Sixty After Sixty

West Midlands' Poetry Place Libraries' Suggested Core Stock List of Post-1960 Poetry

What are the essential poetry books of the last thirty years that any library should want to stock? Our Sixty After Sixty list aims to answer this question.

A group of libraries throughout the West Midlands have become Poetry Places, working to promote contemporary poetry to a wide readership, in partnership with West Midlands Arts Board, the Poetry Society, and West Midlands Regional Library System. As part of this initiative, librarians have produced this list of their own choices for the sixty essential poetry books published since 1960, together with a personal comment on each selection. We set out to choose representative collections, influential poets, defining moments and classics - but inevitably our own personal favourites crept in.

Complete? Definitely not - we could have easily included another sixty. Controversial? Of course-you will probably find an important poet or two who have been omitted. But we hope the list is a starting point for discussion, argument, book-buying and book-borrowing. Welcome to Sixty After Sixty.


Selected Poems - Fleur Adcock (OUP 1983)
"A good introduction to one of the best poets writing in Britain."

And Still I Rise - Maya Angelou (Virago 1986)
"Angry, proud, declamatory style that inspired a generation."

Zoom! - Simon Armitage (Bloodaxe 1989)
"I would include all Simon Armitage's work if I could, but his first collection stands out for the excitement it caused, the wonderful titles, and the sense of a genuinely new and original voice. The inventive title poem sums up what poetry is."

The Best of Betjeman - John Betjeman (Penguin 1978)
"It does contain some poems published before 1960, but it is so accessible and entertaining: poetry for people who don't like poetry!"

Lost Land - Eavan Boland (Bloodaxe 1998)
"A continuation of this wonderful Irish poet's appetite for detail and meditation."

To Urania: Selected Poems 1965-1985 - Joseph Brodsky (Penguin 1988)
"Mind-boggling range and use of language from this Nobel Prize winner. Once you get into it, you won't look back."

Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame - Charles Bukowski (Black Sparrow 1998)
"Beat, downbeat, a strong influence on so many young poets."

Stranger Music - Leonard Cohen (Jonathan Cape 1993)
"Satin and steel, leather and lace, Canadian, Jewish and wonderful."

Ten Years in an Open-Necked Shirt - John Cooper Clarke (Arena 1983)
"Wry, witty, full of Mancunian intonation - the punk poet who showed a generation that you didn't have to be Oxbridge to write poetry."

Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis - Wendy Cope (Faber 1986)
"A slim volume packed with every kind of fun - dry humour, bitter comedy, pun, allusion, uproarious laughter, subtle jokes and jocular seriousness. This collection warms, informs, and makes you laugh - and dispels the myth of poetry as an elitist indulgence."

Coolie Odyssey - David Dabydeen (Dangaroo Press 1988)
"The second volume from this Caribbean-born, British-domiciled poet, written in a
mixture of English and Creole."

Selected Poems - Carol Ann Duffy (Penguin 1994)
"A fine collection from one of the few women (along with Cope and Fanthorpe) who were in the frame for Poet Laureate. One of the representative poets of our time. Her depth and range are extraordinary."

Lyrics 1962-1985 - Bob Dylan (Cape 1987)
"Here are the songs that turned a generation on to poetry. Stand up just as well, sometimes even better, than they do on vinyl."

Selected Poems - Ruth Fainlight (Sinclair Stevenson 1995)
"An influential American poet, resident in this country."

Safe as Houses - U.A. Fanthorpe (Peterloo Poets 1995)
"Her style is deceptively simple but her poems are rich, disturbing and powerful."

Night Photograph - Lavinia Greenlaw (Faber 1993)
"Decisive, finely-crafted - at the forefront of contemporary poetry."

The Hero and the Girl Next Door - Sophie Hannah (Carcanet 1995)
"Witty poems on love, life, and everything. Readable and rude!"

Selected Poems - Tony Harrison (Penguin 1984)
"Emotional frankness from a classical background."

North - Seamus Heaney (Faber 1975)
"Any Heaney could be included, but for me this volume was the real birth of the most skilful, mellifluous and intelligent of the many fine British poets since the Second World War."

The Mersey Sound - Adrian Henri, Roger McGough, Brian Patten (Penguin 1983)
"This landmark selection from three of Liverpool's finest poets was part of the cultural flow that cascaded from the North during the 1960s - the rebirth of poetry then was largely due to the humour and fresh appeal of this collection."

Violet - Selima Hill (Bloodaxe Books 1997)
"A brilliant, fragile collection by a remarkable poet exploring childhood, marriage, family life and relationships."

Vanishing Lung Syndrome - Miroslav Holub (Faber 1990)
"Ted Hughes described this Czech writer as 'one of the half dozen most important poets writing anywhere', and that's good enough for me."

Crow - Ted Hughes (Faber 1970)
"Myth-making for the twentieth century."

Birthday Letters - Ted Hughes (Faber 1998)
"Already a classic collection. Not just fine poetry, but also an intimate biography. A

The Arrivants - Edward Kamau Brathwaite (OUP 1973)
"This account of exile and displacement was ground-breaking in its time and influenced many poets writing of the same experiences.''

The Adoption Papers - Jackie Kay (Bloodaxe 1991)
"Unusual, moving and influential collection which tells the story of an adoption through different voices.

Cromwell - Brendan Kennelly (Bloodaxe 1987)
"A giant of the Irish literary tradition, and this collection took him into the premier league of world poets."

Tings an Times - Linton Kwesi Johnson (Bloodaxe 1991)
"Massively influential dub poet - a joy."

High Windows - Philip Larkin (Faber 1974)
"Should be in every collection, for the sparkle Larkin gives to the mundane." "Coventry's finest! The sense of England slipping past the window is still as fresh as ever."

Bagpipe Muzak - Liz Lochhead (Penguin 1991)
"Up-tempo, bitter-sweet self-awareness."
"Congenial, anecdotal style - and she writes about ties!"

Life Studies - Robert Lowell (Faber 1959)
"Strictly speaking this shouldn't be on the list, as it was actually published in 1959 -but it was such a landmark at the time, and has been so influential for so many poets since, that I think we should slip it in. A liberating volume: humanity in all its variety, imperfections and splendour."

Collected Poems - Norman MacCaig (Chatto and Windus 1985)
"A constant influencer of young Scottish poets."

The Breakage - Glyn Maxwell (Faber 1998)
"One of the leading lights of the new wave in poetry - creates an immediate excitement."

Selected Poems 1967-1987 - Roger McGough (Cape 1989)
"The prince of popular poetry. Hugely influential and guaranteed to make you look at commonly-held assumptions in a different light."

Dad, the Donkey's on Fire - Ian MeMillan (Carcanet 1994)
"Funny, sad, versatile." "Guaranteed to beguile readers new to poetry."

Adrian Mitchell's Greatest Hits - Adrian Mitchell (Bloodaxe 1991)
"Prolific, angry writer of poems that concern as well as amuse. Influenced a
generation of performance poets."

The Price of Everything - Andrew Motion (Faber 1994)
"A melancholy take on life from our new Poet Laureate, with a disarming simplicity and directness of language.

Collected Poems - Les Murray (Carcanet 1991/Minerva 1992)
"The biggest poet around."

The Fat Black Woman's Poems - Grace Nichols (Virago 1984)
"These vibrant poems tell of the brash woman who poses awkward questions. A
landmark in black poetry."

The Wellspring - Sharon Olds (Cape 1996)
"Capable like Plath and Sexton of harrowing accounts of being a woman, Olds is nevertheless responsible for some of the funniest serious poems I know."

The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile - Alice Oswald (OUP 1996)
"A passionate mixing of love and nature, challenging but worth the effort."

Nil Nil - Don Paterson (Faber 1993)
"New, exciting, award-winning." "Well-crafted use of language and a macabre view of life and love run through the work of this Forward prize-winning poet."

Ariel - Sylvia Plath (Faber 1965)
"I would include Ariel in any core collection, because after Ariel poetry was never the same again. Savage poems to take your breath away."

Collected Poems - Peter Porter (OUP 1984)
"This widely-acclaimed Australian poet is a must for any collection." "Many readers may have come across Porter as a 'social' poet of the 1960s -this offers a wider choice of his varied, entertaining and readable poems."

Selected Poems of Shamsur Rahman - Shamsur Rahman (translated and edited by Kaiser Haq, Anish Barua 1985)
"The contemporary Bangladeshi poet."

Thinking of Skins: New and Selected Poems - Carol Rumens (Bloodaxe 1993)
"An experience in imagining."

Selected Poems - Anne Sexton (Virago 1964)
"Rich, vivid poetry from this influential American poet."

Phrase Book - Jo Shapcott (OUP 1992)
"Language-y, surreal, funny, and very popular."

Collected Poems 1948-1984 - Derek Walcott (Faber 1992)
"Most of the poems from Walcott's first seven collections. One of the great, and most influential, poets of our age. And also wonderfully readable!"

City Psalms - Benjamin Zephaniah (Bloodaxe 1992)
"The sound and rhythms of the inner city pulsate through this collection."


The Popular Front of Contemporary Poetry - ed. Paul Beasley (Apples and Snakes 1992)
"Published to celebrate ten years of the performance poetry organisation, Apples and Snakes. An essential anthology featuring fifty of the hundreds of poets Apples and Snakes have worked with. Contributors range from Attila the Stockbroker to Linton Kwesi Johnson - a varied and exciting read."

The Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Women Poets - ed. Jeni Couzyn (Bloodaxe 1992)
"A wonderful collection of eleven British poets with the added bonus of each poet talking about their writing."

Making for Planet Alice - ed. Maura Dooley (Bloodaxe 1998)
"Bloodaxe's most recent anthology of new poetry by women - spiky, sparky, and up-to-the-minute."

Longman Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry - ed. Stuart Friebert and David Young (Longman 1989)
"A great selection which showcases the energy and inventiveness of modem American poetry."

The Rattle Bag - ed. Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes (Faber 1982)
"Each generation needs its defining anthology - this is ours?" "An eclectic collection of old favourites and untried gems with a surprise on every page, this volume can teach more about what poetry actually is than any course in English lit."

The New Poetry - ed. Michael Hulse, David Kennedy and David Morley (Bloodaxe 1993)
"An important collection which gave a voice to much of the new wave of poetry that developed in the 1980s." "Varied and a great dipping-in read."

Bittersweet: Contemporary Black Women's Poetry - ed. Karen McCarthy (The Women's Press 1998)
"A brilliant and deeply moving collection featuring well-established writers such as Alice Walker, Jackie Kay and Maya Angelou, as well as introducing new voices."

The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry - ed. Blake Morrison and Andrew Motion (Penguin 1982)
"A wide-ranging collection - a good starting point."

Emergency Kit - ed. Matthew Sweeney and Jo Shapcott (Faber 1996)
"A thrilling treasure chest of brilliant writing, all with a certain 'edge' in common. I couldn't stop rifling through it."

Poems on the Underground (8th edition, Cassell 1998)
"When London Transport started to put poems on its hoardings it caused a revolution in the perception of poetry. Any edition of this book is essential in a core collection."

This article was written by Christine Bridgwood and the many 'poetry activists' from the consortium of 16 West Midlands Libraries in the Poetry on Loan project. This project was supported by the Arts Council of England (through Poetry Places) and West Midlands Arts.