A roundup of the best recent poetry






Music for the Dead and Resurrected By Valzhyna Mort “Do you know what a ghost looks like? / It looks like blood.” Valzhyna Mort’s newest book in English could not feel more timely. Mort, a poet and translator from Belarus who now lives in the US, gives us wrenching poems of war, and of the struggle of living under the threats of imperial forces. Here, the languages of home and conflict twist together: “On the borderlines of my motherland / wet laundry claps in the wind like gunfire.” Mort communicates the terrible psychological impacts of oppression in the grand tradition of Soviet-era poets such as Mandelstam and Akhmatova. Each rich, dazzlingly intelligent poem brings to life the agonising toll history takes on the innocent. Out for Air By Olly Todd Where Mort’s writing gives us a grand sweep of politics and history, Todd’s poems are fuelled by a very specific type of experience – the motion and exploration provided by his former day job as a professional skateboarder. These energetic, rhythmic and staccato poems slip through New York, the Pacific coast, London and the north-west of England, capturing the precise joys of place. This playful writing delights in the navigation of our contemporary environment, whether through a well-timed “kickflip” or a nocturnal adventure with friends. Hiding to Nothing By Anita Pati Pati’s excoriating debut collection is one of painful yet necessary release. These vivid poems explore suppression and silencing – the violence of empire, the toxicity of whiteness, the pressures placed upon the female body. At the centre is a long sequence, Bloodfruit, which draws on anonymous interviews. These confronting, polyvocal dialogues ring with the energy of longheld suffering, finally released into a shared language. “When you’re a white / woman with a brown baby, you’re / a slag; when you’re a brown woman / with a pale baby, you’re the nanny.” This visceral, politically astute collection announces a courageous new voice in British poetry. Emblem By Lucy Mercer Emblem is a poetic conversation with the 16th-century emblematist Andrea Alciato, bringing image and text together and illuminating a forgotten form. The collection traces themes of motherhood and selfhood. In the poem Obscurity, an emblem depicting a blooming black-and-white flower meets the lines “When my son laughs, his face like the many / star-buds of the Hoya wax flower / suffuses together in a shining epicentre” – the glowing vocabulary of a mother’s love refracted and made brighter by the image that supports it. Mercer pursues the intellectual potentialities and paradoxes of emblems in surreal, startling poems that shift our understanding of what language can express. The Golden Thread By Amali Gunasekera The Golden Thread positions Gunasekera, who grew up in Sri Lanka and is now based in Cumbria, as one of our deftest writers of environmental flux and change. Her poetry is never sentimental or trite, constantly innovating with the language of environmental description at the same time as she explores her personal experience. “Spring arrives like using the cause of sickness to / heal the sickness. The wind rose, cherry blossoms / ruptured making the grass wince with cargo … ” This collection makes “the green mind” visible to us: the breathing, thinking agency of the more-thanhuman world.