READS OF THE YEAR 2018: Rebecca Varley-Winter

Patricia Lockwood, Priestdaddy (Allen Lane, 2017)

I technically read Patricia Lockwood’s memoir, PRIESTDADDY, in 2017, but still find myself recommending it to everyone I meet. Drawing on her family life (she is the poet daughter of an indomitable, eccentric Catholic priest), she skits through religion, poetry, politics, and America’s nuclear legacy. However, outlining the book’s contents doesn’t do justice to Lockwood’s looping, electrified poetic prose. She’s extremely funny, but she is also driven by an inner fury that made me weep. Her comedy bends from the heart, and she writes like a rebel angel.

Sophie Collins, Small White Monkeys: On Self-Expression, Self-Help and Shame (Book Works, 2017)

This year I was also especially struck by Sophie Collins’ Small White Monkeys: On Self-Expression, Self-Help and Shame. It’s a hybrid work, combining memoir, essay, poetry and criticism, which writes around trauma with what I can only describe as a luminous quietness and focus. The resulting book is strange, dreamlike, lucid. It haunted me.

Ali Smith, Autumn (Hamish Hamilton, 2016)

Olga Tokarczuk, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2018)

In novels, I loved the warmth and textural beauty of Ali Smith’s Autumn, and am currently reading Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, translated by Antonia Lloyd–Jones. The central character – a fervent animal rights activist, obsessed with astrology and the poetry of William Blake – presents her universe with poignant humour:

There are some people at whom one only has to glance for one’s throat to tighten and one’s eyes to fill with tears of emotion. These people make one feel as if a stronger memory of our former innocence remains in them, as if they were a freak of nature, not entirely battered by the Fall.[1]

Liz Berry, The Republic of Motherhood (Chatto & Windus, 2018)

Art Allen, Here birds are (Green Bottle Press, 2018)

Hera Lindsay Bird, Pamper Me To Hell and Back (The Poetry Business, 2018)

Rakhshan Rizwan, Paisley (Emma Press, 2017)

Samantha Walton, Self Heal (Boiler House Press, 2018)

Lola Ridge, To the Many (Little Island Press, 2018)

In poetry chapbooks, I was impressed by the power and verve of Liz Berry’s The Republic of Motherhood, which I reviewed here. I was also moved by Art Allen’s affecting elegy, Here birds are, which I reviewed here; by Hera Lindsay Bird’s Pamper Me To Hell and Back, which I reviewed here; and by the articulate anger of Rakhshan Rizwan’s Paisley. I’ve enjoyed collections from Boiler House Press, such as Samantha Walton’s Self Heal, among many others; but my major highlight was probably the collected works of Lola Ridge, To the Many. I had heard of Ridge before as a neglected modernist poet, and this collected edition conveys the uniqueness of her work. Ridge provides a female gaze on working women, which feels new to me amidst the poetry of its time:

Sarah and Anna live on the floor above.

Sarah is swarthy and ill-dressed.

Life for her has no ritual.

She would break an ideal like an egg for the winged thing at the core.

Her mind is hard and brilliant and cutting like an acetylene torch.[2]


[1] Olga Tokarcyuk, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, trans. Antonia Lloyd–Jones (London: Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2018; first published as Prowadź swój pług przez kości umarłych, 2009), p. 132.

[2] Lola Ridge, The Ghetto (1918), in To the Many: Collected Early Works, ed. Daniel Tobin (Stroud: Little Island Press, 2018), pp. 41–65 (p. 46, ll. 8–13).

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