Inside Lifesaving Poems 3


As I have said before, there wasn’t a plan. Which does not mean I don’t feel the luckiest man alive to have a top poetry publisher knock on my door and ask to make a book out of the blog I was going to carry on writing anyway. The blog which started as a notebook. Which started as a whim, an idea, a jeu d’esprit, a well-why-not. Which began with having had cancer. As I said recently to a friend, I am pinching myself. Raymond Carver used to call it ‘gravy’.

So there wasn’t a plan. Which is not the same as having no idea, based on a hunch, formed by some principles, forged by reading a million anthologies before it, of what Lifesaving Poems should look like.

Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes restricted themselves (Seamus Heaney! Ted Hughes!) to one poem per poet when they followed up (followed up!) The Ratttlebag with The Schoolbag. Had anyone done that since, I thought? Deliberately? That was an influence, certainly. Not to mention the democratic principle of being able to turn a page and basically jump from MacCaig to Hopkins to Jonson to Dickinson (pp 215-6, since you ask) just like that. I liked that too.

But I had seen it earlier in the second-hand Voices and Junior Voices (ed. Geoffrey Summerfield), quite possibly the best anthologies for young people ever. Blues songs, riddles, Carl Sandburg (lots of Carl Sanburg), Stevens; the first time I saw Reothke.  And the genius Anon. Tons of Anon. I wanted this too: memorable speech.

Other influences? Cliff Yates’s Jumpstart (don’t get me started), Ian McMillan’s still-breathtaking Against the Grain, the Wordscapes series by Barry Maybury. Touchstones, edited by Michael and Peter Benton (and where I first saw The Picnic and Love). All in my head and on my shelves, and now on my sleeve, as the places I first found and fed this love. More like a hunger, now I come to think of it. Or a homesickness (Frost). If someone ever thought the same about mine I’d be happy.


  1. Wonderful to read this…Your anthology has made me, too, begin to remember where I first read or heard favorite poems – the ones that come whole in my head as if I were born with them the way I was born to know a few other things, like breathing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Molly, it is like breathing, isn’t it, once you discover a good poem, it’s like it’s always been there. You wonder how you lived without it before. As ever with thanks, Anthony


  2. It’s a joy having this kind of company. And thanks for reminding me about Touchstones and Wordscape….two more mainstays of our Eng Dept stockcupboards in the 80s. Your blog is, of course, another touchstone. Makes my Sundays possible. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.