Go-to poet?


I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the ‘poets I go back to’ idea, that I first came across in The North ten-plus years ago (I should check up to see how long they have been doing it, but know I won’t). You know the thing: when the chips are really down (or up? Can chips be up?), who do you turn to, who do you reach for? I’ve coming -slowly- (very slowly) to the conclusion that if I did ever know I certainly don’t know now. Years ago -ten, again, at a guess- I’d have said, immediately: Heaney. Before that, MacCaig. But now I don’t know. Nothing wrong with either of them. But now? I had a very long Tranströmer phase a while back, and think I am in another one now. Kaplinski ditto, or maybe that was earlier this year (I forget). I heard a brilliant programme about Elizabeth Bishop the other day, and that sent me back to my shelves, a joy. Marie Howe: I go to her often as well.

A couple of years ago I was pretty certain I never wanted to read (or write) another poem in my life. Then, like one of Tranströmer’s marvellous gusts of wind I came across a brilliant blog post (or was it an article? in The North?) by Pam Thompson about James Schuyler. And this is where I am now, I think, re-re-re-working my way, hazily, happily, including the posthumously published Other Flowers (if you don’t know it, you are in for a serious treat, like being given a library in the bequest of a favourite uncle).

What’s it to do with? Tone, I think. Whatever the mood or occasion of the poem in question, some spanning weeks and months of effort of attention (The Morning of the Poem; Hymn to Life), I am beginning to go to Schuyler as I can the Psalms, in any mood, at any time of day, and in any season, the test I am told Auden had for wanting to read the work of Marianne Moore. I’ve just read June 30, 1974 for the thousand and fourth time and still saw something new in it that I hadn’t noticed before. And noticing is my other main reason. I like to be shown things, just because they are, because they bring joy (or pain), because in noticing they are made permanent somehow. Schuyler was one of the great noticers. Reading him makes me notice more, too. If I did not know better I’d say he makes me glad to be alive.


  1. Thank you for the mention Antony! It was an article in ‘The North’. I agree with everything you say about Schuyler. Only yesterday I was listening to an interesting New Yorker podcast- Eileen Myles reading and talking about ‘Schuyler’s ‘White Boat, Blue Boat’. She used to work for him. And I have just ordered those posthumous poems! Thanks again. Pam

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love your blog. I like your honesty and perceptiveness and I appreciate being introduced to poets I don’t know and reminded and sent back to ones I do know. My own “go to” poet at the moment (and often) is George Herbert who seems to have experienced and understood and then made something of, all the moods I go through. I feel as though he’s a friend. Same with Heaney, but not by any means all poets, however admirable and valued.


  3. It’s not always the ones that I ‘want’ to be my go-to poets, but the ones that I just naturally gravitate to and read again and again. T. S. Eliot does it for me, and John Donne. They were early loves, but it’s never wavered. (While others, like Ezra Pound or Ted Hughes or Sylvia Plath have been more … coming and going… ephemeral).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Forgive me for never replying to you Marina. I know what you mean about those poets who come and go, come and go. John Donne I never felt I cracked. I would like to. Eliot was also an early love, one of the very first I read for myself not because it was homework. With thanks again for your support, Anthony


Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter 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.