Category: book reviews

‘pack up the moon and dismantle the sun’: some new books

It’s new-book-joy time again, so kettle on, phone off, biscuits out…

A couple of new poetry books have gone into the WTAK collection. The Art of Losingedited by Kevin Young, and In Memoriam: Poems of Bereavement, introduced by Carol Ann Duffy, are both now nestled on the anthologies shelf. The second was a Christmas present (thanks, Naomi!); the first has been my companion for a while.

You can read more about them on the bookshelf pages (hover over the titles). Here, I’ll content myself with saying that, while the first is a long, comprehensive book and the second a mere slip of a slim volume, both are very approachable. And both are wonderful things to offer someone who might be going through loss—or to have on hand if you yourself are in need of comfort and companionship during a grief. Even if neither of those applies, though, these are simply great collections of poems, doing what all good poetry does: reminding us of what it is to be human, reminding us that, almost certainly, whatever we are experiencing, we are not alone in it.


‘In Memoriam: Poems of Bereavement’, edited by Carol Ann Duffy

In her introduction, Duffy reveals the intention behind this collection: ‘we hope that these poems… will hold your hand’. The image, taken from one of the poems included in the book, is simple, clear, effective: it’s about comfort and companionship, recognition and acknowledgement. And I’d say the book does what Duffy puts on the tin.

There’s a mixture of poems you’re likely to have encountered already and poems which are probably new; similarly, there are a lot of familiar voices—Tennyson, Rosetti, Thomas, St. Vincent Millay, Thomas, and Duffy herself—as well as new ones, and anonymous/traditional texts too. Some are suitable for reading at a funeral or memorial; some feel more intimate. I particularly like the fact that such a range of moods is represented in this volume: shocked, angry, bewildered, wry, consoled, consoling, defiant, felled by loss… even in such a small book, something to find you in most moods.

And if you’re new to the poetry of loss, this would be a great place to start.


new stuff on the bookshelves

Please imagine the inviting smoothness of the unbroken spine, the crisp feel of as-yet-un-turned pages, and that lovely new-book smell as you read this….

Two new items are up on the what the afternoon knows bookshelves. There’s Poem for the Day (1)a great anthology of poems, which is ideal as a present, and/or for encouraging you to read poetry. And there’s a remarkable bit of non-fiction, Jane Shilling’s The Stranger in the Mirror: a memoir of middle age. This is an extraordinary book, honest, moving, and beautifully written.

Would love to hear from anyone else who’s read, or is reading these.


The Art Of Losing, ed. Kevin Young

This is a wide-raging anthology of verse from a range of different cultures. Taking loss and grieving as its topic, the anthology is arranged into different sections. It doesn’t use the well-known—and sometimes unfairly-maligned—Kubler-Ross five stages of grieving. Instead, it groups the poems under: ‘reckoning’, ‘regret’, ‘remembrance’, ‘ritual’, ‘recovery’ and ‘redemption’. Apart from betraying the editor’s capacity skilfully to use alliteration (!), this grouping is, I think, a useful one, helping the reader to navigate the book and have a better chance of finding the right text for how that particular moment feels.

For me The Art of Losing is more stimulating than other collections of poems about loss and grief simply because every time I pick it up I meet a new author, or new poem, in which I can delight. Perhaps this is, in part, due to its focus on new and contemporary writing: Young explains that while he he has included a few ‘absolutely necessary’ C19th poems, he has ‘tried to stick to poems that are contemporary classics, or soon ought to be’. Other grief anthologies will give you wisdom, heartbreak and love from across the centuries, reminding you of what is universal in human experience over time. Those anthologies have their place: treasure remains treasure no matter how old it is. But Young gives us the chance to uncover new treasures.

There are too many authors included for me to be able to give any kind of representative list. All I can say is: buy this book. Whether you are grieving now, have grieved, work with those who grieve, or simply want to meet some new poems that will find you, then I don’t think this collection will disappoint. Treat yourself to it.