Poetry special: Become an expert
William Wootten chooses the best of this autumn's rich poetry crop
So October's poetry events have worked their magic and you're actually going to buy a new book of verse. The autumn poetry releases give you a rich and varied crop to choose from. Michael Longley's Collected Poems (Jonathan Cape, 368pp, £25) is an obvious highlight. Whether as nature poet or war poet, Longley has a sensitive, resonant lyric voice; and his Collected Poems is a reminder of just how formidable the generation of Northern Irish poets that also produced Seamus Heaney has proved to be. Also from Northern Ireland, though now resident in the States, is the altogether more postmodern Paul Muldoon. Horse Latitudes (Faber & Faber, 118pp, £14.99) contains such conceits as text messages to the 19th-century poet Tom Moore and shows that Muldoon has lost none of his flair for riddle, rhyme and technical wizardry. The Australian poet Les Murray is a similarly big name whose bright and varied new book, The Biplane Houses (Carcanet, 91pp, £8.95), does not disappoint.
However, in order to find what suits you, it might be worth browsing a little off the beaten track. If you suspect that you like your subject matter raw and your poetic forms well cooked, you should take a look at Marilyn Hacker's Essays on Departure: new and selected poems 1980-2005 (Carcanet, 180pp, £12.95). Turning her hand to sapphics, ghazals and pantoums, Hacker can bring order and dignity to the most emotionally charged descriptions, whether of sex or of the effects of cancer. If that seems a bit claustrophobic, you might be better suited to This Life, This Life (Bloodaxe, 224pp, £10.95), the new and selected poems of the novelist and travel writer Andrew Greig. Whether he's imagining the pilots of the Second World War or taking his poem up mountains and around the world, Greig's style tends to match the energy of his material. In his quieter, more lyrical moments, he can also be an affective love poet.
Poets who are good performers don't always work well on the page, but some do. Guyanese-born John Agard brings wit, lightness of touch and an impressive sense of history to We Brits (Bloodaxe, 72pp, £7.95), a book that should be given to anyone liable to muse on the nature of British identity. Simon Armitage's Tyranno saurus Rex Versus the Corduroy Kid (Faber & Faber, 78pp, £12.99) is considerably more ambitious than the cartoon title might suggest, its varied contents showing a talented and ambitious author able to move between light pieces and darker, weightier works.
The ability of such poets to be "accessible" while also repaying rereading is sometimes used to reproach more "inaccessible" poets,especially those who would associate themselves with the notoriously difficult J H Prynne. There is, however, nothing forbidding about the Journals (Shearsman, 144pp, £9.95) of Prynne's friend R F Langley. Not only do they give you a way into Langley's excellent, though frequently elusive, poetry, but their beautiful descriptive passages and attendance to the details of the natural world bring to mind the letters and journals of the Romantics.
Poetic translation is not only a service: it can be an art in itself. Orpheus (Faber & Faber, 80pp, £12.99), Don Paterson's "version" of Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus, puts Rilke into well-made modern English sonnets: poems in their own right rather than pointers to another language. There is also an informative afterword, as interesting for what it says about Paterson as for what it says about Rilke. The poet Michael Hofmann usually translates only German prose. His decision to break this rule in order to bring Durs Grünbein's selected poems, Ashes for Breakfast (Faber & Faber, 160pp, £12.99), into English for the first time is to be welcomed. The flexibility of form and register, style and subject, makes one admire poet and translator alike. The age of poetry certainly hasn't passed.