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Books for Breakfast podcast co-hosts poets Peter Sirr and Enda Wyley choose their top 10 poetry books of 2020 ...

Books for Breakfast's top 10 poetry books of 2020

Enda Wyley, Peter Sirr, and Oscar the dog at home. Photographer: Eoin Rafferty

Enda Wyley, Peter Sirr, and Oscar the dog at home. Photographer: Eoin Rafferty

Books for Breakfast top 10 poetry books of 2020


Collected Poems by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

This hugely impressive Collected Poems contains not only poetry from more than fifty years and nine collections but also new, previously unpublished poems by the masterful poet Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin. It is a poetry book of singular beauty and mysteries and opens doors into multiple unforgettable worlds. Awarding Ní Chuilleanáin the 2010 Griffin Prize, the judges noted, “She is a truly imaginative poet, whose imagination is authoritative and transformative.’ This wonderful book embodies all of these qualities and more – a book for life.


As If By Magic: Selected Poems by Paula Meehan

Paula Meehan’s poems are clear sighted, uncompromising, politically brave and astute on issues of gender and class. They are immersed in the city of Dublin that she loves. They are also instinctive and celebratory in their responses to the natural world. Hers is a poetic vision that above all bears witness to being alive and Books for Breakfast highly recommend her Selected poems, As If By Magic. One of the great poetry books of 2020.

Masscare of the Birds by Mary O’Donnell

In this her new collection, Mary O’Donnell is a smooth stylist, converting ideas, emotions, opinions into genuine poetry. These are poems filled with a great integrity of feeling, a lightness of touch, and a determined sense of purpose in these precarious times.

Where Now Begins by Kerry Hardie

A book of enormous heart, fragility and courage, very aware of the cycles of life and decay, the wax and wane of seasons, and shot through with a sense of the fragility of life. These finely crafted poems grabbed our attention this year and make a wonderful companion to Kerry Hardie’s previous seven collections, including her Selected Poems, published in 2011.

Some Lives by Leeanne Quinn

This second collection by Munich based Irish poet Leeanne Quinn does not disappoint. Clear-sighted and compelling, this is a book that finely conjures a delicate and imaginative world for its poems to inhabit.

Winter shadows
the last frost of spring.
Soon it will be bright
early.

A flash of square light
from a window,
no one is sleeping.

From ‘Magnesium, or Akhmatova’s Dream,’ Some Lives.

Street Light Amber by Noel Duffy

A lover returns after a three year absence, and so begins the slow process of rebuilding the relationship against the backdrop of the city in these well-crafted meditative poems. Previous collections by Noel include In the Library of lost Objects, 2011, On Light and Carbon, 2013 and Summer Rain 2016. Lovers of poetry will be won over by this book. As Poetry Ireland Review said; ‘He exhibits only the good stuff, the best work, there’s no small talk, no gimmicks, nothing insincere, he just gets down to the heart of things and gives us poems that matter.’

September 1, 1939: A Biography of a Poem by Ian Sansom

A book about Auden’s ‘September 1st 1939’ but also a book about writing about Auden’s poem. Ian Sansom spent 25 years writing it, there have been countless wars in the interim, the world is an utterly different place but the poem, which Auden himself rejected, keeps persisting. A witty and informative biography of the mind of Auden and of Sansom himself.

The Immortal Evening: A Legendary Dinner with Keats, Wordsworth, and Lamb Paperback by Stanley Plumley

On 28 December 1817, painter Benjamin Robert Haydon hosts a dinner and supper at his house in London. At what he called the immortal dinner were John Keats, 21, who only has another four years to live, William Wordsworth, then a well-established poet, and Charles Lamb, not yet the famous essayist. This fascinating book tells the story of that evening and the world these immortal writers and poets came from.

Come Closer and Listen by Charles Simic

Another fine collection from this ever-inventive and often mischievous poet. As he puts it in an essay: ‘I’m the mystic of the frying pan and my love’s pink toes …. the idea is, it is possible to make astonishingly tasty dishes from the simplest ingredients.’

Staying Human: Real Poems for Unreal Times edited by Neil Astley

For all anthology lovers this is an international anthology of 500 life-affirming poems fired by belief in the human and the spiritual at a time when much in the world feels unreal, inhuman and hollow. Lots of familiar voices, including many Irish voices, but full of surprises too. Strongly recommended.

For more book recommendations, and a weekly look at fiction and poetry, you can tune in to the Books for Breakfast podcast here.

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