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Books: The Best Books of 2015 According to a Panel of 10 Experts. Our Eighth Expert – Stephen Stratford

Cambridge editor and author Stephen Stratford chooses books of verse by a couple of good old boys, and a good-looking book by an artist.

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Looking Out to Sea, by Kevin Ireland (Steele Roberts)

It took me a long time to read this: every night I would read the first poem, for Ireland’s late brother, which is so powerful that I couldn’t read any more after it. Next night I would start again: same problem. But eventually I cracked it – and it’s all good. As always there are memorable lines: “the itch that’s always at work/ under the skin of a settled existence”. In this 22nd collection Ireland is very good on happiness (a new note) and procrastination (perennial).

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Expecting Miracles, by Peter Bland (Steele Roberts)

Another poetry collection from an octogenarian where it was hard to get past the opening sequence of grieving. Bland is good on grief, and on regret in general – but balancing this, as with Ireland, is a delight in the pleasures of the moment. He also ranges over music, art (who knew there was a Yorkshire painter named Grimshaw?) and youthful optimism. On a photo of himself at 19: “It’s a pose/for posterity, as if the future/ will sort everything out/and I’m bound to come good.”

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(Auckland Art Gallery)

My full, rave review is here. The skinny: “Superbly designed and produced, this is the most enlightening and absorbing book on New Zealand art I have read in years. It is a brilliant piece of publishing. Now that we have the NZ Book Awards restored, this has to be a major contender.” Shows how much I know: it wasn’t even longlisted. Seriously baffling.

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