No thorough end-of-year review for me, as much because my memory of what I’ve done and what I read in 2020 is scratchy at best. The comparatively giddy days of January to early March, pre-Covid, seem as though they happened years ago. I certainly don’t have 2020 vision.
If I had to choose a couple of new poetry collections which, for their consistent brilliance, I savoured more than most, they would be Alan Buckley’s Touched and Nichola Deane’s Cuckoo. That said, I haven’t yet got round to reading several 2020 collections, including Pascale Petit’s Tiger Girl and Eavan Boland’s sadly posthumously published The Historians. (Compiling best-of lists is fraught, naturally, with the possibility of omissions to be regretted at a later date.)
Anyway, onwards. I’ve been reading and enjoying the latest issue of Poetry Review. It truly contains a wide diversity of poets, many of whom, I suspect, haven’t been published in the UK before. There’s also an insightful, wide-ranging interview, by Elaine Feeney, with Margaret Atwood, in which the latter, though apparently rather impatient, is nevertheless reflectively articulate throughout, as one would expect:
The difference between writing a novel from writing poetry is in novels our work is one part inspiration and nine parts perspiration. Whereas the work involved in poetry comes after you’ve written it. You have the poem, but then you have to see what you actually wrote down, can you read it, I mean, that’s always a challenge.
Most interesting for me is an essay by Charles Whalley, which, taking its cue from the case of Maggie Hannan, examines why poets might stop writing after their first collection has been published. He wonders, ‘Maybe the question isn’t why do poets stop writing, but why does anyone start?’ It’s a good question, and the usual trite reply – ‘Because I have to’ – trotted out by poets, me included, isn’t sufficient. To go further and say, or think at least, ‘Because I believe I have something original to say which may be of benefit to others’ has an innate confidence, bordering on arrogance, which poets often have in short supply. Perhaps it’s what springs from that contradiction which makes poetry so intriguing.
The bitterness shown towards 2020 for obvious reasons is laughable, as though 2021, with the promise of mass vaccination and a return to some semblance of ‘normality’, will stand in great contrast to it. As a historian said on the radio yesterday, diseases don’t respect chronological boxes, so the expectation that 2021 will soon provide a marked improvement in the general commonwealth, that everything will be hunky-dory by the spring, seems fanciful right now, though it could be the end of the beginning. In view of all that, hibernating with lots of poetry to read is a good option, isn’t it?