The top 10, in order:
1. Those Winter Sundays by Robert Hayden
2. Holy Island by Andrew Motion
3. Instead of an Epilogue by Kingsley Amis
4. Aubade by Philip Larkin
5. When I Consider How My Light Is Spent by John Milton
6. If I Were Paul by Mark Jarman
7. Like the Touch of Rain by Edward Thomas
8. Neutral Tones by Thomas Hardy
9. Sonnet 29 by William Shakespeare
10. Ever So Many Hundred Years Hence by Mark Strand
Honorable mentions: High Country Weather by James K. Baxter; Mirror by Mark Strand; In Paris with You by James Fenton; Repression by C. K. Williams; History by Mark Jarman; Coming by Philip Larkin; Biography by Ian Hamilton
It’s basically futile and maybe even ridiculous to try to come up with something like a Top Ten list for poems. The works above all resonate with me, sure, but their vibrations and echoes vary with each reading, just as some pack a single, leveling punch while others are consistently stirring each time I return. And anyways, unlike novels and nonfiction, poetry is so particular to the reader. As Auden wrote in “The Novelist”, a poet is “encased in talent like a uniform”: his job is so demanding because it is so hyper-specialized. A novelist, on the other hand, is called on to be an everyman — as Auden phrases it, “Among the Just/ Be just, among the Filthy filthy too”.
All of this, I guess, is just a long way of apologizing in advance to those of you who may disagree with this list. Don’t get too worked up at me. I’ll probably disagree with myself tomorrow.
Like everyone else, I’ve been tied up with so many other things these past few weeks, and so writing has been stuck on the back burner. Still, I hope to compile similar lists for this year in fiction, history, philosophy, etc. in the next few days.
Read the other 68 poems I’ve posted on TBP.
Read my one-sentence reviews of every book I picked up this year: