I’ve always enjoyed poetry but found it hard to fit in to my life – poetry books are so short I don’t feel them demanding my time in the same way that my piles and piles of unread novels do. But late last year I discovered that my local library had added several recently published contemporary poetry audiobooks to their catalogue. Having had huge success using audiobook fiction as a way to fit more reading into my life, I decided to give some of them a go.
It was a total revelation! Not only are poetry audiobooks convenient, but hearing the poet read their own words is a total treat. I can know I’m hearing the words exactly as they wished to communicate them, with all the right tone and emphasis. It’s gorgeous. So without any further ado, here’s what I’ve been enjoying:
Surge by Jay Bernard
This debut collection by Jay Bernard won the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry 2018 and came out in audio a year later. It’s described as ‘a queer exploration of the black British archive’, and focuses on two events in recent Black British history, the New Cross Massacre (1981) and the Grenfell Tower fire (2017), drawing connections between them, looking at the wider political situation as well as the emotions evoked by both atrocities. Hearing Jay read their work was completely enthralling, some of the poems are sung, and that wouldn’t come across the same way in print so I would definitely recommend listening to this over reading it!
My Darling from the Lions by Rachel Long
This is another collection that deals with themes of race and sexuality, though it has a much more autobiographical tone, despite the author taking on different characters’ voices. It was very interesting listening to it after Surge. They are both Black British writers, so the same history explored in Surge echoes through the background of these poems, but while Surge directly tackles the wider history and politics at a national/local level, My Darling from the Lions takes you on a coming of age journey, each poem like a portrait of a woman at a particular time in her life. Rachel Long has an absolutely beautiful voice, it was a delight to listen to.
Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Mans
For this one I crossed the pond – Jasmine Mans is an American poet, and this collection is very clearly aimed at Black American women and girls. As I’m a white British woman I’m obviously very far from that target audience, and after reading it and experiencing its power, I felt passionately that it’s the kind of book that needs to get into the hands of the people Jasmine Mans most wants to speak to, the people who will feel the greatest force of what it offers and communicates. The Goodreads reviews back this up, with many Black American reviewers expressing how personal this collection felt for them. It’s nice that I could read it and enjoy it, but that’s a fringe benefit, you know? It’s for its particular audience above all else so I hope librarians across the pond are investing in copies. It’s gorgeous and confrontational at the same time, tackling a range of very difficult subjects – I recommend checking content warnings.
Buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
Poor by Caleb Femi
Back to London for my latest listen – this time from the perspective of a Black man talking about class and poverty as well as race and life and passion for his community and home. Again it is read by the poet himself, and it’s brilliant and immersive. What is particularly good about this collection is the sense of place, as Caleb Femi evokes life on his Peckham council estate. The poems are visceral and emotional and can be hard to listen to, but very rewarding when you do.
The Half-God of Rainfall by Inua Ellams
This novel in verse was absolutely epic and awesome – a story of battling gods and demi-gods across cultures, about colonialism and power and revenge and basketball! I loved following the twists and turns in the story and seeing how the author brought together the Greek pantheon with Yorùbá deities, building a new mythology and then bringing it crashing down in a moment of beautiful catharsis. It was just fabulous and I will be buying my own copy in print when I get the chance!
I borrowed all these books from The Libraries Consortium’s OverDrive catalogue.