The Top 20 Lifesaving Poems


I began writing the Lifesaving Poems series of blog posts in May 2010. The idea was to celebrate the poems that I had spent the previous year copying by hand into a notebook. This is a personal anthology of arbitrary tastes and rules: to include a poem I had to be able to remember where I was when I first read or heard it; and I only allowed myself one poem per poet.

You can read ten most popular Lifesaving Poems visited on my site so far here:

Here are the next ten:

Derek Mahon: Everything is Going to Be All right

While I am inside what John Gardner calls the dream of its narrative I am once again prepared to believe and live it a little stronger.

Elizabeth Jennings: A Letter to Peter Levi

A masterful exercise in delayed gratification.

Ann Gray: ‘mercifully ordain that we may become aged together’

All that happens is a man helping his wife into her coat in a coffee shop. It is completely harrowing.

Patrick Kavanagh: Wet Evening in April

 I broke the habit of a lifetime and discussed money with my wife.

Moniza Alvi: I Would Like to be a Dot in a Painting by Miro

‘But it’s fine where I am’.

Sharon Olds: Looking at Them Asleep

When you need poetry to breathe and make sense of who you are as much as you do food and a roof over your head.

Stephen Berg: Eating Outside

An almost Chekhovian sensibility, with its cataloguing of ‘beautiful women’, ‘talk about work and love’ and overt symbolism of the moon.

Naomi Jaffa: Some of the Usual

A kind of force-field of rapt inclusivity.

Raymond Carver: Prosser

The lines move from natural symbol, to simple action, to emotional discovery.

Hugo Williams: Tides; Douglas Dunn: Roofs of Terry Street

We were sitting on the balcony with coffee and the papers, having got up late one Saturday morning, when I began glancing through this little book of poems…

Lifesaving Poems


  1. Thanks for this post. It’s like heaven to me as a passionate poetry lover. I can quite empathize with the notion of poetry being ;life-saving.’ It has astonishing power and the world would be so much the poorer without it.


    1. Hello Jean I am so pleased you like the notion of poetry. It seems to be resonating with a lot of people at the moment, that shared and yet private space where our ability to concentrate is concentrated back on ourselves, as Heaney so wonderfully puts it. As ever with thanks for your support Anthony Anthony Wilson

      Love for Now, my memoir of cancer, is availablehere

      Riddance, my new book of poems, is availablehere



  2. I am following your blog when I can,,,I love the references you give us and have been reading some wonderful poetry because of them. Of these I have been drawn to “Wet Evening in April”, I like it a lot. Wish I had more time,,,, 🙂 I am soon to read your book “Riddance” and I’m looking forward to it,,,


  3. I am following your blog,,,I love the references you share with us. I’ve been reading some wonderful poetry that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Of these I have been able to read “Wet Evening in April” and was touched by it. I wish I had more time. I am soon to read your book “Riddance” and I’m looking forward to it,,,


    1. Thanks so much for your kind comment. I’m pleased you are enjoying finding work that is new to you. And I hope you enjoy Riddance as well. Thank you for expressing your interest.
      Yours as ever


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