The best recent poetry – review roundup


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A Year of Last Things by Michael Ondaatje; The Silence by Gillian Clarke; Joy in Service on Rue Tagore by Paul Muldoon; May Day by Jackie Kay; I Cannot Be Good Until You Say It by Sanah Ahsan; Grief’s Alphabet by Carrie Etter

A Year of Last Things by Michael Ondaatje (Cape, £14.99)
After a break of nearly 20 years, Ondaatje has returned to poetry, ruminating on sliding doors moments in life, “as those torn lines remind us / how to recall”. Through his characteristic mix of lyric and prose poems, he articulates feelings we struggle to acknowledge, especially the fact that nothing lasts: one poem is called The Great Impermanence. “So many things to learn, keep on learning / during these last days, watching us / with an awareness that we perhaps / have not learned but shall.” This is a generous, moving book.

The Silence by Gillian Clarke (Carcanet, £12.99)
The latest collection from the former national poet of Wales opens in 2020’s first lockdown, finding uplift outside the window: “the blackbird’s Latin all day long / [ …] / his song on the spire of the beech: / veni vidi vici, veni vidi vici, / this is mine mine mine.” Clarke’s skill lies in using simple language to record moments of great beauty, no less lovely for sometimes being familiar. She reminds us of the comfort to be drawn from paying attention to nature: “After long isolation, in times like these, / in the world’s darkness, let us love like trees.”

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