Bloodaxe books of the year 2020

Bloodaxe books of the year 2020


Staying Human: new poems for Staying Alive, edited by Neil Astley, Poetry Book Society Special Commendation for Winter 2020

'The word ‘anthologia’ is Greek for a collection of flowers or beautiful things - thus we have the delight of poetry anthologies, perfect for Christmas presents. Neil Astley’s serious and inspiring Staying Human follows the deserved success of Staying Alive, Being Alive and Being Human - all invigorating, essential collections.'  - Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, Christmas Books 2020

Staying Human is the fourth such anthology compiled by Neil Astley, editor of Bloodaxe Books, and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a brilliant gathering of hundreds of vital, memorable poems, thoughtfully ordered. Give this to your friend/relative who thinks they “don’t do poetry.”’ – Rosie Miles, Morning Star (Best Poetry of 2020)

‘I’ve also found comfort in poetry, returning often to the wonderful trilogy of Bloodaxe anthologies, Staying Alive, Being Alive and Being Human, which contain multitudes and consolation for every mood. There’s a new volume just out, Staying Human, that includes poems written in the pandemic, and I’m crossing my fingers I might find it under the tree come Christmas morning.' - Nancy Groves, HuffPost UK (The Brilliant Books That Got Us Through 2020)

‘For all anthology lovers this is an international anthology of 500 life-affirming poems fired by belief in the human and the spiritual at a time when much in the world feels unreal, inhuman and hollow. Lots of familiar voices, including many Irish voices, but full of surprises too. Strongly recommended.’ - Peter Sirr and Enda Wyley, Books for Breakfast podcast hosts, Our City Our Books (Top 10 Poetry Books of 2020) on Staying Human


Love Minus Love by Wayne Holloway-Smith, shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize 2020, Poetry Book Society Wild Card Choice for Winter 2020

‘Wayne Holloway-Smith’s second collection, Love Minus Love, is a stunning long poem (or poem sequence). Holloway-Smith images can be surreal, nightmarish, traumatic and hilarious. Best of all, among the book’s heart-rending honesty, he is relentlessly inventive, catching us off guard.’ - Seán Hewitt, The Irish Times (Best Poetry Books of 2020)

Love Minus Love by Wayne Holloway-Smith — This book is cool as hell. So cool it throws titles into the gutter, it sticks words together, it swings narratives round its little finger and it jumps on any preconception you have about poetry. This book runs like a comic strip, turning you on every page leading you up a path and then throwing you over a fence. Wayne is the don at the unexpected and I feel this trumps Alarum in its ability to speak things under the surface.’ - Arji Manuelpillai, Out-Spoken (Books of the Year 2020)

‘Wayne Holloway-Smith’s second collection, Love Minus Love, takes the form of a long sequence of untitled poems, where moments, phrases, and even individual words bleed into each other, deconstructing notions of a singular ‘speaker’ and transforming the sequence into a fragmented pattern of recurring, intrusive anxieties. It’s a book preoccupied with trauma and harm, at both the individual and societal level… But amongst these blistering critiques there is also love, tenderness, and hope…’ - Andy Parkes, Poetry School (Poetry Books of the Year 2020)

‘I’ve been enjoying the exceptional poetry books published this year, in particular those that opened out to me new possibilities of what poems can do — like being shaken awake! In particular, Daisy Lafarge’s Life Without Air (Granta, 2020) and Wayne Holloway-Smith, Love Minus Love (Bloodaxe, 2020).’ - Lucy Mercer, The White Review (Books of the Year 2020)


Where Now Begins by Kerry Hardie

'Kerry Hardie's Where Now Begins is full of dark, exact lyricism. The beautiful lyrics circle around absences, pulsing with metaphysical contemplation.' - Seán Hewitt, The Irish Times (Best Poetry Books of 2020)

'New poetry collections that inspired me included Kerry Hardie's Where Now Begins for its fragility and courage...' Enda Wyley, Sunday Independent (Books of the Year)

‘A book of enormous heart, fragility and courage, very aware of the cycles of life and decay, the wax and wane of seasons, and shot through with a sense of the fragility of life. These finely crafted poems grabbed our attention this year and make a wonderful companion to Kerry Hardie’s previous seven collections, including her Selected Poems, published in 2011.’ - Peter Sirr and Enda Wyley, Books for Breakfast podcast hosts, Our City Our Books (Top 10 Poetry Books of 2020) on Where Now Begins


Shadow of the Owl by Matthew Sweeney, Poetry Book Society Wild Card Choice for Winter 2020

Shadow of the Owl by the much-loved Matthew Sweeney is another posthumously published title of note and contains moving poems of his final year living with illness.’ – Paul Perry, Sunday Independent (Books of the Year 2020)

'In Shadow of the Owl, Matthew Sweeney's dark fabulism takes his readers right up to the mouth of death... Sweeney has never been so funny, the darkness never so seductive and terrifying as here in the stream of poems that poured out between his diagnosis with Motor Neuron Disease in 2017 and his death 10 months later.' - Martina Evans, The Irish Times (Poetry Books of 2020)


Tiger Girl by Pascale Petit, shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Collection 2020

Tiger Girl by Pascale Petit is preoccupied by place, as was Petit’s previous Laurel Prize winning collection Mama Amazonica. The latter was set in the thick heat of the Amazon Rainforest, exploring nature, wildness, and extinction. Tiger Girl is instead set in central India, continuing to explore similar themes. The poems are strewn with jewels, rich fabrics, endangered animals, and the humans who treat them cruelly… Petit shows us how the places of our past live inside of us; how your country of origin snakes into the psyche and defines you, even when you are thousands of miles away from it. She interweaves the domestic with depictions of forests, poachers, and wild animals. Her luminous language brings India to life…’ – Jasmine Ward, Poetry School (Poetry Books of the Year 2020)

'Like all her previous collections, Pascal Petite’s Tiger Girl (Bloodaxe, 2020), whose ‘hymns […] burn/at the centre of the earth,’ is fiery, intense. Petite explores her mixed heritage through the lexicons of flora and fauna, through lenses that lend immediacy and intimacy to the devastating effects of environmental exploitation and destruction.' - Mihaela Moscaliuc, Plume Magazine (Favorite Books from 2020)


Return by Minor Road by Heidi Williamson

‘… I’d like to mention one book which moved me to tears, Return by Minor Road, by Heidi Williamson: a stunning and heart-breaking look at the Dunblane massacre, the way grief can infuse a place, and what the aftermath (in the literal sense of the beginnings of a new growth) of such an event feels like in such a close-knit community.’ – Andrew McMillan, Out-Spoken (Books of the Year 2020)

Passport to Here and There by Grace Nichols

'Nichols’s ninth collection is split, like her identity, between the Guyana where she grew up, and the England which she has made her home. She uses Creole and the imagery of ghosts to conjure up her coming of age in South America... she often draws on the natural world for her metaphors, and her style is characterised by alliteration and assonance. One section of unrhymed 14-line poems, illustrated with black-and-white photographs by Compton Davis, she calls “Back-homing (Georgetown Snapshot Sonnets).” She then brings her adopted country to life with poems on everything from tea and the Thames to the London Underground and the Grenfell Tower fire. A final set of elegies (including one to Derek Walcott) feels like a fittingly sombre close.' - Rebecca Foster, Shiny New Books (Poetry Highlights of 2020)


Magnum Mysterium by Julie O'Callaghan

‘Julie O’Callaghan’s heart-rent grief delivered her deep inimitable surprises in Magnum Mysterium.’ - Martina Evans, The Irish Times (Poetry Books of 2020)

[15 December 2020]

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