Baroque Books of the Year, part three: books by friends and others

Now, after the weekend’s death-induced delay, here is the hard bit. I tried when making List Number One to be really scrupulous, and think only of the books. I chose those books that intersected in some way with my own personal project: in some way, each of them made me want to write, or changed how I wrote about something. I ignored who they were by, and strove not to favour books by friends – though a couple are by friends.

This list contains several books that could have been on that other list. So here goes:

The City With Horns, by Tamar Yoseloff – the book that’s perhaps loomed largest in my year! We launched our new collections together and have given numerous joint readings, not quite a New New York School, but still regaling audiences with our various poems about art and artfulness… The Jackson Pollock sequence here is brilliant. Published by Salt.

Neptune Blue, by Simon Barraclough – witty, playful, clever, rueful, the adjectives stack up. Though thoroughly invested in the world-right-now, movies and trains and being in town and the absurdities of daily life, Simon keeps a sympathetic eye on the planets. Earth is ‘God’s gobstopper’ and Neptune, like Love, is Blue. From Salt.

The Tempest Prognosticator, by Isobel Dixon – minute observations mingled, often, with joy: animals, people, quirky corners of existence, the paradox of creation and even mere being. The idea is beauty, the beauty of singularity. A distinctly South African sensibility infuses everything: from ‘Beetle, Fish & Fetish’ to ‘Days of Miracle and Wonder’. Salt again.

Professor Glass, by Matthew Caley – a character study revealed in a series of incidents in the life of this hopeless academic, as he swoons inappropriately over his students, unable to tell if his feelings are even real or if they’re just part of the general theoretical miasma… wit, brio, Kristeva, and lots of great live readings. Donut Press.

Low Tide Lottery, by Claire Trévien – a sparky, refreshing, linguistically vibrant pamphlet,  Anglo-French in its diction and its ideas, from the Salt Modern Voices series.

Il Avilit, by Phil Brown – another début, with wit and language and interplay between times and the ideas of times, and character studies, and more… from Nine Arches Press.

Beloved, in Case You’ve Been Wondering, by Wayne Holloway-Smith. An Ernest Dowson for our times, and I mean that in a good way. With the proviso that the poet is happily married and a parent and not slowly killing himself with absinthe and cheap beer. A Donut pamphlet.

What To Do, by Kirsten Irving – a pamphlet, also, in preparation for next year’s Salt collection. Inventive with form, subject-matter and perspective, with humour and modesty, this is a promising delight. HappenStance.


The Vocation of Poetry, by Durs Grünbein – this isn’t even poetry! It’s a tiny little volume of essays about it – which, you realise as you are reading it, are already seminal to your understanding and experience of the art form. Autobiographical snippets tracing intellectual journeys from childhood on, reminiscent of Brodsky in that way, but of a new generation. Hearing Grünbein talk – not even read his poetry – at the Southbank was one of my experiences of the year. From Upper West Side Philosophers, Inc.

The King’s English, by Kinsgley Amis – posthumously published A-Z of contemporary usage. Lively, funny, very sensible and wise, full of anecdote and insight, and rather indispensible if you are seriously engaged with the business of using words. Penguin.

Even now there are honourable mentions. I loved Rachael Boast’s Sidereal. The little anthology-stroke-pamphlet The Art of Wiring not only  provides a chance to read a selection of poems by the elusive  Luke Heeley – it also contains Liane Strauss’ new signature poem, ‘We’re All Fine’. There’s Roddy Lumsden’s Terrific Melancholy. And then there’s – oh, yes – the Michael Hofmann I was reading in the summer…

Oh, and there’s more, of course.




Previous post:

Next post: