Injecting a bit of Welsh music into the list is Owen Sheers. Although he has ventured into playwriting, novels, and acting (his first play, The Two Worlds of Charlie F, debuted at the West End to rave reviews), Sheers first made his name as a poet. Born in Fiji and raised in West Wales, his varied cultural upbringing bleeds into his work, not least his two books of poetry: The Blue Books and Skirrid Hill. His poems draw heavily on Welsh heritage, referencing everything from its language to its mining history. The result is both lyrical and compelling, digging deep into the culture and landscape that for him contains ‘the answers/ to every question that I have never known.’
Though he arrived relatively late to the world of poetry, Sam Willetts has already been listed as a poet to watch in the coming year, appearing in the Poetry Book Society’s list of Next Generation Poets. A heroin addict for ten years, Sam was born and raised in Oxford, later ending up homeless due to his drug habit. He took up poetry-writing whilst in rehab, and has now released his first book of poems. New Light for an Old Dark was nominated for three awards, and is dark and gritty, focusing largely on the cold realities of drug use and how it has affected his life.
Kate Tempest’s particular brand of poetry, described by some as a mixture of hip-hop, poetry, and rap, has brought her to the attention of a large – and growing – audience. Brought up in South East London, she was surrounded by music and poetry from a young age, going on to study at the BRIT School for Performing Arts when she was sixteen. Tempest has worked as a performer, a playwright, a singer and as a spoken word poet. She has worked with the Old Vic, The Royal Shakespeare Company, and the BBC. Between all her appearances, she also found the time to release a music album, Everybody Down, which was nominated for the Mercury Prize 2014. The subjects she tackles: poverty and class, along with the unique way she delivers her work makes her an artist worth watching.
Heather Phillipson is another poet whose way of interpreting poetry can definitely be described as distinctive. An internationally exhibiting artist, her poems have often been published in newspapers such as The Guardian, and her recently-released book of poems, InstantFlex-718, was included in the Faber New Poet’s Series of 2009. Brought up in London, she trained as an artist before completing a Creative Writing course and discovering her talent as a poet. Her poems are deeply philosophical, concerned about family relationships and in finding the extraordinary in ordinary situations: poetry is probably one of the only mediums in which the concepts of a dinner-time talk and a cherry Genoa cake can be used to explore the poet’s questions about the nature of reality!
Another exciting addition to the list is Liz Berry. Winner of the Poetry London 2012 competition, Berry was born in the West Midlands and studied at Royal Holloway before publishing her first collection of poems, Black Country, in August 2014. Dialect plays a large part in Liz’s poetry: she uses it in poems such as ‘Birmingham Roller’, which describes a bird as ‘jimmucking the breeze…caught by the open donny of the clouds’. This sprinkling of exotic words conjures the world of the Black Country vividly to the mind’s eye, and gives her work a unique flavour.
Not many people can say that they became the first Young Poet Laureate for London before the age of twenty five, but Warsan Shire has done it. Though born in Kenya to Somali parents, she later immigrated to London, where she started writing poetry in order to reconnect with her roots. Her work first attracted notice in 2011, where her poem ‘For Women Who Are Difficult To Love’ went viral on the internet, and shortly afterwards her first collection of poems, Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth, was released. Warsan’s poems focus on the themes of love, loss, and travel between the worlds of Africa and Britain.
By Vicky Jessop