Penguin Modern Poets 6

The sixth edition of this series is a pantheon of contemporary female poets.

The book opens with Claudia Rankine. Through her poems we accompany a series of women as they navigate racism, the strange intimacy of pregnancy and the difficulties facing women who choose to step from the expected path of motherhood. The poems here are a real mix of styles and format, always pushing boundaries and filled with strange and unsettling images. In ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’, Rankine perfectly encapsulates modern malaise in phrases such as:

“When you are alone and too tired even to turn on any of your devices, you let yourself linger in a past stacked among your pillows.”

Denise Riley’s Say Something Back is one of my favourite collections so it was a delight to read ‘A Part Song ‘ in its entirety here. It’s a phenomenal long piece on grief – beautiful and affecting that pulls together snippets of the mundane with the metaphysical. Having recently read her exquisite treatise on grief Time Lived, Without its Flow the later poems included here resonated even more deeply- particularly the moving ‘Listening for Lost People’ which ends on the wonderfully heart-breaking yet comforting:

“The souls of the dead are the spirit of language:

you hear them alight inside that spoken thought.”

The third and final poet in this collection is Maggie Nelson, author of the strange and intimate Bluets (extracts included here). The poems included here are as playful in form and subject matter as I would have expected from Nelson, melding the poetic with the prose. The extracts from Jane: A Murder are particularly intimate and leave the reader with a sense of the unresolved – the poem ‘3. Silver Lake’ beautifully conjures the promise of youth and sense of loss when young life is cut short through a dream-like description of a fading photograph:

“this lush, fuzzy sliver

in which two people

once spread out

on damp sand.”

Published by nicolaheaney

I'm a poet based in Bristol via Derry, St Andrews and Madrid. When I'm not writing or performing my own poetry, I'm reading or trotting about with my camera. There is sometimes drink taken.

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Wood Bee Poet

Poems, thoughts...etc.

The Pledge

Fired! Irish Women Poets and the Canon

Nicola Heaney

Writer & Poet


'She would say to discover / the true depth of a well, / drop a stone, / start counting.' - Andrew Greig

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