Five British Poets to Watch in 2017

01/02/2017 12:05 pm ET Updated Jan 02, 2018

Lovers of poetry have this consolation at least: when times get tough, the poetry gets better. Stalinism gave us Anna Akhmatova; The Troubles in Northern Ireland gave us Seamus Heaney. In fact, nothing seems to focus the art like tyranny, terror, and an unsteady economy. We have much to look forward to.

Dark humour aside, poetry can provide a solace deeper than comfort eating or the break from reality that reality television provides--by probing past the sound bites (and bytes) into singular and timeless human experience. Here are five sharp poets who make that cut.

Rebecca Bird is a poet and performer of remarkable verve. There is urgency and honesty in her work, pressing at the elastic bounds of language, but always with a human purpose, wanting to "brush the dark from your knees". Look out for her debut Shrinking Ultraviolet from Eyewear Publishing later this year.

Bryony Littlefair is an emerging poet of considerable talent. Though still building her print record, I had the pleasure of encountering her work in a Poetry Society Poetry Surgery last year. Her carefully-observed poems celebrate the practicality of "grans", wistful giftshops, and quiet beauty of NHS nurses, remaining ever true and attuned to the music of everyday speech. Watch for her in publications to come.

Beneath a mild librarian's exterior, Lorraine Mariner's rich inner life overspills into dazzling poems. Whether breaking up with an imaginary boyfriend ("nothing in our relationship has ever surprised me") or dreaming of a pub full of great women poets ("They didn't invite me to join them, but ... I got the impression one of them knew who I was ... this was a start"), Mariner has made a fine art of British self-deprecation. More than this, her introspective and inimitably quirky tone makes us chuckle, then think. Her first two books from Picador have fast become cult classics.

Abegail Morley's work is complex, deeply felt, and haunted by absence. Hers is a fragile, wistful beauty, spoken in a voice that only matures and deepens with each new publication. Hers are messages in a bottle, issued from the quiet depths of a profound sensitivity--to language, to life, and loss. Her website The Poetry Shed also remains a cherished keep of last retreat for those seeking solitude in words.

Philip Larkin would no doubt approve of Mel Pryor winning the poetry prize bearing his name in 2015. Quirky, intense, and multifaceted--her poems work though layers of (sometimes double) meaning, razor-focused on the commonplace in a sharp but unpretentious way. Cruelty becomes kindness in man's fickle mind in "Rattus Rattus", a "Mosquito" becomes a hated mistress, and "Housework" becomes erotic in middle age ("his little paunch in the small of her back"). Here's something delicious, different, and true.

If, like me, you're determined not to obsess over scheduled programming--like Season One of "Trumpy Days" or "Dumb and Dumber: The Brexit Negotiations"--may I suggest you turn your attention to something less dull and predictable, like poetry? The five above can help you make a good start. And if all else fails, we have that brief three-line poem to fall back on: the serenity prayer.

Wishing you acceptance, courage, and wisdom in your reading and living out the year ahead. More poetry, more fiercely, please, to see us through.