Our lists of recommended reads for National Poetry Day 2021 can be viewed below featuring forty-three inspiring new poetry books from twenty-six publishers. The selection is our biggest yet, reflecting the vibrancy of poetry publishing, particularly from small presses which make more appearances on the list than ever before.
We have lists for adults, book groups, children and young adults, featuring new releases from Sarah Crossan, Raymond Antrobus, Kate Fox, Caleb Femi and Manjeet Mann to name a few. We also have reading notes for the book groups list, to help you prompt discussion in your book groups on our selected titles.
We hope you'll find lots to appeal, whatever your tastes. And keep an eye on the NPD blog too for interviews, features and the chance to win sets of these exciting books.
Jason Allen-Paisant (Carcanet Press)
Inspired by the poet’s childhood growing up in Coffee Grove, a small town in Jamaica where Allen-Paisant learned to ‘think with the elements’, this debut collection explores the environmental conditions underpinning Black identity while urging us to imagine alternative futures. Thinking with Trees offers compelling and original insights on Blackness and nature through a Jamaican lens on the British landscape and way of life.
Threa Almontaser (Picador)
A love letter to the country and people of Yemen; a portrait of young Muslim womanhood in New York after 9/11; and an extraordinarily composed examination of what it means to carry in the body the echoes of what came before, this collection interrogates how language powers self-knowledge and survival. Fearlessly riding the tension between carnality and tenderness in the unruly human spirit, Almontaser’s debut is bold and thrilling.
Amit Chaudhuri (Shearsman)
Chaudhuri’s talents as a prize-winning novelist, non-fiction writer, singer and poet coalesce beautifully in this collection, written following the loss of his parents. Many of the poems are haunted by characters, including Ramanujan, the genius mathematician and one of the few Indian fellows at Cambridge. From bereavement to the legacies of colonialism, suffering permeates these poems but there are also moments of renewal: ‘You bite; it tastes alive again’.
Adrian B. Earle (Broken Sleep Books)
This expansive collection dips into a diverse array of subjects: the trials and tribulations of masculinity; the omnipresence of racism; and an existential conversation with the universe. Earle’s reference to the Book of Judges, ‘Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet’, is typical of the rich connections within these poems; they move beyond the present by diving deep into the well of human experience.
Kate Fox (Nine Arches Press)
Responding to a world that has been broken by the pandemic into a ‘before’ and ‘after’, The Oscillations explores distance and isolation in poems that are dazzling and open-hearted works of self-discovery. A strong voice sings of what it means to be many things at once: autistic, creative, northern, a woman. Fox measures distances, social or otherwise; how we breach them; and what the view might be beyond them.
Harry Josephine Giles (Picador)
This collection is a magical first: a science-fiction verse novel written in the Orkney dialect. An art student returning from Mars and a misfit searching for somewhere to hide are part of the varied cast in this unique adventure, which comes with a parallel vivid and playful English translation guaranteeing all readers access to the lightness of touch and musicality one might expect from one of Scotland’s most talented poets.
Daisy Lafarge (Granta)
In this capricious, dreamlike collection, characters and scenes traverse states of airlessness, from suffocating relationships and institutions to toxic environments and ecstatic asphyxiations. Lafarge’s poems engage with feminism and climate change, allowing natural phenomena to upset patriarchal hierarchies; tender and intimate spaces, however, cannot always escape either force. Both compassionate and ecologically nuanced, this innovative collection bridges poetry and prose to interrogate the conditions necessary for survival.
Denise Miller (Eyewear Publishing)
A Ligature for Black Bodies attempts to re-humanise Black bodies into Black people by holding the power structures and people accountable who have reified a dominant and destructive discourse. The poems refuse the narrative of Black bodies as bodies only; their discourse creates a space where the poems re-member Black people’s dismemberment at the hands of white people through a journey of truth-telling.
Rebecca Swift (Valley Press)
Rebecca Swift believed every writer had the right to be heard. A Suitable Love Object was that dream brought to fruition, written in secret and assembled just before Swift’s untimely death. For those lucky enough to know her, this posthumous collection provides a few more precious moments in her profound, witty company. For new readers, this is an opportunity to bear witness to a wonderful mind at work.
Jack Underwood (Faber)
This accomplished collection finds fresh ways of navigating a time of continual surprise and uncertainty. Underwood focuses on a range of preoccupations, many of which come out of the poet’s thoughts on the limits of masculinity and the complexities of fatherhood. Throughout, amusing and uncanny scenarios appear alongside domestic subjects in skewed lyrics and thought experiments, all presented with a generosity and tenderness that make the poet so unmistakable.
Ralf Webb (Penguin)
Webb uses poetry as a lens with which to examine the textures of class, youth, adulthood, and death in the working communities of the West Country. The world of these poems is close, dangerous, lustrous and difficult: a world in which whole existences are lived in the spin of almost-inescapable fates. In searching for the light within it, this powerful debut announces a major new voice in British poetry.
Nidhi Zak/Aria Eipe (Faber)
Nidhi Zak/Aria Eipe’s spellbinding debut explores love and the wounds it makes. The first half’s five sections correspond to the five arrows of Kama, the Hindu God of Love, Desire and Memory: each arrow has its own effect and its particular journey of love. The second half is a different journey, involving migration and exile. With extraordinary structure, this is a skillful and intimate account of home and belonging.
Poetry Books for Book Groups
A list of recommended titles for all book groups. Download a poster featuring all the titles here. You can also download notes and questions for your book group here. View most of the titles on the list on our bookshop.org page here but all the books and details about the collections can be found below.
Raymond Antrobus (Picador)
Building on his award-winning debut collection, these new poems are intimate and deeply personal, flickering with gods and ghosts, and the painful electricity that runs up and down the wires of lineage and inheritance. The poems travel through space, from England to South Africa to Jamaica to the American south, and move fluently from family history to love’s fragility. This is an essential investigation into language, miscommunication, place and memory.
Eavan Boland (Carcanet Press)
The Historians is the final collection from one of Ireland’s greatest poets. Boland returns to her signature themes by exploring the ways in which the hidden and all but erased stories of women’s lives can powerfully revise our sense of the past. She is deeply concerned with a sense of place, geographically and within Irish history, and makes moving connections between the generations of women within her own family.
Zoe Brigley and Kristian Evans (Seren)
Our climate is on the brink of catastrophic change. This landmark anthology presents a positive and determined impulse to change for the better the way we interact with the environment. Featuring a selection of renowned poets from Britain, Ireland, America and beyond, these poems invite us to fine-tune our senses, to listen to the world around us, pay attention to what we have been missing, to remember the forgotten.
John Carey (Yale University Press)
John Carey, the distinguished Oxford professor and devoted poetry advocate, has compiled a short, uniquely valuable anthology of verse based on a simple principle: select the one hundred greatest poets from across the centuries, and then choose their very best poems. The result is a celebration of poetry’s rich and varied history. In the words of The Times: ‘Does anyone know more about poetry than John Carey? Almost certainly not.’
Caleb Femi (Penguin)
Femi’s lyrical debut combines poetry and original photography to explore the trials, tribulations, dreams and joys of Black youth in twenty-first century Peckham. He contemplates the ways in which they are informed by the built environment of concrete walls and gentrifying neighbourhoods that form their stage. This is a tribute to the world that shaped a poet, and to the people forging difficult lives and finding magic within it.
Angela Gardner (Shearsman)
The Sorry Tale takes place in the West Country, at sea, in the courtroom, and in Australia as the poet traces the story of her great-grandmother’s cousin, Richard Parker, a cabin-boy who met a terrible fate in a voyage gone wrong; Gardner then follows history to the sensational trial of his shipmates, and murderers. The collection explores power relationships, individual motives, survivor guilt and self-justification, justice and divine retribution.
Aaron Kent (Broken Sleep Books)
Crossing Lines features a variety of poets writing about immigration and refuge; it shows how the physical and and metaphorical borders of civilisation have shifted over time and how some persist. The most powerful sentiment in this impressive anthology is one of community, it is a collection which takes delight in the shared complexity of human experience, celebrating what makes us who we are, gathered together under poetry’s welcoming umbrella.
Lucy Newlyn (Yale University Press)
How does poetry work? What should readers look out for? This wonderfully accessible handbook is a guide to the art of writing and reading poetry - itself written entirely in verse! Poet Lucy Newlyn demystifies the principles of the form, effortlessly illustrating key approaches and terms. By avoiding glosses and notes, her poems are allowed to speak for themselves and show that there are no limits to what poetry can communicate.
UPDATE: Please note Friend: Poems By Young People edited by Kate Clanchy was previously listed on the Book Groups recommended list. The publisher has delayed its publication until March 2022 (tbc) making it ineligible for this year's campaign so it has been removed.
Poetry Books for Children
Alexander Kwame (Andersen Press)
The Undefeated is a powerful and important ode to Black history: the strength and bravery of everyday people and the grit, passion, and perseverance of some of the world’s greatest artists, athletes, and activists. With reference to lyrics and lines originally shared by our most celebrated heroes, this poem digs into the not-so-distant past to underline the endurance and spirit of those surviving and thriving in the present.
Brian Bilston (Macmillan)
This hilarious and brilliant collection of football poems by the unofficial Poet Laureate of Twitter is perfect for all football fans. Whether you’re a young footie fanatic or a ‘been-to-every-game’ grandma, there are plenty of witty chants, fun shape poems, and maybe even a haiku or two, about the beautiful game to make you giggle. Laugh together through the Euros or Premier League and swap the half-time pundits for puns!
Joseph Coelho (Walker Books)
Frankenstiltskin is the second story in a deliciously dark three-part series of twisted classics. Bryony is her family’s most extraordinary taxidermist. When news of her skills reach the King of Mythica, he sets her three impossible tasks. Frankenstein meets Rumpelstiltskin in this expertly stitched story about a powerful king, a girl unafraid to stand up for her beliefs, and a monstrous little creature with magic - and greed - in his bones.
Sharon Creech (Guppy Books)
Following a family move to Maine, Reena has no idea what to expect. She was hoping for beaches, but instead, she’s put in charge of a menagerie of animals by her irascible neighbour, which features a fast-wheeling pig, a secretive snake, and the most bad-tempered cow she has ever met. This is a wonderfully funny, moving story of one family’s move from city to country, and the challenges they face.
Nadim (Walker Books)
This very special collection of poems is written by Nadim, who is only four years old! Along with wonderful illustrations from Yasmeen Ismail, Nadim beautifully captures how she sees the world: a world of rainbows, glitter and magical boxes; a world of nursery, hometime and cuddles with Mum. By turns funny and charming, gentle and zany, this book shows that poetry is for everyone - no matter how little you are!
Shauna Darling Robertson (Troika Books)
In her first book of poems for children, Robertson celebrates creative thinking, encourages curiosity and takes pleasure in looking at things ever so slightly askew. Discover a world where ordinary things like eating and adverts seem quite preposterous, while absurd things such as teacups feeling unloved are fairly commonplace. Imaginative and highly original, this collection asks big questions about how we think about ourselves, each other and the world.
Coral Rumble (Troika Books)
This is an inventive and evocative story of Ava, a young girl facing challenges in her daily life and how she overcomes them. Can Ava be brave enough to allow some light to shine on the darker parts of her life? In a seamless poetic narrative, Rumble creates a world peppered with utterly believable characters and feelings, and highlights the dilemmas and problems young people face as they grow up.
Joshua Seigal (Bloomsbury)
The winner of the 2020 Laugh Out Loud Book Awards brings his raucous humour, creativity and wit to another brilliant collection of poems. Ideal for fans of Michael Rosen, this book will delight all young readers. From learning how to have a tantrum in eight steps to reasons why you should NEVER attend a teddy bear picnic, these hilarious and heartfelt poems - and everything in between - offer something to everyone.
William Sieghart (Walker Books)
Combining traditional favourites with recent gems, this exquisite anthology contains over a hundred poems chosen by the bestselling Poetry Pharmacy’s creator and illustrated with sensational style by Emily Sutton. The collection, populated by an extraordinary and diverse range of voices, is split into four sections, including Poems to Make You Smile and Poems to Give You Hope. Here are poems to intrigue, console, and uplift readers of all ages.
Zaro Weil (Troika Books)
This joyful and exuberant book of 100 simple, yet highly evocative, haiku are based on the natural world and conjure up nature in all its diversity from the wonderfully ordinary to the positively weird. By exploring the colourful words, shapes and rhythms, children will be drawn into a captivating poetic world where language and meaning magically merge. This is an exciting must-read for young poetry explorers and nature lovers everywhere.
Alex Wharton (Firefly Press)
From hairy jellybeans to beautiful daydreams the poems and beautiful illustrations within this debut collection are enjoyable and entertaining. They aim to spark familiarity and inclusion, and to expand the mind in curious and thoughtful ways by revelling in the natural world. The rhymes and rhythms of these poems carry the reader along, and make them ideal to perform outloud, helping to nurture confidence, self-expression, and a love of language.
Jessica Wilson (Tallawah Publishing)
Every Sunday afternoon, Sofia’s mum washes and combs her hair. Whenever her hair is touched, Sofia gets very sleepy. In her dreams, she travels to many places and meets many people whose stories show her the history, heroes and joys entangled in afro hair. This fantasy poem, winner of a GoFundMe award, unravels the history of natural hairstyles and encourages children to love all of who they are.
Elizabeth Acevedo (Bonnier Books)
Camino and Yahahira Rios are both shattered when their father dies in a plane crash, but neither of them knows the other exists. When it seems they’ve lost everything of their father, they find each other. In a dual narrative verse novel that brims with grief and love, award-winning author Elizabeth Acevdeo writes about the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness, and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives.
Joseph Coelho (Otter Barry Books)
Joseph Coelho seamlessly but searingly weaves together the ancient legend of Daphne, who was turned into a tree to avoid the attentions of the god Apollo, and a totally modern tale about seeking freedom, mixing real-life and fantasy. This is a heart-stoppingly imaginative story told in poems, at times bleak and even tragic, which is layered, rich and ultimately a tour de force of poetic skill and energy.
Sarah Crossan (Bloomsbury)
Sometimes it’s hard to find the right words. This anthology, compiled by the incomparable Sarah Crossan, is perfect for those struggling to offer the right words of comfort - in this year and beyond. Focusing on positivity, this collection is ideal to dip into whenever you need a boost. Containing a selection of classic as well as contemporary poets, this beautiful book will lift your spirits time and time again.
Allie Esiri (Macmillan)
Perfect for reading aloud, this life-affirming anthology is bursting at the seams with old favourites and exciting new discoveries. Each of the 366 poems features a small introduction that gives a sense of who the writer was, and not just the greatness of their work. The day-to-day format invites the reader to make poetry a part of their daily routine so that they can discover something inspirational all year round.
Manjeet Mann (Penguin)
Natalie’s family is falling apart; Sammy has fled his home for the chance of a new life in Europe. A twist of fate brings them together and gives them both hope. But is hope enough to mend a broken world? A trailblazing new novel in verse about two teenagers from opposite worlds, The Crossing is a profound story of hope, grief, and the very real tragedies of the refugee crisis.
Mara Nkere (Eyewear Publishing)
A Girl and Boy in a relationship that is both intoxicating and toxic, exhilarating but ultimately costly to each. Nkere tells it all through the parallel narratives of the Girl and Boy, drawing on a kaleidoscope of influences that include poetic prose and contemporary spoken word. Experimental in form, this startling debut breaks with convention, bringing seemingly polarised forces into combat: religion versus desire, and love versus desolation.
Louisa Reid (Guppy Books)
Joe and Imogen seem like the perfect couple - they’ve been together forever and they’re the envy of their friends at school. But after they become involved in a tragic fatal accident, they are embroiled in a situation out of their control and their relationship begins to unravel...Structured around a dramatic court case, the reader becomes both judge and jury in a stunning verse novel looking to uncover the truth.
Ana Sampson (Macmillan)
The Natural History Museum has a collection of over eighty million objects from the depths of space to the very centre of earth. Wonders gathered on some of the most famous voyages in history; ancient fossils; the solar system: all have inspired this fantastic collection of brand new and classic poems which speaks of the wonder of nature and shows us why we need to look after our incredible planet.
Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam (Harper Collins)
This searing verse novel follows Amal Shahid, a teen poet and artist. Even in a diverse art school, however, he’s seen as disruptive by a biased system. Then, one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood turns to tragedy. Wrongfully imprisoned at sixteen years old, his bright future is upended. Despair and rage almost sink him until he returns to the refuge of his words: his art.