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The best new poetry collections of 2023

Three poets choose their highlights of the year

“… on the road to perdition/no step seems irrevocable./ ‘Is this tragic, is this tragic?’” (At every stage). Leontia Flynn’s Taking Liberties (Cape £10.99), brims with Flynn’s subtle wit, sure-footed, surprising lyrics. Tracking through our fragile world, private anxieties are beautifully reflected in the natural world, “The sinus creak/ in my sad hot head/ was pack ice/ breaking loose.” Nick Laird’s formally impressive, angry, funny Up Late (Faber £14.99) is equally engaged with today’s world, its unforgettable title poem holding a mirror to present-day death: “… Sunday they permitted us to Zoom... He lifted his head to the camera...” Maya Popa’s highwire debut Wound is the Origin of Wonder (Picador £10.99) explores life after loss, delineating risk with scalpel precision, “I can’t undo all I have done to myself,/ what I have let an appetite for love do to me” (Dear Life). MARTINA EVANS

A strong year for debuts saw Dawn Watson’s We Play Here (Granta, £10.99), Joe Carrick-Varty’s More Sky (Carcanet, £11.99), Kandace Siobhan Walker’s Cowboy (CHEERIO, €12.95) and Susannah Dickey’s ISDAL (Picador, £10.99) executing impressive formal and linguistic experiments, the latter tangling with the ethics of the true crime genre: “We can’t get enough of dead bodies, women’s especially” (II – Narrative). Other memorable collections included Geraldine Clarkson’s luminous and strange Medlars, (Shearsman, £10.95), the poet creating a nightmare pastoral where timelines shift and layer: “England like a medlar unbletted” (Medlars), and Kit Fan’s haunting and dreamlike The Ink-Cloud Reader (Carcanet, £12.99) a meditation on heritage, migration, illness and recovery: “It’s the body’s haiku/ to rot and blossom, overthrowing us in a coup/ that ends in soil or fire” (Yew). JESSICA TRAYNOR

Jorie Graham’s astonishing To 2040 (Carcanet, £15.99) finds language and syntax for ecological catastrophe and individual mortality. “Is my history/ verifiable/ Have I/ included the memory/ of the animals”. Resonant and luminous, Audrey Molly’s The Blue Cocktail (Gallery Press, €12.95) considers bodies and their politics beside bodies of water, home and abroad, “where the water is brackish,/ not one thing nor another – the emigrant’s curse”. Jason Allen-Paisant’s Self-Portrait as Othello (Carcanet, £12.99) takes the tragic hero as a guide and literary analogue to discuss contemporary questions of identity, migration and artistry. A deserving winner of the Forward Prize. In The Book of Trivialities (Skein Press, €12), Majed Mujed’s gentle, aphoristic vignettes offer us compassion and wisdom in a time of war. STEPHEN SEXTON

Martina Evans

Martina Evans

Martina Evans, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a poet, novelist and critic