painting, Listing, Noting: Clare, Women and Nature        Kövesi, Simon
  • Conclusion: Clare as Our Contemporary; Clare as History                Kovesi, Simon

Simon Kövesi is Professor of English Literature, and Head of the Department of English and Modern Languages, at Oxford Brookes University, UK. 



Guy Butler: ‘On First Seeing Florence’ thoughts

Mostly:     On first seeing Florence                   a long poem

Guy Butler

Published:     New Coin poetry, pamphlet by Rhodes University, Grahamstown.  1968.

As far as I am aware this pamphlet/poem is unavailable.

This pamphlet has a forward as ‘author’s note’ where he explains that it was first written in 1944, shortly before his Armoured Division advanced to the southern banks of the Arno on 4th August 1944.

Not really satisfied with the original version he rewrote and expanded it in 1960 and again in 1964. The floods of the Arno in1966 and his reading of War in the val d’Orcia by iris origo took him back to his poem and finally a satisfaction that it was finished to the best of his ability persuaded him to publish as a pamphlet.

A poem divided into eighteen parts.      This long poem is broken into many stanzas within the individual parts.  Part one starts with three-line stanzas in ABA rhyme scheme with one line-end of a following stanza repeating with one of the previous stanza; in irregular order.   Different parts vary in stanza length but overall maintain approximately regular rhyme schemes within each part.

The subject is initially simple, a first view of Florence, but hugely influencing the feelings of the moment were the author’ situation of a military progress in WW2 toward a city that coalesced his childhood reading of history, legend and literature.    Not only his reading but interest in Arts.   In the poem Guy Butler describes the wide ranges of thought and emotion that flood the senses and through them the links it discloses to his boyhood in South Africa.  A moment when time, place and memory merge.

He shows his personal art and literary tour within the poem.  You can feel that these words, thoughts, emotions, bundled through his mind as he first saw the vista of Florence through the trees as light improved and mist dissolved.  (the ‘mist’ might also be associated as clearing his mind at a later date first composing then editing/re writing later). The poem begins when he had found himself in a situation in view of a’ real’ place of his childhood ‘discoveries’; was actually seeing part of his memory, his past and current influences in mind and reality.  He recalls his boyhood and his world of stories and wonders at his ‘fall’ into adulthood and his wartime circumstances of ever present loneliness and expectation of death.

This amalgamation of emotion into his previous sense of self and seemingly new awareness of his being part of a ‘universal oneness’ is fairly clear.  God was there, clearly, but where now?    One element of the many running through this poem.  For me, I find the artful allusion within the poem is understandable, no doubt appropriate for his intention but looks back into the style of Shelley rather than Wordsworth, albeit not the rhythms.  And here I have to profess to a lower enthusiasm for Shelley than perhaps I should.  Taking Wordsworth’s idea of ‘composing in tranquility’ may also have softened a little of the edge of Guy Butler’s usual style, for my taste.  Not knocking the intention or result.

Guy Butler started this poem amid writing others that appear in his well studied ‘Stranger to Europe’ poem and first collection of the same name.  The shorter poems such as ‘Stranger to Europe’ suit me better.  As does ‘Giotto’s Campanile’.  Another poem, ‘December 1944’ brings in the sights and sounds of  war with religious considerations/questions seeping through.  Talking of the same period as ‘Florence’ they seem more ‘of the moment’ hence more direct.  No surprise just a degree change of preference.  His other poetry of this period, unsurprisingly, resonates through ‘On First seeing Florence’ though their content is more literal or should I say, storytelling, almost a diary line.

As with all good poetry, re-reading ‘On First Seeing Florence’ will always offer new views and insights.  One tip is copying out any poem, or at least part, is also an interesting way to pick trends and threads of ideas of the author.

First section:   ‘On First Seeing Florence’


 Earth shakes, spine jerks, eyes flicker to the flash

   of heavy guns; tense as a dog’s, ears strain

for the obliterating salvo’s crash


upon our bivouac:  but once again

   It crumps far left.  Dun gleam on tank and truck,

on dark tents taut from midnight’s drenching rain


and dreaming towers deep in the campaign’s muck.

   And yet one dresses, dons unusual hopes

and steals abroad to try one’s curious luck.


Far more than lungs are breathing as one gropes

   towards the black hill’s crest to catch a first

close view of Dante’s town.  Long, wooded slopes


secrete a blessed sense of getting lost

   in scented labyrinths, until the Lane

on one side falls away:  sheer sky, where tossed


festoons of soft mauve cirrus sway between

   the moon’s dim burial and the unborn sun.

Transfixed, one stares.  Why should the natural scene


seem to excel itself?  Who dares poke fun

   from such a stage?  Lear’s all-licensed fool

beneath this sky, after the storm is done,


might hold a tattered heart to ridicule.

   Let tragedy alone; sit, smoke and take

a journalistic note, guard a small cold lake:


dark pines, spear straight, in massive phalanxes;

   loose robed poplars, Parthian free and bright,

each poised to wheel and prance in the slightest breeze  –


an old trick this, to take what comes to sight

   from public day into one’s private time,

fling words at it, then watch it catch alight


and, sparkling with live history, consume

  its three-dimensional sheath of metaphor  –

it’s all in old Longinus On the Sublime.


Vanity of vanities  –  as though this war

   should be fate’s winnowing wind that sifts

the grain from all the chaff I’ve lived before.


One waits and smiles at one’s own mental shifts.

   Nun’s fingers fell habitual beads to still

the heart for timeless prayer:  so eyesight lifts


thing after thing, feels each, then lets it fall

   till outer meets with inner mystery,

then pauses, holds it, and is held in thrall:


a pine is no mere non-deciduous tree;

   each poplar celebrates its own white core:

once they were gods and oracles to me,


vast presences whose tall bone-houses bore

   contrasting robes in whose deep shades I found

cool worlds to wander, dream in, and explore;


but now O how disturbingly they send

  their minor chords vibrating through my brain

to where, half over earth’s unending round,


their differing greens rise in a sun-blind plain

   to splash damp shadows on the dazzling ground

about our house.  Now I am there again.

 The threads of religion and mythology run through many of Guy Butlers poems and in the shorter poems are more easily handled than in this long poem. But one of the points of ‘……‘Florence’ is its history of millennial influence as a centre for the arts (of Western and ‘imported’ mostly) on the world.  Guy Butler is heavily influenced by such culture but in other, later works, also absorbs and narrates the stories of his surrounding South African indigenous peoples where his voice moves into honest, colourful images that seem to illuminate the harsh beauty/reality of the villages and scenery around him; where elemental Nature is itself!   This fall-back to depiction and final involvement of nature, especially tree and bush, their place in landscape as more permanent than man, is a large part of his expected long life as a poet as well as one of the ‘war-poets’.

Last verse excerpt from,

Stranger to Europe:     (From Selected Poems,  AD Donker ltd. 1975)

Now, between my restless eyes

And the scribbled wisdom of the ages

Black hills meet moving skies

And through rough hedges a late wind blows;

And in my palm through all the rages

Of lust and love now, always, lie

Brown hawthorn berry, red dogrose.

‘Home Thoughts’, is a poem in the ‘Selected Poems’ which is longer than average at some at 140 lines (broken into stanzas of 10 lines, in three parts).  Which feels its way through the legendary Apollo, linking with Galileo and their worlds and Butler’s ‘sense of communion with them’ (my words) but also about his new awareness of his and past generations’ deep roots in Africa.:

I have not found myself on Europe’s maps,

A world of things, deep things I know endure

But not the context for my one perhaps.

I must go back with my five simple slaves

To soil still savage, in a sense still pure:

My loveless, shallow land of artless shapes

Where no ghosts glamorise the recent graves

And everything in Space and Time just is:

What similes can flash across those gaps

Undramatized by sharp antithesis?

The above is the third from last verse.  Here seems to be Guy’s realisation that Europe is not his personal future, that the climate of South Africa, the soil of the Great Karoo and its own ancient world is where his future lies:   In the last two lines:

‘Cleave, crack the clouds! From his brimming drum

Spill crystal waves of words, articulate!’

A personal calling for his own muse to give him the ability to ‘write’.  And it can be read as a plea of the day (late 1940’s) for his country to awaken to its combined sense of self, beauty and history.  South Africa was calling him home, to stay.







Of  Love and War: Vernon Scannell

Of Love and War.    Vernon Scannell.  1922-2007                           New and Selected Poems


November 16th is the 10th anniversary of the death of Vernon Scannell.(23rd  January1923 -16th November 2007)


This seemed as good as any time to read a self-selected collection of his poetry, some new but most previously published in book or magazine form.  He worked on this collection in his eightieth year and describes in a beautifully written introduction his belief in the art of poetry and its requirements.  Also of his disdain for the written poetry rising at the start of the 21st century and  throw-away performance poetry designed to be ‘disrupted-verse’ ( my ‘word’ not his).

He admitted that poetry had always been performed and ‘performance’ may have included his view of an extravagance that was acceptable for the event but unnecessary for written poetry.   This clashes somewhat with the idea that poetry is best read out loud but maybe it’s the degree.   However he gave no allowance to work turning into the first decade of the 21st Century, which is his perspective, not mine.

I previously reviewed Epithets of War

I read ‘Epithets of War’ not so long ago and was  quite taken up by his style which frequently sought to maintain a more traditional, or at least, Victorian-cum-Tennyson format.  His experiences as soldier at war and boxer may well have helped his appreciation of technique.  His choice of words was no doubt also influenced by a life that was frequented by difficult  physical situations and sights.

A poet of international standing in his day,  numerous prize winnings and often a visiting reader of his work.  From a man who is also known as a soldier from El Alamein to Normandy.  As a boxer both amateur and professional.  Making him a poet of the physical world.

Scannell’s awareness of the subtlety of metre and words can create an unexpected softness from their often terse and blunt meaning.   His poetry, often tough in language, cannot hide the variations of love that filter through.  Vernon Scannell is frequently classified as a war poet (fair enough) but reading his own excellent introduction to this book,  his commitment is to ‘poetry’ and far more can be taken from his poems.  This collection broadens the view you may have of his work.  Two sides of the same coin, you might say with compassion, nostalgia, less than subtle humour tucked in and imagery; all through straightforward storytelling. Each poem a complete entity and leading you onward to the next.

Do read his introduction.

Waiting for the Echo< 2017 PoetryID Anthology

Waiting for the Echo, A 2017 Poetry ID Anthology

A Graph Review.   45 to plus sixty, good reading

Not yet available in bookshops,  best to purchase  via PoetryID website

978 09542867 7        48pp        Paperback         £5.

(note: there is a same-titled poetry collection by a single author, totally different to PoetryID title in cover and content, listed on Amazon)

This time a review of an anthology from Poetry ID, a creative group based in Hertfordshire.   Here we have fourteen different poets, each with three poems included ( one has four ‘extracts’).

Most of the poets here use a story mode with agile rhythms and chorded words but not so much any connecting rhymes, which I do have an occasional yen for.   Anne Copeland’s first poem has numerous end-rhymes in her Summer Evening and Runner-Up by Rose Salina twists some neatly into her short poem on competition rules.   Apart from that we stick with what might well be called Modern or Free, verse if such terms are still used.

It is a collection that ranges across the world, literally, in place, subject and with styles varied enough to keep the reader keen.  From Brexit to weddings, kangaroos to car crash and with love and many tokens between.  There is much to find and re-read.

I always suggest a few favourites, as below but all forty-three make this a very entertaining and at times thought-provoking anthology.  Always good news for a poetry collection!

The venom of a platypus is not lethal     By Jay Ward

Runner-up        By Rose Salina           Modern Dance  By David Van-Cauter

Vase      By Yuko Minamikawa Adams    Syria: the 47     By Nicola Jackson

Jazz club: Tubby Hayes    By Dick Jones