Top texts for September

September’s top texts have been chosen by Susannah Herbert, Executive Director of the Forward Arts Foundation.​

Dark Sky Park by Philip Gross

This glorious collection of poems from the extremes of existence transports its readers from the frozen wastes to the earth’s fiery core with a flick of the pen. Gross, a multiple prize winning poet for adults as well as for children, enlists the imagination to up-end all notions of normal – normal size, normal time-scales and life-spans. Science, humour and wonder coexist in his accounts of the tardigrade, eight legged creatures less than half a millimetre long whose 500 million years of survival on earth enable them to take, shall we say, a long view of existence. “To enter here, you have to shrink/ and slow down, down. / A day is one tick of the clock, one blink // of the sun’s eye.’ The illustrations, by Jesse Hodgson, are perfect complements to the poems, whose heroes include the Extreme Aunt, (“poised // on the diving board, the top, // with the wind in her hair. // She had to go further, further and it seems, // too far.”) Anyone from 6 to 100 who knows there’s more to life than meets the eye – or ear – will enjoy this book immoderately.

She is Fierce: Bold, Brave and Beautiful Poems by Women, Edited by Ana Sampson

The secret of a good anthology is the right combination of surprise and familiarity – and a thread that holds the pearls together. Ana Sampson’s deftly assembled collection expands the notion of what is meant by “women’s poetry”, ensuring that other contemporary anthologists who settle for just a scattering of female poets will look lazy and limited. I love the way in which contemporary social-media stars like Nikita Gill and Hollie McNish sit alongside classics like Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson, Sappho. There’s poetry from secondary school children – including several discovered and encouraged by the great Kate Clanchy – alongside avant-guard trail-blazers like Gertrude Stein and Vahni Capildeo. This is a conversation starter of a book: share it with friends of all ages, but particularly tweenage and teenage girls. Where do their voices belong? In the great tradition of literature and song, not on the margins anymore.

A Kid in My Class by Rachel Rooney

When children talk to me about school, the lessons and teachers are barely mentioned. It’s the other characters their age – their weird habits, their improbable confidence or baffling shyness, their you-had-to-be-there jokes – that set the classroom apart from the rest of the world. Rachel Rooney captures this in A Kid in My Class with an sensitivity that’s almost uncanny, and the witty illustrations by Chris Riddell lend the reading experience the kind of joy that rewards every level of engagement. Rooney’s the queen of form: she offers poems in every style. Look out for the school hamster who runs from page to page – he gets a poem of his own at the very end.


About this month's reviewer

Susannah joined the Forward Arts Foundation in 2012, after helping launch the Evening Standard’s Get London Reading campaign. She is the former editor of the Sunday Times books pages and a national newspaper journalist for 20 years.