The best of Australian poetry 2021

In 2021, we revived poetry in the Readings Monthly, which allowed me the great privilege reading so many excellent collections. 2021 has truly been an excellent year for Australian poetry — it was incredibly difficult to choose only 10!

It’s worth noting that most of these poets I have chosen are either First Nations or people of colour. I think poetry is where a lot of exciting voices are coming together to protest against colonisation and to find and record new ways of loving, celebrating joy in continuing to exist in the face of great adversity and violence. In my 10 Best of Australian Poetry for 2021, there is something for everyone: kids, the occasional or beginner poetry reader, and right through to more intense academic reading.

How to Make a Basket by Jazz Money

Simmering with protest and boundless love, Jazz Money’s David Unaipon Award-winning collection, how to make a basket, examines the tensions of living in the Australian colony today. By turns scathing, funny and lyrical, Money uses her poetry as an extension of protest against the violence of the colonial state, and as a celebration of Blak and queer love.

Dropbear by Evelyn Araluen

Dropbear interrogates the complexities of colonial and personal history with an alternately playful, tender and mournful intertextual voice, deftly navigating the responsibilities that gather from sovereign country, the spectres of memory and the debris of settler-coloniality.

How Decent Folk Behave by Maxine Beneba Clarke

On a daylight street in Minneapolis Minnesota, a Black man is asphyxiated - by callous knee of an officer, by cruel might of state, and under crushing weight of colony. In Melbourne the body of another woman has been found - this time, after catching a late tram home. These poems speak of the world that is, and sing for a world that may one day be.

Whisper Songs by Tony Birch

Divided into three sections - Blood, Skin and Water - the poems in Whisper Songs address themes of loss (of people and place), the legacies of colonial history and violence, and the relationships between Country and memory. Whisper Songs reveals Birch at his lyrical and intimate best.

A Thousand Crimson Blooms by Eileen Chong

Eileen Chong’s luminous poetry examines the histories - personal, familial and cultural - that form our identities and obsessions. This collection is a deepening of her commitment to a poetics of sensuous simplicity and complex emotions, even as she confronts the challenges of infertility or fraught mother-daughter relations. Entwined throughout are questions of migration and belonging.

Human Looking by Andy Jackson

The poems in Human Looking speak with the voices of the disabled and the disfigured, in ways which are confronting, but also illuminating and tender. They speak of surgical interventions, and of the different kinds of disability which they seek to ‘correct’. They range widely, finding figures to identify with in mythology and history, art and photography, poetry and fiction.

Take Care by Eunice Andrada

Take Care explores what it means to survive within systems not designed for tenderness. Bound in personal testimony, the poems situate the act of rape within the machinery of imperialism, where human and non-human bodies, lands, and waters are violated to uphold colonial powers.

The Open by Lucy Van

The Open comprises four sections: Hotel Grand Saigon, The Esplanade, Australian Open I and Australian Open II. The first three sections are long poems broken into parts, with the final section comprising mostly unconnected poems. This collection is for a confident poetry reader – especially one interested in decolonisation.

Fishing for Lightning by Sarah Holland-Batt

In fifty illuminating and lively short essays on fifty poets, Holland-Batt offers a masterclass in how to read and love poetry, opening up the music of language, form, and poetic technique in her casual and conversational yet deeply intelligent style. Dazzling in its erudition, but always accessible and entertaining.

Are You There, Buddha? by Pip Harry

Over one blistering summer, set against the backdrop of bushfires, smoke haze and water restrictions, Bee will grow up, show up, and make a name for herself. This is a sensitive verse novel about walking the path from childhood to adult from an award winning author for children.

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How to Make a Basket

How to Make a Basket

Jazz Money

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