My favourite poetry anthologies

When Kate and I eventually shacked up together we found ourselves combining our album and our book collections. Surprisingly, given how similar our tastes are, there was only one book (other than the bible) that we both owned: Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes poetry anthology “The Rattle Bag”. It’s great, a real classic. New, old; complex, simple; funny, serious; frivolous, deep; … it’s all there. My favourite (but probably not Kate’s) is Thomas Hardy’s “The Fallow Deer at the Lonely House”

One without looks in to-night
     Through the curtain-chink
From the sheet of glistening white;
One without looks in to-night
     As we sit and think
     By the fender-brink.

We do not discern those eyes
     Watching in the snow;
Lit by lamps of rosy dyes
We do not discern those eyes
     Wondering, aglow,
     Fourfooted, tiptoe.

“The Rattle Bag” was first published in 1982, which in my head sounds recent, though clearly it isn’t!

Next up is Neil Astley’s anthology “Staying Alive”. Viv & Scott got me this one for Christmas 2002 when we were living out in Klahanie, Washington. Some of the poems in “Staying Alive” are truly awful, but that is part of what makes it such a good collection – it’s a brave collection. It also started Kate and my habit of reading a poem out loud at bedtime. Some of the poems in “Staying Alive” are really tantalising: you might read one through and know it’s good while not knowing what it’s about or even how to read it properly. So you have to read it and read it again until it starts to fall into place. Choosing a favourite is hard too, but “Sonnet” by Hayden Carruth.

Well, she told me I had an aura. “What?” I said.
“An aura,” she said. “I heered you,” I said, “but
you ain’t significating.” “What I mean, you got
this fuzzy light like, all around your head,
same as Nell the epelectric when she’s nigh read-
y to have a fit, only you ain’t having no fit.”
“Why, that’s a fact,” I said, “and I ain’t about
to neither. I reckon it’s more like that dead
rotten fir stump by the edge of the swamp on misty
nights long about cucumber-blossoming time
when the foxfire’s flickering round.” “I be goddamn
if that’s it,” she said. “Why, you ain’t but sixty-
nine, you ain’t a-rotting yet. What I say
is you got a goddamn naura.” “Ok,” I said. “Ok.”

The last one’s more recent. I was browsing Heffers in Cambridge and found a crazy anthology. It’s all the poems that Benjamin Britten set to music, called “Benjamin Britten’s Poets” and editted by Boris Ford. It’s another anthology that’s impressive for its breadth. It runs from anonymous thirteenth century works, through lots of folk songs, to Auden (of course). It even has poems in German. There’s the latin requiem mass, Shakespeare, Keats, Burns, psalms, … I haven’t yet read it through enough times to have a favourite but Gerard Manley Hopkins “God’s grandeur” is one Kate’s always liked.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
        It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
        It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
        And all is seared with trade; Bleared, smeared with toil;
        And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
        There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
        Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
        World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.


One Response to “My favourite poetry anthologies”

  1. John Donne « Tim’s Zen Blog of Sparseness Says:

    […] Sonnets so scanned our bedtime poetry reading bookshelf for an anthology that might have them in. A recent favourite came up trumps, Boris Ford’s anthology “Benjamin Britten’s Poets: An Anthology of the […]

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