Lifesaving Poems

Photograph © Bloodaxe Books Ltd

I am delighted to announce that my Lifesaving Poems series of blog posts is now a book, published by Bloodaxe.

Readers of this blog will know how the project started and therefore what this means to me. Originally, the idea of Lifesaving Poems stemmed from a remark I once saw of Seamus Heaney, along the lines of an out-loud query about how many poems could affect a person over a lifetime. Was it ten, he said, twenty, fifty, a hundred, or more?

To put this notion to the test I began copying out poems, in inky longhand, into a plain Moleskine notebook given to me for Christmas. My criteria for inclusion were as basic as possible. In the style of Heaney and Hughes’s The Schoolbag I allowed myself only one poem per poet. And I had to be able to remember the experience of first encountering it.

I didn’t write in the notebook every day. Sometimes weeks would go by without an entry, only to spur myself into action with several poems in one sitting of a rainy weekend, say. According to the inscription on the front page I began in July 2009 and finally filled the notebook in May 2011, shortly after which I wrote my first Lifesaving Poems post, on Alasdair Paterson’s ‘Fishermen’.

Readers of this blog, and of my memoir Love for Nowwill also know that, quite apart from the physical effort of copying the poems, the notebook and subsequent blog mean much more to me. This is because, during my treatment for cancer in 2006 I felt for the first time in my life that poetry was leaving me. By that I mean not just the desire (or ability, or concentration) to write poems, but the notion of reading and spending time with poems at all.

Lifesaving Poems  is therefore an attempt to say thank you, ultimately to poetry for not deserting me but also to the poets who wrote the poems, and the people -teachers, friends, colleagues, poets, anthologists- who have influenced my reading, and therefore my life, so richly.

I should say straight away that not every poem from the blog is included in the book. Partly this is for reasons of size, and partly I am hoping there will be a sequel! To find out who I have included you will have to do what I am always encouraging my readers to do: buy the book. It feels both odd and wonderful to write that sentence in support of something I have put together.

If the process of turning a notebook into a blog into a book has taught me anything it is that poems are needed by people. Which is to say not just that we reach for poetry in times of distress, joy and grief; but that a poem, lying dormant, only comes fully alive when this or that person comes along and reads it. That is what I have tried (and continue) to do with Lifesaving Poems: to stay true to the energy of first encounters, remembering as accurately as possible my debt to the friend or anthologist who put me in the poem’s way.

I am indebted to Neil Astley for suggesting and supporting the anthology from the start; and to Anna Clarke for her help with the manuscript.

Here are some of the most popular Lifesaving Poems, based on my WordPress stats.

Read reviews at the Lifesaving Poems Goodreads page here.


You can buy Lifesaving Poems from Amazon here, order it from Inpress here, or from Waterstones here.

You can also order signed copies from me directly.

The best way to do this is via the contact form on my Contact pages and we can go from there. NB You will need a PayPal account to do this.

Each book is £12. Postage for one book is £1.52 ; postage for two books is £2.80; postage for three books is also £2.80 (all prices UK only, second class).


  1. Wonderful news about the book and the life-affirming journey you took to create it and share your thinking.
    I love the idea of you wanting to remember where and when you first encountered a specific poem, like the moment of anagnorisis, the Damascus moment? Thank you in anticipation.
    Lizzie Fincham

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Lizzie
      Thanks so much for your lovely comment on my forthcoming book.

      Now the proofs have been corrected it really is going to be a thing. A wonderful thin, somewhere between an anthology and an autobiography.

      I do hope you will look at it and spread the word.

      As ever with best wishes

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lovely to meet at Wenlock this weekend, and to hear you talking with Roz about the book and your life – and thanks for signing your book for me – just caught you! Your blog is such an inspiration to me – I hope to start one myself one day…I also wonder if I have anything to say, but I guess there’s only one way to find out! Very much looking forward to the publication of Livesaving Poems – thanks for creating this for us all! Maggie

    Liked by 4 people

    1. It was great to meet you too Maggie. Thank you so much for making the effort with your friends. I appreciate it enormously. And thank you for your kind words.

      Wishing you all the best with starting a blog. Steven Pressfield says the more we resist something, the more we can be sure it matters to us to get on and do it. You really have nothing to lose. As ever with every good wish, Anthony

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It was a real honour to host your talk with Roz. So many connections and things I wanted to say: Anne Lamott, Pressfield (above), Kaplinski, Raymond Carver, ‘steal more poems’, poems that turn on a sixpence, backs of envelopes etc. Thank you. Look forward to my life being saved (again) with this wonderful anthology.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for saying Hello Jeff. And thank you for your kind words re my event. I enjoyed it enormously, not least for your kind and gracious hosting. It was a memorable afternoon indeed. With thanks and best wishes to you and your writing


  4. I’m reading your anthology on holiday in Southwold at the moment. It’s one of the best anthologies I’ve read. It steers us away from the overfamiliar poems toward, for me, refreshing and intense poetic experiences. Your comments on where you first heard the poems and your reaction to them is enjoyable and illuminating.
    Right next poem-‘What it’s like to be alive……’

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for saying so Philip. I appreciate your comment enormously, more than I can say. I’m honoured to be part of someone’s holiday landscape. What a thought! As ever with good wishes


  5. Wonderfully inspirational! Bravo! Wishing you the very best life has to offer…and then some. I can’t wait to take a peek at what you are sharing here on your blog. Perhaps, I will see your book next to mine one day…:)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Do read Tagore (that’s Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore). His works are more than lifesaving for us here on the Indian Subcontinent. Do include him if you haven’t already. He wrote in Bangla or Bengali and some translations available on my blog

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have only just discovered your blog and must send my thanks. It is wonderful!
    I had a lifesaving teacher, who first introduced me to Emily Dickinson, my lifesaving poet. Although there are many of her poems that merit the sobriquet “Lifesaving Poem,” I still land on “Some keep the Sabbath going to church” and commend it to you.
    Again, many thanks!


  8. Thank you for your writing regarding President Obama’s tweet about John McCain’s cancer. I love President Obama (and miss his leadership, kindness, intellect, etc. every day), but as you pointed out his words perpetuate the belief that survival is dependent on the patients fight rather than the science of the disease. There is a need for many more people to understand the hurtful words they use when talking about cancer. I’m also not a fan of the frequent use of the word survivor (walks/parties) as it feels like a slap in the face to loved ones of those who didn’t. Thanks again for your thoughtfulness – it obviously requires thinking which seems to be becoming quaint – yikes!


    1. Many thanks for your kind comments Karen. I appreciate them enormously. My article obviously raised a few hackles, so I was pleased that you found it helpful. With good wishes, Anthony


      1. Thank you for your superb article, full of wisdom in response to Obama’s comment.

        Lizzie Fincham


  9. I appreciate what you are saying. However having literally watched my Pops and my father in law die from cancer, I would have to say afight is exactly what it was. The thing is, we don’t always win the fight


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