For Poetry Day Ireland 2020, Verbal staff member Colin Dardis picks his highlights of poetry collections from recent years, by writers from the North of Ireland.

Glen Wilson: An Experience on the Tongue (Doire Press, 2019)

Many 'exciting new voices' have been heralded in poetry, but this debut at once feels familiar and yet uncommonly fresh. Wilson has made the pastoral tradition his own, blending together echoes of Heaney and Hughes with a modern voice that touches upon feelings of loss, humility and celebration. The poems move from simple astonishment with nature, to the often complex pressures of contemporary life, showing a writer who is keenly aware not only of past ways, but also the dangers of an encroaching future. An Experience on the Tongue is sure to be realised as a cornerstone of Northern Irish poetry in years to come.

Linda McKenna: In the Museum of Misremembered Things (Doire Press, 2020)

Doire Press is a mighty champion of new voices in Irish poetry, and as expected, In the Museum of Misremembered Things is everything you might want from a debut: a voice that feels singular, unique and informed. Stepped in intimacies and peculiarities from yesteryear, McKenna is as much historian as poet here. Not afraid to question, ridicule or adulate where necessary, these poems show us that while the centuries may change, civilisation – and what we inherit from the scope of humanity – rarely does.

Gaynor Kane: Memory Forest (Hedgehog Press, 2019)

From exploring our fragile temporality, to finding celebration, Memory Forest never strays too far from the ultimate certainty: death. Kane's stance is one of assurance, always believing that rebirth is possible, whether through a shift in perception, or the mining of memories. Direct and defiant, these poems mix grim pathos and good humour to find a mood beyond bereavement, where there may be suffering, yet it still feels good to be alive.

Joseph Allen: Clabber Street Blues (Greenwich Exchange, 2018)

Allen, as always, is reflective and forward-looking in his writing, balancing in his hand the certainty of death against the uncertainty of time. These poems read like existential death notices, thick with the ‘betrayal of childhood’, where ‘youth is old’ like the character of a Tom Waits song. Allen’s universe is inhabited by family, the lost and the unemployed, each unable to share their pain. Within, a damnation is painted where hope is found in music, in writing, and in keeping oneself a sensible distance apart from the world, a distance frequently impinged by the young and the dead.

Joan Newmann: Dead End (Summer Palace Press, 2018)

A playful, mischievous and sometimes sombre collection clearly about death; the pun of the title indicating that time is running out, the mortal coil half-shuffled off already. Dead End is firmly locked in on its theme, and rather than feel deadened by the weight of mortality, one oddly feels lifted on reading; it is a comfort that one can talk about death so openly and freely in a culture where talk of death is ultimately still very much a taboo. If this is to be Newmann’s last calling card – as it is suggested – then it is a powerhouse of a swansong.

Maureen Boyle: The Work of a Winter (Arlen House, 2017)

A promising introduction to Boyle’s work, resting comfortably between narrative sequences, black humour, biographical sketches and pastoral tenderness. Boyle draws heavily on the lives of others for the collection: biographies of Rudolf Nureyev, Hildegard of Bingen and Mícheál Ó Cléirigh are cited, alongside stories borrowed from other historical figures. There is much to celebrate and enjoy here, Boyle delivering a well-rounded collection whose subjects and themes are diverse and stimulating. The poems move easily from historical to personal and back, the reward of Boyle’s years of craft and study.

Ruth Carr: Feather and Bone (Arlen House, 2017)

A “personal response” to the lives of Dorothy Wordsworth and Mary Ann McCracken, both born in the 1770s, and both perhaps better known in history through their respective brothers’ actions. Without becoming too focused on history and biographical portrayal. Thankfully, Carr is wise enough to put just enough of herself into the mix, drip-feeding in her own voice, showing us her admiration and wonder for her subjects, without every coming across as unctuous or conciliatory. Carr has successfully widened the scope of two lives here, and we can only hope that the teaching of popular history will follow.

Various: Washing Windows? Irish Women Write Poetry (Ed. Alan Hayes, Arlen House, 2017)

Compiled in honour of pioneering poet Eavan Boland (who sadly passed away earlier this week) and Ireland’s first feminist publisher and founder of Arlen House, Catherine Rose, this anthology describes itself as a “snapshot of the contemporary writing scene” among Irish/Northern Irish women poets. As a snapshot, albeit a wide-ranging one, we are only treated to one poem each from those included, yet there is still plenty to digest and whet the appetite for further reading. A fine testament to Arlen House’s dedication to promote women voices from this island.

Ross Thompson: Threading The Light (Dedalus Press, 2019)

A startling debut, highlighting one of the most promising emerging talents from within Ireland. Thompson is able to work to rigid forms without compromising any emotion or tenderness. Partly focusing on his mother’s death and ideals of family and home, Thompson’s poems pull you in the heart of the scene alongside each speaker. He does what many other technical accomplished writers cannot: he makes you care. With a lot of debuts, you can identify the filler poems: this one is gold from start to finish.