Running in the Family – Michael Ondaatje
Reading this memoir was transformative. It covered ground literally and metaphorically, following Ondaatje from Canada to Sri Lanka where – through poems, photographs, family stories and town gossip – he attempted to piece together a past that he never really understood. The writing is bright and evocative and the book speaks to themes which continue to fascinate me: place, home and identity. Running in the Family also raises important questions about the (un)reliability of memory and what stories belong to us.
Selected Poems – Sharon Olds
Sharon Olds has long been my poetry heroine. I couldn’t pick just one collection so I’ve cheated and chosen this Selected Poems edition which represents so much of what I love about her work. These poems reveal her expert use of words and rhythm, but also her knack for holding vulnerable subjects up to the light. One of my favourite Olds’ poems, ‘I Go Back to May 1937’, is homed here and speaks to the important power writers have to bear witness: ‘Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.’
Her Birth – Rebecca Goss
This collection cracked me open. Rebecca Goss’ daughter, Ella, was born with a fatal heart condition and lived only 16 short months. The precise, plainspoken poems in Her Birth expose the complexities of loss and how to go on living after it. Goss skillfully transforms small items – the honey jar, the bag of flour – into powerful symbols of grief. Even years after reading it, this collection still holds its earned place on my night table. I Know Your Kind by
In this elegiac collection, Brewer reveals how addiction devastates the lives of individuals, families and communities. Set in West Virginia, these poems wander streets, backyards, pain clinics and rehabs. Often surreal, these pieces offer up a multitude of voices and perspectives that all speak to the opioid epidemic in Appalachia and, wider still, in America. Brewer is telling an important story and he does this masterfully, with lines that cut deep and leave you bleeding for days.
Gen – Jonathan Edwards
There are many collections by Welsh poets that I adore but, recently, I have kept coming back to this one. Gen feels alive somehow, bustling with people, places, humour and song. In particular, I have found myself opening the pages to ‘House Party at Tanya’s, 1995’, a poem where Edwards speaks of youth in a way which I can feel so immediately but also can see fading in my rear-view: ‘there is a moment, here, among / the broken streetlights, krooklok’d cars, / this swirling wind, this being young, / and there, a massive, endless sky of stars’.
Christina Thatcher is a Creative Writing Lecturer at Cardiff Metropolitan University. She keeps busy off campus too as the Poetry Editor for The Cardiff Review, a tutor for The Poetry School and a member of the Literature Wales Management Board. Her first collection, More than you were, was published by Parthian Books in 2017. Her second collection, How To Carry Fire, is forthcoming with Parthian Books in 2020. To learn more about Christina’s work please visit her website: christinathatcher.com or follow her on Twitter @writetoempower.