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Staff picks September 2022 — Pilgrim of the Silent Plea

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I am the Beggar of the World / translated by Eliza Griswold (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014)

This anthology is a collection of Landays from contemporary Afghanistan, translated into English. The Landay is a form of oral poetry with a 9 and 13 syllable line count. Landays explore themes of love, domesticity, everyday life, war and much more. The form is often used anonymously by women, and communicated through the oral tradition, in a collective effort to express female experience with humour and boldness.

Collected on a trip by Eliza Griswold and Asam Safi, and accompanied by the photography of Seamus Murphy, this anthology gives a great introduction to Landays, with traditional diction updated to fit the modern context. I really enjoyed learning about this form of poetry, and how it has helped shape female identity in Afghanistan. I beg others to explore too!

–Chosen by Elspeth Walker

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Book of Days / Phoebe Power (Carcanet, 2022)

Walking was a theme of Phoebe Power’s debut collection ‘The Shrines of Upper Austria’ as she hiked the Austrian mountains, exploring her Austrian grandmother’s life, and got closer to her European roots. I was really taken with the singular voice of that collection, and this follow up is no less compelling as Power takes us on her walk of Europe’s ultimate pilgrimage route — the ‘Camino’ of Spain.

This long poem is a hybrid text of fragments, conversations and haiku-like short poems that allow you to meet fellow walkers, glimpse the landscape and architecture, and experience the emotional highs and lows (and blisters) of taking on this challenge. It is also a book about faith and courage. I really did feel I was on a journey as I read, and I found Power’s honesty and openness in recording this experience inspiring.

–Chosen by Lorraine Mariner

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Quiet / Victoria Adukwei Bulley (Faber & Faber, 2022)

Bulley’s much awaited debut collection presents a voice of unbreakable elegance, of knowing wisdom, and a call to a softness that demands to be heard. Quiet is a meditation on the ways in which the social world affects Black interiority, and how the voice works to absorb it all and remain intrinsically connected with the self. 

In “toby”, Bulley uses the image of a house cat to explore the importance of play, the need to connect with a more vulnerable, less self-aware version of being, and how this state can truly exist only when safety and community are first able to provide a foundation. The poet plays with the possibility of the subject becoming whole when movements of love come to exist in this way, until you end up knowing who you are and “what you want and go get it - & what a go-getter you are, oh yes”.

–Chosen by Troy Cabida