Favourite Individual Collections

Daljit Nagra - 23 February 2011

I enjoy reading slim volumes of poetry, especially individual collections. I find this an easily manageable thing to carry around with me both physically and mentally. I feel it gives me the transitory workings of a poet's mind and a snapshot of their obsessions at a given point in their life.

Gaining some control over an individual collection helps build my confidence about reading poetry. I enjoy the idea of having absorbed a whole text to some degree. Good poets will usually work from a certain place in the dictionary and have particular textures and themes that may tightly or loosely bind the collection.

I wonder what your favourite collections are, the ones you find yourself frequently dipping into? I'll list some of my favourite volumes at the moment and then I'd like to read about your favourites and why you like them. Perhaps we can inspire each other to try out books we have yet to read.

Soem of my favourites (in no order)and some reasons:
James Fenton - Out of Danger (mix of gritty political verse and stark love poetry)
Jo Shapcott - Of Mutability (emotional depth, beautifully structured poems)
Stephen Knight - Dream City Cinema (exciting experiments with form)
John Ashbery - Houseboat Days (incredibly rich poems)
Seamus Heaney - North (dense geographical diction)
Derek Walcott - Omeros (grand, insightful about post-colonial states of being)
Jorie Graham - Erosion (complex, philosophically themed observations)

These are just a few of my favourites at the moment, but I'm sure if asked in a few weeks time I'd probably pick very different books.


This is a toughie, Daljit. Some of my favourites include Ted Hughes' "The Hawk in the Rain" (I love his work, especially his animal poems), Kathryn Simmonds' "Sunday in the Skin Launderette" (Love the warmth and humour of her poems), Hilary Menos' "Berg" (Very witty and tender), Meirion Jordan's "Moonrise" (Imaginative and very sci-fi ish), Frank O'Hara's "Lunch Poems" (Like taking a walk down Fifth Avenue in New York, O'Hara is a master of painting all those little details we often miss in the city), Simon Armitage's "Zoom!" (one of the great recorders of the everyday)

Gosh, that is interesting to see what you both select to carry around with you. Some poets I knew, most I did not so that means I have some more poets to go looking for. Instead of carrying around particular poets I find I have a changing small stack of poetry books sitting on the dining table. Today it is Clare ( for his succinct attention to truthful detail), the late Malcolm Lowry 'Selected Poems,' ( not sure why I like him except I keep going back to him - after reading reviews I got his novels as well via the Internet but I found those trying ), Fiona Farrell a New Zealand poet with her 'the Pop-Up Book of Invasions' re visiting her ancestoral land of Ireland, 'Cities' the latest of Elaine Feinstein and the latest copy of American Poetry Review. I realise on looking at the list, except for the APR they are all dealing with separation from roots - mnnn. I'll think on that.

One poet I haven't heard of before, and mentioned by Christine, is Meirion Jordan. And Lois mentions Fiona Farrell who is also unknown to me. I will look them both up. These types of lists always throw up inspiring new names. Thank-you for your suggestions!

I feel ashamed that I rarely read poetry in 'whole collections'. I read bits & bits from many collections at the same time. But three books which are 'THE collection' which I read like a whole meal are Sylvia Plath's 'Ariel' (because as you go on, you feel colder and colder and colder and better and better and better), Carol Ann Duffy's 'Rapture' (because the album strings together soo well like pearls and you feel...oh, 'raptured'), and Caroline Bird's 'Looking Through Letterboxes' (because it's like racing down a crazy colourful violent circus of adolescence, and then, BANG!, at the end)

testing, please ignore

I think it is worth reading a collection, at some point, from beginning to end, as poets tend to agonise about the order of the collection. Some poets like to foreground a linear narrative whilst others like to complicate the sequence so that you're kept unsettled.

Collections usually run with a few themes as poets obssess about certain ideas and poetic forms over a period of time.

Jo Shapcott's latest collection Of Mutability needs to be read from the first poem as she carefully embeds the over-riding emotion and narrative of the poem in the opening few pages, and the rest of book demands to be read in terms of these opening poems or some of the depth of the book is lost.

Having said all that, I tend to dip into books and then if I like what I've read so far I'll read the book in set order.

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Glossary term


This can refer to a poet's style and reflect their attitudes and ideologies or it can refer to the speaker or first person narrator in a poem.