What you read in 2022

Poet Laureate Simon Armitage peers at a mixing desk where he is DJing a late night party at the Greenbelt Festival

Here are the blog posts from 2022 that you read most often

Lifesaving Lines: The Death of Fred Clifton, by Lucille Clifton

[One of my list-blog-posts:]

blethering on the phone with Josephine Corocoran about all the poets she is reading and I am not reading and who is accepting and not accepting our poems and how to keep going in spite of all of this

the Frank O’Hara book Shimi gave me for Christmas which inexplicably I did not own and have been gobbling up ever since a bit like when I first fell in love with him 123 years ago

the very tender poems of love, memory and grief in Adam Zagajewski’s last book, Asymmetry, beautifully translated by Clare Cavanagh

Shawna’s blog, always (as if you need to ask)

working with Sue on Young Poets’ Stories

Lifesaving Lines: “Still Do I Keep My Look, My Identity…”, by Gwendolyn Brooks

It was a sonnet, I got that quickly. But I had to keep rereading to get the syntactical sense right in my head. Those amazing opening four lines. Then a bit of a rest, declarative and verbless sentences followed by the long outburst of lines 9-13, the chief word of which, as in the poem as a whole, is that tiny time-bomb, ‘or’. It is the motor of the poem, a kind of anti-and, piling on observed details of passion, grief and finally death that accumulate and take the breath away in the effort to keep up. Say them out loud. They were written to be said out loud.

Lifesaving Lines: Spring, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Our tiny minds blown by ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland’, ‘Spelt From Sibyl’s Leaves’ and ‘As Kingfisher’s Catch Fire’, we found solace in its opening of utter clarity. The cricket season upon us, the big roller on Longmead, time running out on everything we touched. ‘Just a few poems more, then it’s over to you.’ With no idea how to revise, let alone parcel out days into chunks that might mean something more than another wasted study period deciphering Remain in Light on headphones. Anouilh. Camus. The French Revolution (which we had not even covered).

Lifesaving Lines: An October Salmon, by Ted Hughes

I would like to say that ‘nothing prepares’ you for the way the poem ends, but I don’t think art is like that, and nor is life. If we are honest, we know how the script will end, we just don’t want it to, or we do and can’t face it, or we do and it delights us. But change there must be. In another great fish-poem, she lets the fish go. Of course that is where she is taking us, but it still comes as a surprise.

Lifesaving Lines: Stone, I Presume, by Ian Mcmillan

Twist and reek. Not twist and shout, twist and reek. What does it mean? a) I have no idea, and b) Whatever you want it to. I mutter it under my breath in meetings when the same person makes the same point for the third time without realising they are doing it. (Sometimes this person is me.) Climate change deniers can be twist and reek. The Conservative Party has been twist and reek for years. Poetry readings can be twist and reek. (That’s yours as well as mine.)

Lifesaving Lines: The Bluet, by James Schuyler

It has hints of that buzzword of the last two years, ‘resilience’, which, in the contexts I work in, can become a way of smuggling the idea of worker-agency into conversations where said workers are having their rights and conditions eroded. Stamina seems more determined, dogged even. The more I read the poem, the more fitting, and less surprising, it appears. And the more I read about Schuyler’s life, his recovery from severe and successive breakdowns, the more fitting an epithet it seems for his own attitude and enterprise.

Lifesaving Lines: Edge, by Sylvia Plath

I crawled into the library one night and took out a book of essays, which stopped with an analysis of her. The word pathalogical. (I had to look it up.) Knowing then that I would spend a good deal of my life crawling into libraries, thinking about poems, and looking up words I did not know. (‘Cut’ was one of the poems we had not covered.) Then, the weather hotting up and exams approaching like the future, those final poems at the end of the book (her life), ‘Edge’ among them.

Lifesaving Lines: The Trees, by Philip Larkin

Out of the corner of my eye, and not on the syllabus, a small green book, left lying around under ash by Squirrel. I ask to borrow it, take it everywhere. Poems that take my breath away. Wishing I had done him and not Ted Hughes.Poems I have been waiting all my life to read, falling head over heels instantly, insanely. That vase. Somewhere becoming rain.

Lifesaving Lines: The Job of Paradise, by Roger Robinson

He answered questions from young and old alike with grace and humour. My favourite was to a young writer, right at the end of the reading: ‘Set yourself a task of writing absolute rubbish. Don’t judge it or show it to anyone. Just show up and practise your craft. All you need is an idea of the change you want to see, and to use your creativity to move towards it.’

Thank you for your readership, engagement and encouragement in 2022. I hope to see more of you in 2023. Wishing you joy and peace, wherever you are.

The photo for this blog post is of Poet Laureate Simon Armitage DJing a late night party at the Greenbelt Festival. The myth of Francsican nuns dancing at midnight to ‘It’s Raining Men’ started here.

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