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Staff picks January 2023 — Score for blue voices in the feather-light

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An orchestra of feather and bone: Barbican Young Poets Anthology 2017 / editors Rachel Long, Lauren Monaghan-Pisano, Jacob Sam-La Rose

The Barbican Young Poets is a workshop programme that provides young poets dedicated space & time every fortnight to study poetry, experiment and collaborate with fellow poets over biscuits and the tutelage of poet & educator Jacob Sam-La Rose. My own work in poetry would not be possible without the time I’ve spent as a member of the BYP, a creative hub where I learnt the rules of poetry, and was encouraged to routinely bend them to my will. 

I’m very glad to have a collection of past anthologies from the last ten years of the programme available in the library. To me, these anthologies can be seen as more than just physical manifestations of the work done during those sessions — they also read as love songs to poetry, as tools for storytelling, healing, and as building blocks to create strong and impactful communities. 

–Chosen by Troy Cabida

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Far beyond the field / compiled and translated by Makoto Ueda (Columbia University Press, 2003)

Last month I heard the poet Amy Key on BBC Radio talking about one of my favourite anthologies in the library, Far Beyond the Field, and its influence on her writing. It’s a unique collection of haiku by Japanese women from 350 years ago up until the early 2000s. When I think of haiku, I think of seasons, weather, insects and flowers. But here you have motherhood, weaving, guilt, the body and war. Some of the oldest pieces feel startlingly modern, such as this by Sugita Hisajo (born in 1890): ‘haiku poet, / caring mother– / this summer I’m a wreck.’ Each is a burst of intensity and clarity; some very funny, some devastating. There’s even a library haiku, by Takeshita Shizunojo: ‘the library at dusk– / playing in the spring twilight / elves out of the books’.

–Chosen by Nina Powles 

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Responses to Derek Jarman’s Blue (1993) / assembled by Richard Porter (Pilot Press, 2021)

This anthology by collates Responses to Jarman’s famous video work, Blue, exploring his loss of sight due to HIV/AIDS. The responses range in genre, but all interact beautifully with the artwork Jarman created. It doesn’t shy away from mixing mediums, with poetry by Olivia Laing spread across a collection of collages. One of a series of six AIDS-focused anthologies by Pilot Press, it acknowledges past events, explores the ramifications of this tragedy now, and places it back into the narrative of collective history, where the finer traces of time have mostly been erased. The writing is both delicate and bold, humanising a reality that was originally de-humanising to those affected. 

–Chosen by Elspeth Walker