Poetry: Songs of elegance and of experience

Christmas books of the year

It's been a tempestuous year for poetry, with the Poetry Society riven by strife and, at the time of writing, two poets withdrawing from the T S Eliot prize in a row over its hedge-fund sponsors. But how has poetry fared on, rather than off the page?

Rachael Boast won the Forward prize for Best First Collection for the elegant and erudite Sidereal (Picador, £8.99), hymning love, drink and star-spotting. The best collection was taken by John Burnside's haunting Black Cat Bone (Cape, £10), full of mysteriously beautiful and enigmatic pieces drawing on folklore, myth and magic, often with an undercurrent of terror. In his fine debut collection The Frost Fairs (Salt, £9.99), John McCullough turns out tender love poems and imaginative thought experiments with equal aplomb.

John Whale's intellectually playful Waterloo Teeth (Carcanet, £9.95) is a first collection that ranges through swathes of history and literature. In its pages you'll meet the prehistoric Armley hippo, Tom Paine's bones, the dying Mary Wollstonecraft and George Stubbs's Whistlejacket: "At last I've boiled it down to this:/ taut tawny grace on an earthy ground,/ pure horse all in its own space."

A moving prose memoir of a Philadelphia childhood lies at the heart of Dan Burt's Certain Windows (Lintott, £9.95), a generous and affecting work. The poems in Sean O'Brien's November (Picador, £8.99) haunt liminal spaces, especially railways and stations, and summon up and elegise the lost. Tonally as grey as the titular month, the poems still sparkle with O'Brien's grim wit. There's also a wild fantasmic ride in the form of a free translation of Rimbaud's "The Drunken Boat".

Another translation, Alice Oswald's Memorial (Faber, £12.99) is a curious work, a sort of retelling of The Iliad filleting out everything but the naming of the dead and the descriptions of their gory ends. But the book feels padded: lists of capitalised names trail down otherwise empty pages, some pages bear only four lines, and many stanzas are repeated, as if the poet is telling us we're not bright enough to get it first time.

Finally, Carol Ann Duffy's The Bees (Picador, £14.99) is as musical, witty and fast-moving as we've come to expect from the Poet Laureate. Her "taking a rhyme for a walk" approach often pays off, but occasionally the relentless wordplay feels glib. This is nonetheless an ample and entertaining volume, beautifully produced, and destined to grace many a Christmas sack this year.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam