A year ago I began the Lifesaving Poems series of blog posts.
I got the idea for it after reading a remark by Seamus Heaney in an interview, where he wondered how many poems could matter to an individual over a whole lifetime. Intrigued to find out how many poems I felt were essential to me, I began copying out poems by hand into a notebook. I allowed myself one poem per poet (OK, so William Blake got two), and I had to be able to say I knew where I was when I first heard or read it. Those were my rules.
It took ages to complete.
But now I have a very full notebook full of handwritten poems which only I can decipher. Such collections are not perfect, and certainly not exhaustive. There are ‘classics’ in there, and some obscurities. There are poems by friends, and those of friends of friends. You will not like all of them, but that is not the point.
More than once I have toyed with the idea of starting a new book, to put in all the poems I left out the first time round.
But it was a useful exercise in that I learned a lot about my own ‘taste’ (always a moveable feast), about the poems I thought I knew really well and the influences which have shaped so many years of reading. More than anything, it has reminded me of great friends and teachers to whom I feel enormous gratitude.
The thirty-two poems I have written about so far are listed below. That is a pretty slow rate of less than one a week. As one of my teachers used to say: Four out of ten. Must do better. See me.
Here’s to the next year of Lifesaving Poems.
Let a place be made, Yves Bonnefoy, from European Poems on the Underground Read more here
‘This morning was cold’, Jaan Kaplinksi (trs. Jaan Kaplinski, Sam Hammill and Riina Tamm), from The Wandering Border Read more here
A Letter to Peter Levi, Elizabeth Jennings, from Selected Poems Read more here
K563, Peter Sansom, from Everything You’ve Heard is True Read more here
Corminboeuf 157, Robert Rehder, from The Compromises Will be Different Read more here
To My Heart at the Close of the Day, Kenneth Koch, from New Addresses Read more here
May the Silence Break, Brendan Kennelly, from A Time for Voices Read more here
Tides, Hugo Williams, from The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry Read more here
Fishermen, Alasdair Paterson, from Strictly Private Read more here
On Roofs of Terry Street, Douglas Dunn, from The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry Read more here
Alone, Tomas Tranströmer (trs. Robin Fulton), from New Collected Poems Read more here
The Missing Poem, Mark Halliday, from Jab Read more here
The Picnic, John Logan, from Touchstones 5 Read more here
June 30, 1974, James Schuyler, from Collected Poems Read more here
Jet, Tony Hoagland, from Donkey Gospel Read more here
Looking at them Asleep, Sharon Olds, from The Matter of This World Read more here
With Only One Life, Marin Sorescu, from The Biggest Egg in the World Read more here
Chemotherapy, Julia Darling, from Sudden Collapses in Public Places Read more here
Psalm 102, of David, from The Old Testament Read more here
The Black Wet, W.N. Herbert, from New Blood Read more here
High Fidelity, Christopher Southgate, from Easing the Gravity Field Read more here
Mercifully ordain that we may become aged together, Ann Gray, from At the Gate Read more here
I Would Like to Be a Dot in a Painting by Miro, Moniza Alvi, from The Country at My Shoulder Read more here
The Ingredient, Martin Stannard, from The Gracing of Days Read more here
Prayer/Why I am Happy to be in the City This Spring, Andy Brown, from Goose Music Read more here
Domestic Bliss, Mark Robinson, from The Horse Burning Park Read more here
The Tyger, William Blake, from The Rattlebag Read more here
Prayer, Marie Howe, from The Kingdom of Ordinary Time Read more here
Dusting the Phone, Jackie Kay, from Other Lovers Read more here
Women Who Dye Their Hair, Janet Fisher, from Women Who Dye Their Hair Read more here
Wet Evening in April, Patrick Kavanagh, from Collected Poems Read more here
Let’s Celebrate, Mandy Coe, from Clay Read more here
Boggle Hole, Cliff Yates, from Frank Freeman’s Dancing School Read more here
The Divine Image, William Blake, from The Human Dress (Lies Damned Lies) Read more here