Oswald and Angelou among booksellers' favourite poets, BA conference reveals

Oswald and Angelou among booksellers' favourite poets, BA conference reveals

Booksellers have voted for their 25 favourite poetry books from the last 25 years to mark the 25th anniversary of National Poetry Day—with work by Alice Oswald and Maya Angelou making the cut.

The Poetry Booksellers Love list was put together in a project by the BA and Forward Arts Foundation, with the results announced at the BA Conference in Birmingham on 9th September.

The five poetry books with the most booksellers' votes were Alice Oswald's book-length poem Dart (Faber), The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris (Hamish Hamilton), Maya Angelou's The Complete Poetry (Virago), plus two anthologies: Staying Alive edited by Neil Astley (Bloodaxe) and The Rattle Bag, edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes (Faber).

Elsewhere on the list, young British poets’ work including Andrew McMillan’s Physical (Jonathan Cape), Jonathan Edwards’ My Family and Other Superheroes (Seren), Liz Berry’s Black Country (Chatto & Windus) and Hollie McNish’s Plum (Picador), appear alongside familiar bestsellers by seasoned poetry veterans like John Agard, Wendy Cope, Simon Armitage and Jackie Kay. International stars include Claudia Rankine, Sharon Olds, Anne Carson alongside Rupi Kaur and Hera Lindsay Bird.

Children’s poems are also represented with Poems to Perform edited by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Clare Melinsky (Macmillan Children’s Books) alongside family favourites, Pam Ayres and Alice Tait’s The Last Hedgehog (Picador) and A Poem for Every Night of the Year edited by Allie Esiri and illustrated by Zanna Goldhawk (Macmillan Children’s Books).

Emma Bradshaw, head of campaigns at the Booksellers Association, said: “I am endlessly impressed by the knowledge and passion of our members, so it comes as no surprise to see that the list of poetry titles they have created is so wonderfully diverse. There really is something for everyone here. I’m sure readers will be flocking to their local bookshops this National Poetry Day.” 

BA members from across the UK and Ireland were asked to nominate and vote for their favourite poetry books in print, whether anthologies, single collections or verse novels. Bookshops across the country will be encouraged to display some of the books on the list for National Poetry Day and to hold events with local poets and readings. 

Susannah Herbert, executive director of Forward Arts Foundation said: “The nation’s bookshops are clearly staffed by poetry enthusiasts who see all the ways in which poetry is increasingly connecting with book-lovers. In choosing a list that features Alice Oswald, the new Oxford Professor for Poetry, alongside Pam Ayres, a list that honours beautiful design alongside erudition, humour alongside calls to revolution, the participating booksellers have made their shops central to National Poetry Day’s anniversary celebrations.”

National Poetry Day takes place on 3rd October this year with the theme of “truth”. The annual event is coordinated annually by Forward Arts Foundation and supported by Arts Council England.

The booksellers' list in full comprises:

1. Dart by Alice Oswald (Faber,2010)

2. The Rattle Bag edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes (Faber, 2005)

3. Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times edited by Neil Astley (Bloodaxe, 2002)

4. The Complete Poetry by Maya Angelou (Little Brown, 2015)

5. The Lost Words: A Spell Book by Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane (Hamish Hamilton, 2017)

6. A Poem for Every Night of the Year edited by Allie Esiri (Macmillan Children’s Books, 2016)

7. Ariel by Sylvia Plath (first published 1965, new restored edition Faber 2007)  

8. Plum by Hollie McNish (Picador, 2017)

9. Hold Your Own by Kate Tempest (Picador, 2014)

10. Bantam by Jackie Kay (Picador, 2017 )

11. Poems to Live Your Life By chosen and illustrated by Chris Riddell (Macmillan Children’s Books, 2018)

12. The Last Hedgehog by Pam Ayres, illustrated by Alice Tait (Picador, 2018)

13. Poems to Perform edited by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Clare Melinsky (Macmillan Children’s Books, 2013)

14. Between Mountain and Sea: Poems from Assynt by Norman MacCaig, edited by Roderick Watson (Birlinn, 2018)

15. Stag's Leap by Sharon Olds (Cape, 2012)

17. Hera Lindsay Bird by Hera Lindsay Bird (Penguin, 2017)

18. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Simon Armitage (Faber, 2009)

19. Two Cures for Love by Wendy Cope (Faber, 2009)

20. Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson (Cape, 1999)

21. Black Country by Liz Berry (Chatto, 2014)

22. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (Penguin, 2015)

23. Physical by Andrew McMillan (Cape, 2015)

24. My Family and Other Superheroes by Jonathan Edwards (Seren, 2014)

25. Travel Light Travel Dark by John Agard (Bloodaxe, 2013)