Sunday, 7 September 2008

Reading list for life – part 3 (bring on the poetry)

OK...I know I said Monday but I'm obsessive too and friend's daughter's wedding (tick), scarecrow festival (tick) so now let's get on with this reading list business. Cast your minds back to that imaginary 17 year old and the reading list we were putting together for them (I know it was a female 17 year old to begin with but I'm tired of being so gender specific...boys can read too, right?). This time...drum roll...let's recommend the poems or poets our 17 year old really, REALLY has to read. What or who should they read first? Which poet's name should they shriek as they run down to the local library, a half-forgotten iPod trailing in their wake? I know they could start by hunting down some poems on-line but you know me and libraries...I do love ' the running-down-the-street drama plays better, don't you think?

As we had the random pre/post 1920 division with prose let's use it again but this time let's squeeze all our thoughts into one post. I know this may make some of you feel cramped...but remember this is a few good recommendations for getting started and/or hooked - I'm not asking you to list every poet you ever read or anything. Back on 28th March of this year I wrote a great long rambling post about the poets and poetry I've read, liked and studied over the years so I'm not going to reproduce all that again right now. To get you started, though, here are my 17 year old reading list priorities for poetry written in English:

pre-1920 – Oh's my weak fact it's so weak I even considered starting with the post-1920 poetry just to make me look better. However that would have been shallow and fake and if I try to be anything in this life (and in this blog) my quest is to be as upfront, honest and truthful as possible (life is so full of crap – you don't need it from me as well, do you?). So here's the truth - I like Shakespeare (but rarely read any these days) and the pre-1920 poets I've read most often recently are Emily Dickinson (can't get enough of that wacky punctuation) and Robert Burns (I'm a New Scot...and quite a convert - it's the poem/song thing). After gets a bit misty for me. I've tried to read all the big names ( know Milton, Keats, yada, yada, yada...see I told you I was George from Seinfeld) but in all honesty...I usually start thinking about something else once the book is in my hand and end up not really reading at all. It's weird because back in our prose reading list posts the other week I found myself a little disappointed with some of the lack of interest in pre-1920 prose writers and yet here am I...admitting my...well...terribly embarrassing lack of enthusiasm for and knowledge about poets of that same era (and what a huge era...). It's not that I'm not interested in them - I just can't honestly say that I have read many of them with any great...understanding or vigour as yet. How can this be? Well...the family I grew up around was not a poetry reading family (at all), at school we did no-one before Eliot and then at uni I didn't study anything in English so I'm sure all of that didn't help but I don't want to hand out blame or excuses – I'm a big girl now after all! I have even thought about going back to study classic poetry (if such a course existed) but you know..time, money, family, stuff, plus I already have one degree that I never used for anything (other than getting jobs I didn't really want to do and shutting people up who presume I'm uneducated because of my bizarre punctuation and other weirdnesses). Also...well...I'm pretty busy writing and reading about a million other things (weak, I know, very weak...). Is it the subject matter (partly), the language (partly), the what seems like a neverending list of blokes (partly – although see below...some kind of feminist I may be but most of my newer recommendations are blokes so there's that argument as up the duff as a Republican Party candidate's teenage daughter). I even went to the Adrian Mitchell StAnza lecture on Blake this year and he was so evangelical that I thought 'yes, I'll go home and read Blake!'...but did I? Er, no. I started..but then I probably read the Radio Times and the local paper and the Independent music supplement and some Larkin (see below) and a novel and some old diaries and...well...pretty much everything except Blake. They say you need to hear the 'classic' poems read aloud to really appreciate them...but at home if I have noise on in the house it's nearly always music (addict, remember?) and there aren't many spontaneous Blake readings in Montrose. Plus sitting-still, well-behaved poetry reading events make me really uncomfortable (no, not bored...I specifically didn't say bored...) so I don't exactly rush off to them (music events every time – every time). As you can see...I need your help to make this bit of the reading list a bit more useful. So come on – let's have some must-reads please. All I can offer is the three I mentioned at the start of this extremely long paragraph. If you're still with me at this point!

post-1920 – This should be easier, if a bit short on the Scottish angle...some one else had better get to that. Sometimes these days I'm almost surprised how English I really am. For the most part when you're English and live in England you don't much think about it (perhaps sad but fairly true).

Philip Larkin. Number one priority. No question. On this Jim Murdoch and I are one! I've rambled about Larkin before but for me he just had (and still has) everything. I love the fact that he wrote both short, snappy, clever poems and long, detailed, clever poems. Also I love the bitterness and the sweetness in his writing... as well as the bitter sweetness (and the sweet bitterness? Probably that too). I think what makes him stand out to me so much is that X Factor (for want of a less trash-culture reference). It's like a tone of voice and I can really HEAR him, even when I'm reading it quietly in my head. (OK there may be a weird father-figure thing going on too but that's really not important to anyone but me).

Liverpool poets – Roger McGough, Adrian Henri, Brian Patten. It's not very fashionable to like them just now but fashion...pur-lease! They're not quite poetry gods like Larkin but they're pretty good mortals in my book and they did a lot to bring poetry back out of universities (Larkin, for example, much as I adore him hid in universities his whole adult wonder he was so bloody miserable). I'm not anti-university...not at all...well, not much...but...hmmm...I think it's another English thing...possibly a class thing...and I'll finish that thought another time.

Stevie Smith – there are a lot of great weird women poets of the 20th century but this one is as good a one to start with as any. I wouldn't put 'women poets' together necessarily but for the fact that most of my favourites are all odd ones, weird women who don't fit in anyone's group of they end up grouped as a non-group...if you follow me.

T.S.Eliot – well, 'The Wasteland' anyway. I'm not quite the fan that I know some other poets are but I will just mention him at the end here. I studied 'The Wasteland' at A level and really enjoyed getting to grips with it so I would still recommend it (if nothing else) to a younger reader (although I'm not sure how I would have got on with it without good teachers to keep me focussed and explain some of the references). I don't reread it much now, I have to say. When I try to these days I get the Monty Python/French & Saunders voices in my head ('no, no, keep away from the shadow of that red rock, you naughty boy') and I'm afraid I just can't carry on. Now you see, I don't get that with Larkin, never have. Larkin was somehow above pisstake for me and that is possibly the truest sign of greatness. For me anyway.

So now it's over to you...list away. I know some of you could probably fill blank-sheet bibles with your recommendations but let's try and keep them to a manageable number. Pick the ones you think are the must-read-firsts. Can you see that 17 year old looking up (or down) at you with at least some hope left in their eyes...where would you send them first?


Poetikat said...

Here is where we diverge, Rachel. I am rather entangled with the earlier poets, having studied them at university. My absolute favourite poet is Robert Browning. My favourite poem of all time is: Porphyria's Lover. It has such a bone-chilling, macabre sensibility that I am captivated from start to finish. Also, My Last Duchess is a great one - I think of Keith Michell as Henry VIII in the Six Wives of...
So much of Browning's work has humour and sarcasm and darkness and deception and risk - it's absolutely brilliant!
Strangely, I discovered just a while ago that my poem Tea Totaller echoes one of Browning's that I had never before read. It's called The Laboratory and is about a woman who is having a chemist create a mixture she can use to poison her love and his mistress--Brilliant, I tell you!

I can't remember where I read it - you may even have led me there, yourself, but I think it very important to read poetry you dislike. In fact, I'm forcing myself to read things I struggle with and am actually finding that at the finish I am quite taken with some of them. One that springs to mind (and as a new-Scot, you may like this one) is a poem called The Revenge of Hamish, by Sidney Lanier). I like darkness and the eternal battle of good and evil - in my poetry, in my books and in my films. Without the grim, the real and the atmospheric, I'm lost - or worse still, bored to the teeth.

Having said that, give me a good Frost poem about nature and humanity, or even a witty Nash or Eliot's cat tales and I'm quite content.


Frances said...

What about Auden, or the War Poets, Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen? Er...Elizabeth Bishop? The two Thomases, Dylan and R.S. Plath, Hughes.

List is endless. Sorry Rachel, I'm not concentrating as well as I ought. Too much blogging!

Rachel Fox said...

Kat - this is just the kind of stuff that I...I mean our 17 year old needs to hear...

Funny you mention Browning as he is one of the names I've seen a few times in 'oh heck school put me off poetry' posts and comments. I'll look up that poem.

I like Frost a lot too...well, I did at school anyway. I haven't read much since but I will.

At the wedding I was at yesterday someone quoted some Nash in the service. People always tell me I will like him because he's funny and I have read some but no conversion just yet. I'm not sure it is my sense of humour.

And Frances - hello new visitor. I've seen you about the place I'm sure. Of your list Auden is the only one I considered for mine..I did and do love some of his poems...or some of his lines anyway...sometimes I long to get a red pencil to him but that would be terrible wouldn't it? The very cheek of it...

I was never a Hughes fan till I did a bit of tutoring and then I started to see the point (I teaching was a council wonder the country is going to the dogs...). I bought a book of Bishop because I kept reading she was SO brilliant but I haven't managed to make my way into it yet. Also I've rambled about my lack of Plath before and I have to admit every time I've tried to read Dylan Thomas I have more or less nodded off. I am perhaps beyond help...but I am still interested in getting some! Can I have your reasons for your recommendations. I know they're all big names but why ARE they the best (in your opinion)? Why should the next generation read them and not others?

Anonymous said...

Hello. I like your blog and intend to return to read more. I, too, write poetry, although I cannot claim that it is accomplished in any way. I've been rejected by magazines a number of times and have given up on that score. Anyway, here are my ideas for a reading list for a 17 year old:

Pre 1920 - all essential
Shakespeare's sonnets
Thomas Wyatt
John Donne
Henry Vaughan
William Blake
William Wordsworth (early years)
John Keats
John Clare
Thomas Hardy (just about straddles both periods)
T.S. Eliot (across both periods)
Wilfed Owen
Edward Thomas

Post 1920
Louis MacNeice
Idris Davies
Robert Lowell
Philip Larkin
R S Thomas
Michael Longley
Tony Harrison
Paul Durcan

It's a pretty conservative list but I think it's important to give some sense of development without putting the poor reader off.

Rachel Fox said...

Hello SB
Where's that name from then? Glad you've enjoyed your visit here. I had a quick look at your page and goody, goody...loads of stuff about music! I'll be going over there a bit too...

As for your poets...I'd be interested again in any reasons behind your choices. I know your reasons might be obvious to you (and indeed maybe to others) but I am really interested in whys. Why should a 17 year old (or anyone) read those particular poets first? What is that they do so well...for you? For anyone? I know why I can recommend Larkin...but why Longley? I've read a few...not been set on fire just yet. Likewise Keats for me, I have to admit..and Edward Thomas. So persuade me...

And I'd never heard of Idris Davies but had a quick google and he sounds like someone I really might try (well, the ones in English anyway...I'm a bit funny about translation). So thanks for that. And welcome.


Sorlil said...

pre 1920's -

Anna Akhmatova - the greatest love poet of all time, not in a soppy way might I add, she's very political (lived through Stalinism).

Attila Jozsef - a Hungarian bloke, deceptively simple poetry on appearance but so much to the poems and very beautiful.

T.S. Eliot - especially 'The Love song of J. Alfred Prufrock' - my favorite poem ever.

Post 1920's -

Plath, Plath, Plath - need I say more.

Miroslav Holub - surreal and humourous.

Rachel Fox said...

Obviously one of the main differences between your choices and mine, Sorlil, is that you read poetry in translation (at least I'm presuming you read some of these in translation - correct me if I'm wrong). I'm not saying I never will feel differently about this...but I can't say it's something I've gone far with up to now. I started out studying other languages quite young - it was always my subject (French first, then Spanish, then German, then Russian) and I always think so much about how different languages are (not how similar). I just watched 'The Sea Inside' on TV for example (a Spanish film 'Mar Adentro') and listening to it in Spanish and reading the subtitles in English just reminded me of that so much. I know things have to be translated for understanding, exchange etc etc but I never went on to do translating as a job or career because it's just not the way I looked at languages (or heard them)...and with poetry more than anything, I suppose, it being so much language and so little anything else. Don't get me wrong - I'm not for a minute suggesting that poets and writers and translators who do want to read and translate should not to that. I'm just trying to explain why I don' least not right now. If I want to read a poem in Hungarian I'd just feel weird not learning Hungarian's a quirk, I guess. I did Russian last (when I was getting lazy) so didn't get to the kind of standard where I was reading well enough to really understand poetry (at least not in the way I like to understand it). I have a book of Akhmatova that I bought in Russia (when it was still the USSR). Maybe one day I will brush up my Russian (and a bit more!) and actually read it properly.

Then there's that Plath business...go on then, convert me. Tell me your favourite poem of hers.


hope said...

I'll be really, I can. :)

Pre-1920 would be Robert Frost, especially "The Road Not Taken". I always found it a bit of encouragement to think how not being mainstream can be interesting.

Robert Burns has his moments, but I accidentally found Alexander Anderson and enjoy him. I like his more humorous work but he does have some very serious stuff. My favorite is "Cuddle Doon". Probably not something a 17 year old will grab up first, but it was music to my ears.

After 1920:
Ogden Nash. Yes, he is an acquired taste, which I learned from my 7th grade English teacher... when we thought she'd gone nuts as she wrote "Spring is Sprung, the grass is riz". Nash has a silly sense of humor in which he makes up words when there aren't any. One of my favorites is about a panther and a line reads, "When called by a panther, don't anther."

Shel Silverstein, who's probably known by people with children for his children's books and by men for his articles in Playboy. :) Some of his poetry was turned into song. I was stunned to realize he'd written both "A Boy Named Sue" and "The Cover of the Rolling Stone".

To be honest, I like Hugh McMillan's work as well. He manages to "speak" to me, often catching me off guard.


Sorlil said...

Well I'm certainly no linguist! I know what you mean, I think there's a lot missing from gaelic poetry when it has been translated into english because of the nature of gaelic as a language.

The funny thing about Akhmatova is that I'm not sure I'd like her poetry as much if I could read it in the russian. I have the complete poems translated by Judith Hemschemeyer who does not attempt to reproduce the form of the original poems in the sense of end-rhymes etc but goes with the spirit of the piece. Half my enjoyment of the poetry is the rather surreal and awkwardness that is part of the translation. I've got a small selection of Akhmatova translated faithfully with end-rhymes and I'm not keen on it at all.

Ooh my favorite Plath...this is hard. Okay I've managed to narrow it down to six (sorry) -

The Night Dances
The moon and the Yew Tree Wuthering Heights
Morning Song

BarbaraS said...

Sinead Morrisey, without a doubt. Her earlier collections would definitely appeal to a 17 year old.

Wilfred Owen & to a lesser extent Siegfried Sassoon; good resonances still today.

Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop * Sylvia Plath; there's a strong thread connecting these three.

Adrienne Rich and Eavan Boland; strong thread between those two as well.

Of course, Famous Seamus, Michael Longley, Derek Mahon, Ciaron Carson, Paul Muldoon & Medbh McGuckian; oh and John Hewitt as well, to represent the NI contingency.

And my own personal favourite: Patrick Kavanagh.

There are loads more I could think of...

BarbaraS said...

Oh I forgot, most of them are post 1920. I think if you want to interest people in poetry you should start with the near past and then look at the pre 1920s when you decide...

shug said...

Pre 1920- Homer, Hardy, John Clare, Gerald Manley Hopkins, my favourite war poet is Charles Hamilton Sorley. Can't ignore Omar Khayyam, always get the taste of garlic bread and blue nun when I read him, he's part of my past.

Post 1920-Hart Crane, That old windbag Dylan Thomas, the brilliant Philip Larkin, Norman MacCaig, Paul Durcan.

Like barbara I love Patrick Ksavanagh. I was at the opening of the Writers Museum in Dublin in 1991 and was behind a couple of old biddies who obviously knew Kavanagh and were reading some of the stuff about him. One turned to the other and whispered "ah but he was a dirty old toerag in real life".

Jim Murdoch said...

It might come as a surprise to you that I'm really not very fond of poetry. There is SO MUCH poetry out there that I do not get and/or do not like that for years I steered clear of the stuff. It's the old adage: Well, if you think you can do better then do it yourself. And I have. There are very few poets where I can say I like the bulk of their work. I could strip it down to three in fact: Philip Larkin, William Carlos Williams and Wilfred Owen. Now there are a lot of poems I like but that's a different thing entirely. There are several by E. E. Cummings that are marvellous but until someone explains to me what the heck all of his daft punctuation nonsense is all about he'll always be way down the list. My suggestion to your seventeen year-old is start a scrap book and copy in the poems she comes across through her life that touch her. I wish I'd done that over the years because there are so many poems that got to me that I let slip from out of my grasp and now I can't remember them or who wrote them or anything. Every now and then I run across one and get all excited.

Rachel Fox said...

Hey Jim...I have one of those scrapbooks. I didn't start it as young as 17 but I wish I had in some ways. I started it..a while ago anyway and any time I really rate a poem I photocopy it and keep it in my file of 'poems what I think are great'.

Like you there is an awful lot of poetry that I don't like much. I keep waiting for that to change and sometimes I feel a bit cheeky...I want people to read mine shouldn't I like more just to be fair? I have my real favourites and I really try to like others...that's partly the aim of this post I help me widen my sphere!


Rachel Fox said...

Maybe I've made it sound like I don't read any poetry...that's really not it. I just want to like more! I suppose we are all fussy when it comes to's what many of us do so we are bound to have quite strong opinions...but I just want to try and have more poets that I can hand-on-heart say 'I am a devoted fan of x,y or z'. I love LOADS of music and bands and singers and LOADS of comedy and LOADS of films and novels and now I'm kind of hunting for the LOADS of poets (seeing as poetry is what I've ended up writing...and that was never my plan I can assure just happened...).
So partly because of that I am really interested in all your favourites - keep them coming. I would love more details too - why you like x, how you ended up reading y, the name of the poem that converted you to z. I'm nosey, curious, an ex-market researcher...

Anonymous said...

Rachel - as far as the reasons for my choices go, I'd have to admit that to a certain extent they reveal my own personal likes. They all arite in a way that I find admirable and enjoyable. Beyond that, most of these poets are excellent craftsmen - something often missing in much contemporary poetry. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a fair bit of modern stuff but I think it's important for people new to poetry to understnad how it works or, at least, how it should work as far as the nuts and bolts are concerned.

I'll try to explain very briefly what I like best about my less obvious choices:

Wyatt - for his wit and his ability to say a lot in a few words.

Vaughan - for his passion.

Blake - ideally, one wouldn't start with the epic poetry but things like 'Innocence' and 'Experience' and 'The Marriage of Heaven & Hell' have both a simplicity of style but a philosophical complexity that makes Blake ver appealing to newer readers. He's also my hero.

Keats - is it necessary to defend Keats? OK, some of his poetry is immature but when it comes to the great odes or 'The Eve of St. Agnes', that's enough to fire up any younf imagination. We all need a little 'Romance'.

John Clare - because more people should read

Hardy - supreme craftsman and great story teller. His late poetry is heartbreakingly tender.

Edward Thomas - another poet who is able to 'paint' extremely vivid pictures. Brings me closer to nature than I usually ever get.

Louis MacNeice - a master of form who's poems seem very robust to me. I also think he is a more admiable example of the poet with a socal conscience than either Auden or Spender.

Idris Davies - had to ensure there was a fine Welsh poet in there and I feel that Dylan Thomas has given Welsh poetry In English a bad name. I love Davies's compassion and his use of form.

RS Thomas - Another Welsh poet! It's not necessary to defend his inclusion in my list.

Michael Longley - perhaps not as fine a poet as his compatriots Heaney or Derek Mahon but I find him easier on my ear and heart. Heaney also annoys me somewhat! Sorry, just a personal prejudice and a very poor piece of lit. crit!

Tony Harrison - another great craftsman. His words just bubble over in my mind and he's quite easy to comprehend. I love his anger.

Paul Durcan - a bit of a 'left field' choice, perhaps, but I think that a young person coming quite fresh to poetry would find in his language and ideas a freedom that inspiring and great fun. I know I did.

May I add the following as well?

English and Scottish traditional ballads - incredible stories and powerful language. Myth, murder, riddles, sex and more.

Sylvia Plath - such incredible intensity.

Bob Dylan - just because. Not a poet but, at his best, untouchable.

Rachel Fox said...

SB - I think it is true for most of us that "as far as the reasons for my choices go... to a certain extent they reveal my own personal likes". The strangeness comes when some readers and writers can't face up to that somewhat disappointing truth and so have to come up with theories to explain why they are right (and better) and everyone else wrong (and stupid).

My own personal interests, likes and oddities mean that, for example, I have tried reading Clare loads of times but get nowhere. I would always rather just go out for a walk than read anything even closely resembling a nature poem. I'm not saying that's right or's just taste. Plus I'm not saying I won't change my tastes (a bit). My Mum is always telling me how she didn't like gardening when she was younger but now she is an addict out there. The same goes for poetry that is very much about seeing or looking. So far in life I have been much more a listener/trier/toucher/taster than a looker/seer/viewer. I am working on my visual sense...but it's not my natural strength (I got this out of my system in my poem 'Seeing isn't everything' - on website under 'Seeing and believing'). I think this is one reason why so much poetry doesn't come in any way easily for me. A significant proportion of poetry is centred on the visual (I think...that's how it seems to me). Any thoughts?

Sorlil said...

"I would always rather just go out for a walk than read anything even closely resembling a nature poem"

lol, I guess this is our main difference!

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, Sorlil! I have been trying to mellow out on that nature poem front...but I think I have a long way to go...and oh, look the dogs need walking...

Also on taste I found Plath's 'Morning Song' and 'Mirror' in anthologies today and I read...and tried...and read again! I can see what people might like in them but they didn't do anything for me...except annoy me slightly. They make me want to shout 'do you really need ALL those images in that ONE poem?' but I didn't because...well, who would hear..? And obviously she did need them...and obviously lots of people love them that way. For me a lot of poets writing now write in her style and it does seem to be a style that often wins competitions and regularly gets published by the smart, respected publishing houses. This all bodes well for some (you I hope!) but less well for others (...).


Rachel Fox said...

And nobody's told me off yet for the Eliot/Monty Python observation. I'm quite surprised...

Colin Will said...

Just back from the Callander Poetry Weekend today Rachel, and I haven't had time to gather my thoughts. I can go along with some of the suggestions here, but not with others. Now, a 17-year old... I'd start with Carol Ann Duffy's Rapture sequence, and maybe work back. I love Kathleen Jamie's poetry, but it's not for someone who hasn't read much poetry before, except maybe The Queen of Sheba. Barbara's right about Michael Longley - deceptively easy to read or (preferably) to listen to (and he's a lovely man). Norman MacCaig would be on my list too, as would Louis MacNeice. Hughes' Hawk Roosting, Plath's Pheasant, to provide balance and contrast. Heaney's Digging, because it's clever and moving at the same time. Dorothy Parker, funnier than Ogden Nash, and much more pointed. W S Graham - many fine poems. Eliot's Prufrock (although I prefer Gerontion), Frost's Road Not Taken. Owen. John Clare. Wyatt. Shakespeare's sonnets. Chaucer - Parliament of Fowls rather than Canterbury Tales - it's funnier. For an anthology, I'd definitely recommend The Rattle Bag, edited by Heaney and Hughes.

Rachel Fox said...

There you are Colin! Some of yours have been mentioned already but I'm glad you've added in Dorothy Parker - I like her poems too and need to read more. Also Chaucer - I read him at 17 and did indeed really enjoy the words and stories.

Thanks also for mentioning individual poems. Some poets write so damned much that it's always good to give hints for new readers as to where to start. They don't have to take the hints of course but it's nice if they're there.

Interesting you mention CA Duffy (she being in the news just now). I always want to like her poems and I really like some of her ideas...but I'd be lying if I said the poems light my fire as yet (although that one with the shipping news names...that probably comes closest for me). I haven't seen her live...maybe that would make the difference. What do you think? Am I just too damned picky?

Anonymous said...

And nobody's told me off yet for the Eliot/Monty Python observation. I'm quite surprised...

That's because it's spot on!

As for your observation that so much of poetry is centred on the visual, I think you are totally right - that's why it appeals to me. The visual comes easiest to me and I expect I don't have to work so hard at it. Which is odd, because I think that music is the greatest of all the arts (if one really HAD to make a comparison, which we shouldn't).

Colin Will said...

CAD's Rapture sequence is like a movie following the arc of a love affair, and that's something 17-year olds ought to be interested in. Forgot Benjamin Zephaniah from my list - he'll appeal to the politically concerned idealist. At 17 (I seem to vaguely remember) we all were that. But maybe today's teens aren't?

Rachel Fox said...

No, SB, you're right...we shouldn't but...even so...I agree with you. I think one reason I love songs so much (and I really a lunatic) is that, at their best, they have words used beautifully (or interestingly or hilariously or cleverly or all of these) and music too. What more could you ever want or need? That combination is my favourite taste, my choice, my book fact it's my first, my last and my everything!

And Colin, speaking as a politically concerned idealist...I like Zephaniah a lot. I saw him live in Bradford about 15 years ago and he was brilliant - so warm and full of ideas and observations. I quite like just listening to him talk...he was on a R3 programme about belief a while back and he was brilliant - really expansive in his thinking on the subject. Do they study his poems in schools? I imagine if they do it's the kind of thing some people would complain about ('not real poetry' blah, blah, blah). I'm glad you mentioned him - you're quite right..the point about being young is you can try everything and see what interests you. Hopefully you shouldn't be bogged down with prejudices and limitations till later! Hopefully...

Rob said...

It’s hard to recommend poets/poems to someone else. It depends what kind of person they are. Some 17-year-olds will adore poems about beach scenes and memories of grandfathers. Others will love surreal oddity. I’ve tried to get a balance between the traditional and odd in my choices. These writers have a bit of both and are all very readable.

Wislawa Szymborska –I wouldn’t worry about the translation issue when the poems are as good in English as hers are in her ‘New and Selected’ – the best place to start.

Roddy Lumsden – an attractive and authentic balance of sense and weirdness. His new and selected is called ‘Mischief Night’.

Tim Turnbull – same as above. His ‘Stranded in Sub-Atomica’ on Donut Press is very good.

Simon Armitage – particularly the early books like ‘Zoom!’ and ‘Book of Matches’.

Luke Kennard – very funny and not normal.

Charles Simic – Poems written in straightforward plain language that never do what you expect them to. At least, that goes for the best ones.

I’d start a 17-year-old on post-1920 stuff, although Eliot’s Prufrock (1914) is a sure-fire winner for teenagers who aren’t one hundred percent happy with life.

Rachel Fox said...

Some of these I know better than others, Rob. I've certainly liked everything I've heard or read by Tim Turnbull so far.

Claire Askew said...

Hi Rachel,
Sorry I've been slow to comment on this! Since I was 17 only 5 years ago I can probably remember pretty well what I loved then...

1. Carol Ann Duffy. I read her for school and fell in love. I think she probably worked for me so well because I'm female but she's not totally useless to a bloke, I don't think. My favourite of hers from that time was "Eley's Bullet," which I think is quite a male poem. My favourite nowadays is undoubtedly "Mrs Quasimodo" from The World's Wife, so I've obviously gone over to the feminist dark side!

2. Liz Lochhead. I loved her wackiness, her conversational, confiding tone, her bitter ex-boyfriend poems. I think she's left her mark on all my work and probably always will.

3. Frank O Hara. I'm a huge Beat fan but Frank was actually the first of that lot (OK, I know he's not strictly a Beat, but close enough) that I came across. I loved him for ages... less so now that I've become Mrs Ginsberg, though.

4. TS Eliot. I loved him to bits (particularly the Four Quartets) until I came to University and was forced to analyse him to within an inch of his life...

5. Iain Crichton Smith. Weird choice. I studied him in school and everyone else loathed him.

6. Edwin Morgan. Greatest poet alive today, no contest.

& poets I'd give to a 17 year old now (as well as the above, obviously)?

1. Jackie Kay. She's all about doubts about identity, sexuality, fitting in. Just what teenagers need. And she has a voice like molten sugar, I love her.

2. Allen Ginsberg. Any teenage boy who doesn't read Ginsberg at 17 (before he gets too old and sensible to believe all his propaganda) has led a seriously deprived adolesence.

3. Billy Collins. SO SHOOT ME!

4. Sharon Olds. They've got to learn sometime -- it'd shock the hell out them, in a good way. Similarly, and less viscerally, 5: Patricia Young.

6. Bukowski. For boys only, I don't want girls exposed to all his chauvinistic crap. Actually... do I want boys exposed to his chauvinistic crap? Maybe stick with just Ginsberg.

On Larkin - I had to teach him to my students last term, and I've always been of the view that he's the perfect poet for disillusioned teenage boys who thinks poems are for sissies. Imagine my shock and dismay, then, when they all hated him and loved Carol Ann Duffy. Something's happened to angry young men and it's not necessarily good!!

Rachel Fox said...

Interesting list.

On the might think with some of my old habits and writing techniques that I've read a lot of them. In all honesty...hardly a word! When I've can I say this...they seem to just go on and on and on...and as I spent a lot of time with people taking drugs and going on and on and on...I find it's not an experience I often want to relive! As with Sorlil and Plath... you may have to convert me!

I too love some Liz Lochhead. I did consider putting her on my recommendations but then didn't quite...if I'd done a longer list I probably would have done. Her poem 'Everybody's mother' is one of my all time favourites. Since I've been a mother anyway.

As I said on your ONS I like Sharon Olds a fair bit too.

And's interesting you say that. I put him because he's my favourite now but (as I have said before) he wasn't a favourite at all when I was younger particularly. It's too bitter for some young people...maybe he seems to them just another 'grumpy old man' like off the telly. And he was a grumpy old man (even as a child probably) but still...what poems!

Claire Askew said...

You do have to be selective with the Beats - some of them wrote a whole lot of rubbish. Allen Ginsberg is a different kettle of fish altogether, though - he's one of only e few of them who reached a really wide audience, and he was successful for nearly fifty years. He was one of the first poets to make openly gay literature acceptable, and some of his poetics are revolutionary (or were, then...of course it all looks very dated now). I'd recommend a close read of 'Howl', and it helps to hear him read it too. And 'America' is a great poem. He was a clever bloke behind all that drugs-and-Buddhism rhetoric. I mean, he wrote some tripe too, but there's gold dust in there.