The best poetry books to buy in 2022

Why should you read a book of poems? Poetry is just something you were forced to do at school and is about fields of daffodils and wearing purple in old age, isn’t it? You could see it that way, but you’d miss out on a wealth of thought, ideas, and humor. Things have moved on since ‘The boy stood on the burning deck from which all but him had escaped’, to which Spike Milligan famously added the line ‘Twit’.

Modern poetry is no longer enslaved by rhyme and meter, but is largely in what is called free verse, the defining characteristics of which are a condensation of thought and a sense of rhythm not normally found in prose. In many ways these make it easier to read.

The subject has also turned far more to the trials and idiosyncrasies of living in the modern world than rewriting Greek classics. Poetic language these days is more colloquial than in the poems you may have studied, although there are almost always hidden meanings beneath the surface.

A collection of poems can be a selection of individual poems on all sorts of different topics, or it can have a theme that explores different aspects of a main topic. It can even be a narrative, with each poem following the previous one to build a complete story.

The fact that poems are generally short pieces makes it much easier to delve into a book of poetry than a novel or nonfiction book. You can read a poem or two when you have a minute and still find the experience satisfying because the poem is complete in its own terms.

Here we have collected a selection of the best poetry books published in 2022. In them you will find poems about the pandemic, family problems, coming to terms with your sexuality and even possible terrorism. However, there is an entire book of love poems that explores the subject in much greater breadth than you might expect.

There are light poems and serious poems, those that are easy to read and those that require extra commitment. All of them, we believe, are worthy of your attention and may just change your view of what contemporary poetry has to offer.

But first, if you’re getting back into shape, we’ll look at what to consider when choosing the best poetry book for you.

READ NEXT: The best books to get teens reading

How to choose the best poetry book for you

Prices

The ‘slim volumes’ that poetry is usually published in won’t break the bank. Short books, often known as pamphlets or chapbooks, are 30 or 40 pages long and usually cost £8 or £9. Full-length collections, around 80 pages, may only set you back £10, but price per poem is not the main criterion.

You should research poets whose work you think you might like and invest in their books. There are plenty of sources online where you can sample the works of different poets. Online poetry magazines and websites such as www.poetrysociety.org.uk and www.poetryfoundation.org provide thousands of poems by hundreds of poets for you to explore.

Subgenres

Although poetry itself is a niche genre, it has its own subgenres that can help you decide what might appeal. Three useful divisions are book, performance and experimental, although these are loose groupings.

Book poems are what you would expect in a book of poetry. They are primarily meant to be read off the page, where you can re-read any lines that require extra attention to get their full meaning.

Performance poems are those whose primary method of delivery is spoken word. They are designed to be understood in a single hearing, although they may still have more to uncover in subsequent hearings … or readings.

Experimental poems derive their power from the language they use and the juxtaposition of words or phrases. With a strong surrealist overtone, experimental poets set out to trigger thought patterns in their readers so that it may require more effort for deeper understanding.

READ NEXT: Heal, learn and get motivated with the best self-help books

The best poetry books you can buy in 2022

1. Safety in Numbers by Roger McGough

Price: £8.49 | Buy now from Amazon

Probably the best-known contemporary poet in the country, Roger McGough still tours his brand of zany tags on British culture, even though he is now well into his eighties. Safety in Numbers runs with several themes, including the pandemic, how to write poems and even being a narrator and voice-over artist. McGough has always been fond of a formal, rhyming poem, and there are plenty here, but also a number of more free-form pieces and the occasional prose poem.

There is a lot of characteristically clever imagery and puns, such as in Warning Signs, a list of aphorisms, ‘Time to hit the road? You stumble, get in the way’. McGough is aware of her age, and several of these poems acknowledge that more time has passed than arrived. In the neat three stanza Tenses, past, present and future all speak their minds, but the past has the best lines ‘Why is past tense? / All the unfinished business / And no way back’.

Key Details – Author: Roger McGough; Publisher: Penguin; Published: 2022; Length: 96; Size: 13 x 20 cm; ISBN: 978-0241517352

2. Be feared by Jane Burn

Price: £7.99 | Buy now from Amazon

There is much in this book that grips and won’t let go. This comes not only from the breadth of Jane Burns’ vocabulary, but in the juxtapositions she uses to achieve her effects. She describes a tea bag as ‘sunk in a cup like a mouse on drugs’ and the breath of her horse as ‘his sumptuous cathedral / Padded with breath’. There is a lot of spiritual content in the book, but it is used to express many different ideas, rarely referring to conventional religion.

Burns often includes two or more poems in sequence on similar themes: mirrors, horses, lesbian encounters. She describes herself as a ‘working class bisexual with a late diagnosis of autism’ and her neurodiversity informs much of the book, sometimes overtly, often more subtly. As the title suggests, this is not a book to be taken lightly, but it rewards close, contemplative reading with a strength of purpose and perhaps a hint of Sylvia Plath.

Key Details – Author: Jane Burn; Publisher: Nine Arches Press; Published: 2022; Length: 72; Size: 16 x 23 cm; ISBN: 978-1913437275

3. The Arctic by Don Paterson

Price: DKK 15 | Buy now from Amazon

The title might suggest a collection of expedition poems, but these are so diverse that you’re unlikely to find them in a single journey. Everything from punchy four-liners to multi-page sequences and from loving poems about his father to a set of cool tricks for kids with just the right Dahl-esque tweaks to give them bite. Don Paterson is a master of aphorisms and maxims, as in number viii of Ten Maxims: ‘My lad, forget her not, / Heartbroken as thou art; / It’s a waste of a good wound / To heal without a scar’.

The Arctic actually refers to a bar in Dundee which is fictionalized in this book as part of a series of longer poems. Here it’s a paradise for disparate characters after some apocalyptic event. All in all, a mixture of light and dark, of tight rhymes and flowing free verse makes this a captivating journey.

Key Details – Author: Don Patterson; Publisher: Faber; Published: 2022; Length: 82; Size: 15 x 22 cm; ISBN: 978-0571338184

4. Woodview by Robert Garnham

Price: DKK 12 | Buy now from Amazon

Robert Garnham is best known for his witty, quirky spoken word performances in the Southwest and nationally. Woodview shows a more contemplative side of his work, but the title covers more than nature poems.

The collection contains a lot of autobiography, including various gay encounters ‘my intentions at the time could easily have been / misunderstood / for what they actually were’. These poems are about growing up before settling into an adult persona, and an encounter with a girl on a trans-Canadian train shows this temptation ‘no spur of the moment’s pristine shimmer of psyche’.

Woodview contains poems, short prose and things in between. Although Garnham covers love and loss and other serious topics, he infuses them with his signature humor. He describes his grandmother’s job in the 1930s of “patching through calls / with apparent ease”. / Such a / smooth operator’.

Key Details – Author: Robert Garnham; Publisher: Beat press; Published: 2022; Length: 76; Size: 15 x 21 cm; ISBN: 978-1471710377

5. Fairoz by Moniza Alvi

Price: DKK 10 | Buy now from Amazon

In one way, Moniza Alvi’s book is an easy read. The language is straightforward and it is written as a series of poems that tell a story. In another, it tugs at the heartstrings, as that story is about a young Muslim girl, Fairoz, and her encounters, primarily online, with a Muslim extremist, Tahir. Alvi uses a recurring metaphor of characters appearing in a forest for these interactions to great effect.

There are several different forms used to punctuate the pieces, with some short to near-haiku length, others like separate prose poems that illustrate Fairoz’s thoughts. In Whose there?, a memory of schoolyard racism, ‘older, younger joining in and a clear/squealing voice ‘You’re all murderers!’ offers a clue as to why she may be susceptible to radical influence. Another is her home, where her mother is ‘a version of the Snow Queen’.

Is Fairoz succumbing to radicalization? No spoilers here; you will have to read the book.

Key Details – Author: Moniza Alvi; Publisher: Bloodaxe Books; Published: 2022; Length: 104 pages; Size:16 x 23 cm; ISBN: 978-1780376004

6. Towards a General Theory of Love by Clare Shaw

Price: DKK 11 | Buy now from Amazon

As the title suggests, this is a book of love poems, but more of an exploration of aspects of love; familial, romantic and how Clare Shaw feels about herself. The techniques used are varied and clever, but never overcomplicated. She is fond of repetition, often with lists that expand her thoughts, as with Elegy for My Grandma, where, after reviewing what happened towards the end of her life, she writes ‘Then she was a field / without footprints on it’.

A very appropriate entity in this collection is the Ape character, based on Harry Harlow’s experiments with young monkeys. He gave them ‘mothers’ of either stuffed cotton or wire frame and recorded their reactions. Shaw’s Monkey poems are interspersed throughout the book, giving it an added perspective on the conditions she describes. An early piece is entitled ‘This is a very small poem’, but there are no small poems in this astonishingly real and open study of love.

Key Details – Author: Clare Shaw; Publisher: Bloodaxe Books; Published: 2022; Length: 80; Size: 14 x 22 cm; ISBN: 978-1780376042

7. How the Light Changes by Steve Spence

Price: DKK 11 | Buy now from Amazon

Steve Spence is a montage poet, meaning that his poems originate from other texts. His skill comes in choosing their sources and especially in his juxtapositions. Spence is a master at making these connections by combining lines to draw his own additional meanings. He does not do it in a serious, academic way, but is often light in tone. The book starts with a set of short-lined poems, giving them an easy-to-read, fragmented appearance. In Running For Cover he writes ‘Extreme tides / means that sea / predators can / find their way / some way inland. We can / now see increasing / numbers of police / on the street’.

Themes keep cropping up in the later, broader poems, including cosmology, economics and fishing, but it’s the connections between the various thoughts that keep you thinking about Spence’s lines long after you’ve finished reading the poems; “If possible, leave your car before it sinks.”

Key Details – Author: Steve Spence; Publisher: Shearsman Books; Published: 2021; Length: 96; Size: 16 x 23 cm; ISBN: 978-1848617902

Leave a Comment