There’s nothing like dipping into the odd volume of poetry to give you that kick for the New Year. Poems boost the emotions one way or another, make you think, can be read in a moment but savoured and absorbed for hours afterwards, and are perfect for reading late at night or on your way into work. Anyway, that’s what I’ve been doing, so here are my picks to share with you.
A lovely way to ease yourself in is to read Wendy Cope’s fabulous poem ‘The New Regime’ – irreverent and very funny, it covers all the resolutions that most of us pretend we’ll keep to at the start of the year, and subsequently break. And it ends with the lines:
We all have to be sensible sooner or later
But I refuse to be sensible all the time.
How cheering is that?
The news that Carol Ann Duffy’s first collection since becoming Poet Laureate, The Bees, has won the 2011 Costa Poetry Award is hugely welcome. Of course, the Costa Book Award has been won by poets for the last two years, so who knows whether this volume will make it a third time lucky? In any case, it’s full of exquisite verse and offers a music of its own, whether a poem about love, weather, grief or even politics. I think my favourite is ‘Water’, a beautiful, compassionate poem in which Duffy reflects on offering her dying mother water towards the end, just as her mother did to her as a child, crying out in the night. Poetry offers, often with simplicity, a medium for reflection on the transmission of time and all that travels with it in memory. Seamus Heaney also writes of the inherited past in The Human Chain and ‘The Baker’ has a poignancy as Heaney describes the recognition of mortality, looking out of the window and knowing that his subject will never see the sun going down again.
I’m always struck by how many poets are influenced by the classics: Matthew Arnold famously in ‘Dover Beach’, Seamus Heaney, Robin Robertson in The Wrecking Light, and now Alice Oswald with her latest volume, Memorial in which she takes on the spirit of oral poetry and adapts the Iliad for a new audience. Actually, I love her poems in another collection, Weeds and Wildflowers, for which she won the inaugural Ted Hughes Award and in which she imagines the characters behind the names of plants. She uses language in such a wonderful way, and, like Hughes, captures nature in a startling fashion. And I read, again and again, Robin Robertson’s ‘What the Horses See at Night’ in his collection, Swithering.
As we move towards the next month, and Valentine’s Day, it’ll be the love poems that come to the fore. They are many, from Shakespeare to Donne, from Yeats to Duffy. Some passionate, some angry. One of my most thumbed collections is Love Poems by Pablo Neruda. Read ‘Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines’. It’s realistic and accepting, but very moving.
And finally, one of the best anthologies to my mind is Daisy Goodwin’s 101 Poems that Could Save your Life. Cleverly put together, informative and entertaining.
Don’t diet or lament lost love; read Mandy Coe’s ‘Going to Bed with a Cheese and Pickle Sandwich’ which ends:
Posted by Imogen Taylor, Editorial