Brave, bold and beautiful poems to lift your spirits

Brave, bold and beautiful: Our ultimate selection of this year’s best poems to lift your spirits

  • Bel Mooney picked out this year’s best poetry books that express every feeling
  • She Is Fierce edited by Ana Sampson collates beautiful poems by women 
  • Running Upon The Wires is Kate Tempest’s celebration of naked lust
  • The Luckiest Guy sparks laughter and questioning everything

There’s a modern cliche that people don’t really read poetry. Yet they need it. At the great stages of life (love affairs, love’s ending, weddings, babies, funerals) they will seek readings to express their own feelings.

A well-loved poem can penetrate to the heart of human feelings; that’s why we tend to return to old favourites for uplift and comfort.

So a fine anthology is my first Christmas choice. SHE IS FIERCE, edited by Ana Sampson (Macmillan £12.99, 304pp) is an exhilarating collection of 150 ‘brave, bold and beautiful poems by women’ — from the ancient world to current poets such as Kate Tempest and Imtiaz Dharker. It ranges through subjects such as roots, friendship, love, nature, freedom, mindfulness and joy, society and fashion, courage and protest, and eternity — all human life.

Bel Mooney picked out a selection of this year’s best poetry books including She Is Fierce edited by Ana Sampson (pictured left) and Running Upon The Wires (pictured right)

The biographical notes on contributors are an inspiration, taking us on a whistle-stop journey into diverse worlds and histories.

I’ve been a fan of Kate Tempest since the beginning, but the latest book takes her work to a new level. RUNNING UPON THE WIRES (Picador £9.99, 64pp) leaves her trademark political anger aside and focuses on love and loss.

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This sensual and intimate collection celebrates naked lust, too. Any person, of any age, who has known heartbreak and then walked (with disbelief and relief) towards new beginnings will find illumination in the wisdom, honesty and clarity of this 32-year-old poet and powerful performer.

The poetry of loss is (of course) most acute when the writer has experienced bereavement. How to make sense of grief? The prodigiously talented scientist, musician, travel writer, conservationist, professor and poet Ruth Padel approaches this universal question in EMERALD (Chatto £10, 80pp) — a profoundly moving, complex, glittering elegy for her brilliant mother, who died aged 97 last year.

Emerald (pictured left) uses poetry to explore bereavement following the death of Ruth Padel’s mother.  Sincerity (pictured right) is Carol Ann Duffy’s last collection as Laureate

She writes with clear intent — ‘This is to do with transformation / with the dead / and where they are inside you / once they are gone’ — and takes the reader on a journey of grief and discovery, culminating in the awareness that renewal is always possible; emerald-green light glinting off rocks in even the darkest cave.

Carol Ann Duffy, Poet Laureate since 2009, has never shied away from confronting tough political issues — and why should she?

The poet has a duty to warn as well as to describe and praise. In SINCERITY (Picador £14.99, 96pp) her last collection as Laureate, she aims a couple of funny, lethal broadsides at Donald Trump, but (more interestingly) demonstrates yet again her sparkling versatility, in poems about friendship (my favourite here is Long Table), nature, history, ageing, being alone, homelessness, and much more, too.

All parents who have waved goodbye to a ‘dear child’ will identify with the sadness in Empty Nest.

Bel also picked The Luckiest Guy (pictured left), The River In The Sky (pictured centre) and Feel Free (pictured right)

There is much to celebrate in the state of British poetry. Raise a cheer for gutsy longevity, with John Cooper Clarke’s first book for several decades: THE LUCKIEST GUY ALIVE (Picador £14.99, 96pp). The self-styled ‘punk, poet, pioneer’ is as iconoclastic as ever. Witty and profane, his lyrics are best declaimed aloud, to make you laugh and encourage you to question everything.

Raise a cheer for Clive James, who at 79 and suffering from a long, terminal illness, has the energy and ego to produce a long autobiographical poem THE RIVER IN THE SKY (Picador £14.99, 112pp) — as compelling as a novel and as disturbing as eavesdropping outside the confessional.

Last, raise more cheers for the brilliant Northern Irish poet Nick Laird, whose latest book FEEL FREE (Faber 14.99, ) reminds us of what poetry at its finest can be: challenging, politically engaged, humane, lyrical, infused with love of family and philosophical questions about self and soul.

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