Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Lifesaving Poems During a Power Cut

Image result for Life saving poems
Lifesaving Poems, Ed. Anthony Wilson, Bloodaxe Books, 2015
At the time of writing I am sitting in my front room with all the car alarms going off outside and a poorly 7 year old. It appears the whole street has had a power cut.  There seem to be a lot of minor ailments in the Taylor household, days off from school are fairly common. Miranda’s ok for now. She has her little ponies. The internet’s off for a while, so while I have a full battery it seems like a good idea for another blog post. What follows isn't a review, but a commentary. I have a bit of a headache myself, bear with.

Over the last few weeks I've been reading and re-reading Anthony Wilson’s remarkable anthology Lifesaving Poems, which is published by Bloodaxe. I've never read a book quite like this. For those not in the know, Anthony Wilson is a poet and a blogger. The book began life as a notebook where Anthony chose a single poem from a poet, that moved him, and then he copied it out in the book as a way of engaging with the piece.  I imagine that the physical act of writing out a poem must have really helped to get under the skin of the pieces and been a pleasure. In time Anthony went on to post these poems on his blog with a brief prose summary as to why he had enjoyed them so much. This is around the stage I bumped into the poems. These are not poems chosen with any bold claims about being written by the ‘great and the good’ but are quite simply poems that Anthony liked. So there’s a lot of love in the pages of this anthology. The reasons for the poems being there are often very personal and it’s very brave of Anthony to discuss such things. Brave is often an overused word, but I can’t imagine many people willing to write in such a way. In those prose passages we not only find out more about the poets and their poems, but also about Anthony’s life and we’re given an insight into his illness with cancer. Not only is this an anthology of poems but also an autobiography of sorts; another reason for really liking the book.

Reading Lifesaving Poems has also made me think about how I read poetry. I read quite a bit of prose but I hardly ever re-read a novel cover to cover unless I have to, say for reasons of teaching or studying. Even if I do there may be many years between readings. Poetry is different. You can never (ever) read a good poem once. It’s impossible. Like a piece of music, you’d never listen to a favourite song once. Have you ever heard of a music lover who adored an album but only listened to it once or twice. When I like a song I play it on repeat. With poetry I may read a collection cover to cover but feel afterwards like I've not really read it properly, there’s always more to dig out and experience. So when I read that Anthony copied out these poems by hand I was rather touched. It appeared to me that here was a reader who wanted to completely engage with the poems. This is poem-love.

The poems themselves cannot be linked together or grouped by any particular patterns, other than an exploration of what it is to be human. Some of the names and poems were familiar to me, but some were just names. The kind of poems by poets you suspect will be good but have never fallen into your lap. That’s where Anthony steps in. He’s an intermediary, introducing you to the poems like interesting strangers at a party. He’s a kind host too. I never felt lectured, not once. In fact I liked his honesty and gentle tone. Has anyone ever told you (or almost shouted at you) ‘oh you must have read X poet. What do you mean you haven’t read X! I read X in the playground in Juniors!!!’ I have never tasted all the puddings in the world either, despite being a fan of dessert. The point, I guess, is how willing you are to read different things and Anthony is a great guide in that respect.   I also liked the fact that many of the poems are not by ‘poets of note.’ Why should they be? It made me wonder what would go into my own ‘Lifesaving Poems.’

In this book you’ll find individual poems (among others) by Sylvia Plath, Thom Gunn, Carol Ann Duffy, Catherine Smith, Dorothy Nimmo, Ted Hughes, Ann Sansom, Sharon Olds, Galway Kinnell, Jean Sprackland, Elizabeth Bishop, Jo Shapcott, Cliff Yates, Moniza Alvi, Charles Simic, Hilary Menos, Janet Fisher, Adrienne Rich, Peter Sansom, Rose Cook, Peter Carpenter, Mary Oliver, Iain Crichton Smith, John Ash, Esther Morgan, W. N. Herbert, Kathleen Jamie, Mandy Sutter, Jackie Kay, Martin Stannard, Carol Rumens, Seamus Heaney, James Schulyer, Ian McMillan, Deryn Rees-Jones, Derek  Mahon and Geoff Hattersley (glad to read him here, hurrah!) I could go on there are so many poets here. Hopefully I'm giving you an idea of scope. I imagine Anthony is an excellent teacher in his day to day work, I certainly feel like I've learned a lot. In particular there’s a very generous supply of American poets too. The book is a great introduction or a very important affirmation of all these poems.

Lastly, there are many passages were Anthony talks about ‘poetry exhaustion’ or what I call being ‘over-poetried.’ Sometimes this is very funny. I can’t find the quote now (typical), but something about throwing it all in and ‘becoming, say, a banker.’ Luckily he comes back to poetry.

Oh yes, the power came back on at some point, but I didn't notice.


Anthony Wilson has published two collections of poetry, Love for Now and Riddance as well as Lifesaving Poems. To find out more about the blog and Anthony’s poetry and work click here.


P.S. I copy and pasted my blog entry from a word doc and waited for the web to heal, in case you were wondering how this got on-line! Apart from power cuts I've had lots of internet problems recently, perhaps this is trying to tell me something regarding time spent on the web...


  1. I really enjoyed this (picked up from Anthony Wilson's blog) and having read previous blogs of yours I will enjoy reading more in the future. Thank you. When I looked at your 'about me' it made me laugh that when I clicked on 'view full size' your photo immediately shrank to postage stamp size!

  2. ps I meant to say that I have Anthony's book and love it as you do.

  3. Hi Meg, thanks for taking time to write. Funny about the photo, it's coy. Glad you enjoyed the post, it's a lovely book.