Richy Campbell's Reading Recommendations

Guest Post: Richy Campbell


5 Poetry Books I would Gift to People During Lockdown

Throughout the years, I have counted on poetry to transport me to somewhere better, to offer philosophical insight, to be beautiful. This bizarre, insular existence in which we all currently reside has made me even more reliant on poems. Through them I can see other worlds beyond my current state of limitation. It is my privilege to share some of the poetry books that are helping me get through lockdown.


Questions of Travel by Elizabeth Bishop (Chatto & Windus)

Questions of Travel contains poetry inspired by Bishop’s travels throughout the world and time spent living in Brazil. I would gift this short collection to anyone who had a holiday cancelled due to coronavirus. `Questions of Travel’ details the experience of the bemused tourist “There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams / hurry to rapidly to the sea[...]”. `Sandpiper’ witnesses a man by the sea, “The beach hisses like fat. On his left, a sheet / of interrupting water comes and goes / and glazes over his dark and brittle feet”. Not only does the collection paint splendid images of travel, it asks questions on behalf of the traveller when visiting another country.


Desert Sunflowers by Rowyda Amin (Flipped Eye)

Rowyda Amin’s Desert Sunflowers is an achievement of imagination and image. `Monkey Daughter’, from the perspective of a jealous child, is unusual and funny, for example, “The monkey’s sacred brown eyes roll like olives. / I want to shake them out of the jar”. `9 Carrott Poem’ is a sequence of dreamy images, such as “Chrysantheum lanterns illuminate / a silent house”, and “Gilded girls sleep in rows, / under green lace and dandelion”. The perfect read for when, if you are like me, the only view you have from your window is a car park at the back of a block of flats.


Harvest by Sister Mary Agnes (Guillemot Press)

Sister Mary Agnes’ Harvest is a serene, meditative collection of poems. For those nights when thought consumes you, these poems soothe the mind. The comfort of love is detailed in `I heard the shadow of a cat’, “Your voice sounded, / softly modulated / in the unanswering emptiness, / the desolate fatigue”. The longing of presence runs throughout  `Prisoner’, “if I had heard your message in the owl’s cry, / I would reply, / but, behind walls, that is denied, / and our bodies ache to be / there, where our hearts are[...]”. It’s a lovely, comforting collection that alleviates the pain of absence.


Come, Thief by Jane Hirshfield (Bloodaxe)

Come, Thief is full of poems that transform stationary objects, that deal with the intricacies of body language and memory. The acceptance of change and loss appears in `The Promise’, “Stay, I said / to the cut flowers. / They bowed / their heads lower”. The very nature of thought is the concern of `Vinegar and Oil’, “Wrong solitude vinegars the soul, / right solitude oils it. / How fragile we are, between the few good moments”. These are poems of wisdom that help us adapt to the distressing changes in life.  


Hitting the Streets by Raymond Queaneau (Carcanet)

I was planning a city break to Paris this year. Instead, I will re-read Hitting the Streets, to get a taste for the French capital. This collection details the elements of the city. `Pâris Deacon’ observes the life of the streets, “At the end of rue Mouffetard / in front of the church Saint-Médard / a little old man waits for a little old woman...”. `A Problem of Cosmography’, gives us city views with a humorous look at the city’s history, “When the slowly sets behind the Arc de Triomphe /  which was erected by that nasty sabre-dragger Napoleon[...]”.


Richy’s debut collection ‘Lovely Peripheries’ is published by Live Canon: