READS OF THE YEAR 2018: ROB MACKENZIE

Fani Papageorgiou The Purloined Letter

This collection, Papageorgiou’s third, has two long-ish sequences bookended by a handful of shorter poems. The sequences are comprised of short non-linear numbered poems, which speak to each other and, indeed, there are echoes between all the pieces in the book. Coastlines of England and Greece set the scene for reflections on stillness, moving on, clarity and mystery, the human need to make sense in the midst of chaos and the difficulty of doing so. Unspecified loss and longing haunt every line. Everything is clearly expressed, immediately comprehensible, and yet draw you towards something you don’t know. This isn’t the kind of book you only read once.

Muriel Spark Symposium

I could have chosen any Spark novel, as I read or reread all of them this centenary year, but I’ve chosen this one because it’s lesser-known than most and is really good. It’s about a dinner party where connections between the guests gradually become apparent as the novel progresses. The character, Margaret Murchie of St Andrews, will live long in the memory. People keep dying in suspicious circumstances. There are scandals, conspiracies, madness and a brief but hilarious cameo by a convent of Marxist nuns. How people present themselves – whether muting or embellishing their less socially acceptable desires, or while deluding themselves – is dissected by Spark in this unnervingly comic tragedy.

Barry MacSweeney Wolf Tongue: Selected Poems 1965-2000 

What I really like about these poems is that, even if a line (or an entire poem) doesn’t really work well, the next one will blow your mind. No safety-first workshoppy poetics here! Rooted in northern English landscapes, informed by how politics really affected people rather than blah academic discourse, and at times deeply and painfully personal, this 334-page selection showcases the full range of MacSweeney’s poetry. I am still reading ‘Desire Lines’ (Shearsman), which features most of the poems that don’t appear here, and also feels to me like an essential collection.