Three Years of Blogging – Part 2: Poetic Moments

Amanda Rackstraw reading at the Edward Thomas 100 event

It’s three full years since I first launched my brand-new book blog, and I’ve been looking back at all the fantastic books that I’ve reviewed, the fascinating people I’ve met, and the incredible events I’ve been able to attend during that time. In fact, I’ve published a total of 218 posts, including interviews, features and reviews.

I decided early on to include fiction and poetry on my blog, and it was the right decision, reflecting my own interest, and allowing me an excuse to review and post about the books I enjoy, whatever the genre. I’ve heard hundreds of poets perform their work, and had the privilege of reviewing 28 poetry collections, many of which have inspired my own writing.

So, as I celebrate my three-year blogaversary, here are my top three ‘Poetic moments’ from the past three years, along with my top three Poetry Reviews…

My Top 3 Poetic Moments

poet Edward Thomas1
Number 1 – Celebrating the Legacy of Poet Edward Thomas

I knew very little about the poet Edward Thomas when I began volunteering for the Cardiff University Special Collections department in 2017, but I was soon hooked when I found myself holding his original handwritten manuscripts, reading poems that were over a hundred years old. I would highly recommend reading this biography, a compelling account of Edward Thomas’s final years, describing his emergence as a poet and his agonising decision to sign up and fight for his country. I thoroughly enjoyed organising a series of events for the centenary in April.

Edward Thomas 100 poetry reading
Number 2 – The Verve Poetry Festival

Jane Commane launch at Verve Poetry Festival

Verve was one of those seriously incredible poetic treats. As soon as I heard about this poetry festival taking place in Birmingham for the first time in 2017 I knew I had to go. I loved the diversity of poetic styles, the way everything was celebrated – spoken word, experimental and page poetry all together – and a whole host of big names in poetry, many of whom I had not heard before.
Number 3 – The Ledbury Poetry Festival

I’ve visited Ledbury a few times for the poetry festival, and I love the fact that it’s so small you end up bumping into poets all over the place. Highlights of previous years include hearing Owen Sheers read from ‘Pink Mist’ – I was so moved I could barely applaud at the end – and a hilarious performance from Benjamin Zephaniah. I love the little walled garden, the tea rooms and the fact that the weather is always perfect… You can read more about my visit to the festival in 2017 here.

My Top 3 Poetry Reviews
Number 1 – Mama Amazonica by Pascale Petit

Poetry Book - Mama Amazonica

I met Pascale Petit on a course at Tŷ Newydd a number of years ago, and I was so pleased to be able to not only review her new poetry collection, Mama Amazonica, but also to include quotes from the poet herself about the inspiration for these magical poems. Here is Pascale describing her inspiration for ‘Jaguar Girl’, inspired by a jaguar at Vincennes Zoo…

‘Jaguar Girl’ is really a portrait of Simara, as well as my mother when she was manic. On one of my frequent day-trips to Vincennes Zoo, I stayed all evening, as they have a few days in the summer when the zoo is open to the public up to 10pm. I was at the plate glass window alone. Simara recognises me I think, as does Aramis… She ran rampage, swimming up and down the pool in a fury of foam!

Number 2 – The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy

Book - The Bees

This collection means a lot to me. I heard Carol Ann Duffy perform work from it a number of years ago, and have read it several times. In February 2016 I wrote a review of it for my as-yet-un-launched blog, and it has been by far the most viewed book review over the last three years. I used that same review as part of my MA application in 2017, and since then it has inspired a poem of my own.

The Bees shows how it is possible to write poetry in a way that is accessible and clear, with a breadth and scope that will satisfy the most academic of readers. But it is also playful, imaginative and full of humour, celebrating life, nature, humanity and the power of language.”

Number 3 – The Immigration Handbook by Caroline Smith

Poetry - The Immigration Handbook, by Caroline Smith

This was a collection that really struck me, and one which I really enjoyed reading and reviewing:

The Immigration Handbook brings us people from all walks of life, facing intense, tragic, horrific, funny, paradoxical and challenging situations. There is every human emotion here, from resignation and regret, to defiance and tenderness. We see the people behind the headlines, and we rejoice and mourn alongside them. This collection not only moves the heart, but reveals to us the hidden stories of those who do not have a voice of their own.”

What a privilege to review so many inspirational poetry collections and partake in all those events! Looking back over the last three years, the main highlight has been the variety of fascinating people I’ve had the pleasure to meet: poets, novelists, publishers, spoken word artists, social media mavericks, editors, literary event organisers, and the list goes on… So here’s to the next three years of book blogging… who knows where they’ll lead me?

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