Amy Acre’s poems ‘Ice Baby’ and ‘In the wet-aired trenches of the Tube I was’ appeared in The Poetry Review, Vol 109, No 4, Winter 2019.
This was much harder than I’d anticipated. The problem is there are a lot of great poems. Which is both lucky and unlucky. The best poems either light a fire in my mind that gets me gasping for the pen, or leave me throwing down the book in disgust, in the knowledge that I might as well give up now. The poems in my Lucky 13 mixtape have inspired both response from me, but the cumulative effect leans more towards the former, and I hope it will do the same for you.
I read Jericho Brown’s The Tradition very slowly—mainly because I couldn’t stop rereading this poem, trying to understand its process and genesis, in the hope that I might one day write something half as good. It does that excellent thing of turning a key in your mind, while unfolding its insight in a way that feels effortless. I can’t get over the line: ‘And when the master comes / For our children, he smells / Like the men who own stables / In Heaven, that far terrain / Between Promise and Apology’.
I read Incarnation while pregnant, and this poem floored me. As a mum or mum-to-be, you’re constantly negotiating with yourself to ensure every single decision you make is the right one. Pollard’s ‘Suffer’ embodies this pressure, the anxiety and intrusive thoughts, so accurately and courageously. Rather than reading this poem, you experience it in your body.
I love this kind of love poem, love the doom and destiny of it all. For reasons that I hope are obvious, I can no longer listen to Morrissey’s ‘There Is a Light That Never Goes Out’. Thankfully Yanique’s beautiful, deceptively simple poem gives me another way to indulge in a bit of morbid romanticism. I could only find it online within an article, so scroll down half a page to get the poem.
I no longer remember where I first came across this poem, probably at a workshop as I somehow acquired a print-out of it that’s stayed with me ever since. Through multiple house moves, it’s lived variously in a drawer, on the wall and magnetted to the fridge. More recently, at a workshop I was running, someone asked me to recommend some happy, or optimistic poems. At the time, I couldn’t do it—for whatever reason, almost all the poems I adore are about pain and struggle. But I had forgotten about this little gem, which always reminds me that things are possible beyond my comprehension.
The first of two poems I’ve included here from Eleanor Penny’s phenomenal podcast Bedtime Stories for the End of the World (if you’re not listening yet, get on that immediately), this poem retells the story of 3rd Century Vietnamese warrior Triệu Thị Trinh (also known as Lady Triệu). While you can also read the poem in text form via this link, I highly recommend playing the audio and drifting away to Bolderston’s reading.
We trust poets to tell us about grief because we know they’ll treat it carefully, come at it slant, wrap it in story and hand it back to us with something that can never quite be closure, for what closure is there really, but something like it. This poem is the sad movie I want to watch every time I need to cry. Matthew Dickman is one of those poets who makes me want to put my pen down.
7. ‘Cunto’ by Joelle Taylor
Joelle Taylor, you had me at ‘Cunto’. In this earthquake of a poem, images fly at you with the pace of a high-octane movie trailer – but for a movie I’d actually want to see. It captures the absurdity of these things we walk around in called bodies, and the societal absurdities we place upon them. It’s also a reminder that some people are born into life on the easy settings, while others are not, and of the many ways that this can manifest.
Another fab bedtime story for the end of the world. Ella Frears takes us on holiday to the afterlife. The language is dreamy and electric, utterly captivating.
I couldn’t not include a Roddy poem. This one gives me the sly feeling of relating closely to something I haven’t experienced. That is the power of poetry: to drop you into another’s world, let you look around and make yourself at home in a way that, as this poem suggests, is often much more difficult to do in reality.
Reading Anthony Joseph made me think about the sound and shape of poetry in a completely different way. This is one of my favourites, from his seminal collection Bird Head Son.
11. ‘The Night We Plucked One Thousand Prickly Pear Burrs From her Ass’ by Lauren Zuniga
Every good mixtape needs a sexy-time track. This poem’s not about sex, but it is bizarrely erotic. It’s from Zuniga’s gorgeous and radical collection The Smell of Good Mud.
More sex. I like sex poems where the sex being had is ambiguous, awkward, not wholly surrendered to or somehow confused by politics and misgivings. I mean, who wants to hear about other people being happy, right?
13. Beloved by Toni Morrison, Chapter 22
Strictly speaking, not a poem. Except it is. This is the point where Toni Morrison’s masterpiece of a book becomes an incantation, where it becomes breathless and you read feverishly, without stopping, ignoring your phone and partner and maybe even dinner. (Maybe.) I don’t know how to say it in a less awkward way, so I’ll just say that this passage of writing surely reveals a genius at the peak of her powers.
So yeah, that’s it. Thanks for sticking with me till the end. There are so many more poems I wanted to include here, but I couldn’t, because I need to go and buy some shoes. Now turn the tape over for a bootleg copy of Stoosh by Skunk Anasie.
Amy Acre is a poet, performer and freelance writer from London. Her poem, ‘every girl knows’ won the 2019 Verve Poetry Prize. She is the author of two pamphlets: And They Are Covered in Gold Light (forthcoming from Bad Betty) and Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads (flipped eye, 2015) – which was chosen as a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice and a Poetry School Book of the Year. Amy runs Bad Betty Press with Jake Wild Hall. She co-edited the mental health anthology, The Dizziness of Freedom (Bad Betty, 2018) and the Anti-Hate Anthology (Spoken Word London, 2019). Her work has appeared in The Poetry Review, Poetry London, Magma, 3:AM Magazine, POEM International: Women on Brexit and on BBC Radio London. She has performed at Latitude, Secret Garden Party, the Edinburgh Fringe, Ronnie Scott’s, the Roundhouse, Southbank, the Houses of Parliament and in hundreds of pubs, bars and fields across the UK.