There's a lot to be said for brilliantly designed and stunningly produced books, second fiddle though these things are - and certainly should be - to brilliant, stunning writing. When the two are combined, though, the book lover really can't ask for much more. And so it is with these recent Faber Firsts reissues: beautiful, highly affordable hardbacks of classic contemporary collections, including Armitage's Kid, Cope's Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis, Paterson's Nil Nil and Larkin's The Whitsun Weddings.
They seem a continuation of the beautiful Faber 80th Anniversary Poetry Classics, selected poems of various poets which include similarly stunning designs and not only make the perfect gift for the newcomer to British and Irish poetry, but are tempting to those of us who already own other, doubtlessly less stylish, selecteds of Yeats, Plath, Hughes, Auden, Betjeman and Eliot.
Good news, then, for those of us who live in or around Sheffield, as the Blackwell Bookshop on Mappin St (just off West St) has the poetry section bursting with these, and all on offer at 3 for the price of 2, alongside a healthy selection of titles from the Poet to Poet series, also 3 for 2, all of which contain an illuminating introduction and selection from a great poet's work by a contemporary (I especially recommend Michael Hofmann's John Berryman, Maurice Riordan's Hart Crane, and August Kleinzahler's Thom Gunn). As Tony Williams puts it: "I covet the books even though I already own other editions".
The fifth issue of literary ezine Blackbox Manifold has just been published, and well worth reading it is too; the usual mix of big names and new voices and poems of all styles, subjects and schools. And so you can read new work from George Szirtes, Sharon Olds, Vidyan Ravinthiran, Carolyn Hart and Susan Wicks, among others. I've a couple of poems included, too. There are also reviews by Vahni Capildeo, an exciting young poet in her own right (check out her stuff in Roddy Lumsden's recent generational anthology, Identity Parade), and by Adam Piette, co-founder and editor of the magazine.
Also worth checking out is the prose and poetry forum Ink, Sweat & Tears, which features a new poem, piece of prose writing or visual artwork almost every day. Recent highlights include Helen Mort's 'The Lovesick', which somehow manages to conjure genuine emotion from a Carry On scene, Helen Ivory's amusing account of her time at Latitude Festival, and Dan Wyke's atmospheric 'Saturday Night in St Ives'. Yesterday, my short version of Eugenio Montale's 'Il Balcone' also appeared there: an absolutely beautiful short poem in the original Italian I'm told. I at least hope I've captured its general feel. In any case, do drop in on the zine's site from time to time: there's sure to be plenty more fascinating stuff added in the future.