Who is your 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.

[first published, September 2016]


  1. Have just bought ‘The letters of James Schuyler to Frank O’Hara’. My favourite English poem is Thomas Gray: ‘Elegy written in an English Churchyard’. I enjoy Pablo Neruda, and ‘get a shiver’ every time I read the last verse of Robert Frost ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’:
    The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
    But I have promises to keep
    And miles and miles before I sleep,
    And miles and miles before I sleep.


    1. Hi Joseph. Frost seems so deep and enduring. You always know where you are with him. I love that. The control and naturalness of the voice. Birches is my favourite. As ever, Anthony


  2. I can’t believe I’ve got to my age without having discovered Schuyler….Thank you, thank you, thank you, Anthony for this joyous introduction to him. Go to poet? 10 years ago I would have said Heaney and McCaig too. Probably Mary Oliver these days.

    Liked by 1 person

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