Books of the Year 2017

If 2017 was a lean year for poetry, as someone has said, I can’t say I noticed. Daljit Nagra’s The British Museum (Faber) introduced a clear-eyed, politically incisive approach to the poet’s established facility for socio-cultural commentary, in poems as rangy and playful as ever. Among debuts, Kayo Chingonyi’s Kumukanda (Chatto) is every bit as good as I expected, from its unflinching negotiations with lingering racial divisions, to its playfully nostalgic hymns to mixtape assembly, as well as rap and hip-hop’s influence on the poet. Simon Armitage’s The Unaccompanied (Faber) also deserves a mention, negotiating our strange times through precise image-making, conversational wit and formal skill. For poetry pamphlets, business again is booming, with too many to list here (though The Poetry Business has the lion’s share; hence their recent Best Publisher win at the Michael Marks). But one that’s definitely worth seeking out is Al McClimens’ Keats on the Moon (Mews Press). McClimens’ is a casual, wry and chatty voice, uncompromising and guarded, but capable of strange tenderness. 


I Dream I'm the Death of Jeff Buckley
- a new poem

You know the folklore -
how I assumed the force and dredge
of the river’s waters, carried

the melancholy song of one
already lost to the world,
carried along and under.

A wonder, his music was whatever
whispered through the grassy
banks that day, bittersweet

glister of love and memory.
But we were one by then -
impossible to tell form from flow,

matter from depths, as the song
becomes the singer, the singer
lost in song. We are gone,

and all that remains of that dream
dredged moment is flotsam:
the held note, an empty bottle,

this lump in the throat
as the record gives grace.

poem by Ben Wilkinson


From the thumping heartbeat of the distance runner to the roar of football terraces across the decades, Ben Wilkinson’s debut confronts the struggles and passions that come to shape a life. Beginning with an interrogation of experiences of clinical depression and the redemptive power of art and running, the collection centres on a series of vivid character portraits, giving life to some of football's legends. By turns frank, comic, sinister and meditative – ‘the trouble with you, son, is that all your brains are in your head’ – these poems uncover the beautiful game’s magic and absurdity, hopes and disappointments, as striking metaphors for our everyday dramas. Elsewhere there are tender love poems, political satire and strange dream worlds, in an urgently lyrical book of poems that take many forms and modes of address: pantoum, sonnet, sestina; epistle, confession, dramatic monologue. All are united by a desire to speak with searching clarity about matters of the heart. Way More Than Luck is a book that shows how pain often comes to define our happiness; how we keep on in a world of chance, uncertainty and change.

The beautiful game inspires some beautiful poems in Ben Wilkinson's terrific debut collection Way More Than Luck, but there's far more than football to focus on here. For Jung, Liverpool was the pool of life and this book is full of life too; politically astute, well-made and formally experimental poems celebrate even its sadness in fresh language, natural rhythms and subtle music. Wilkinson is, of course, also a well-known critic and writers he admires inform and are honoured in these pages, their various parts given unity by carefully-developed themes and imagery all served up with relish and humour. This makes for a very pleasurable as well as absorbing read that we are way more than lucky to have in one volume.
-- Ian Duhig

Due from Seren Books in early 2018. 

Pre-order on Amazon