The Rattlebag is 'diverse and spellbinding'.FAMKE VEENSTRA-ASHMORE

Poetry can be a hard genre to break into. There’s such a diverse range of styles and forms out there that it can be really overwhelming at first. Many people are put off by the misconception that it’s all written in Shakespearean English, worried about its general accessibility and a potential lack of variety in its subject matter. However, there’s just as many different types of poetry as there are books, and absolutely anyone can enjoy, find solace in, and fully appreciate poetry as both an art form and a form of entertainment. I’ve compiled a short list of my favourites below which will hopefully encourage you to delve in — head first — and provide you with a great introduction to the form. They range from international compilations, classic anthologies, and short, inspiring reads that may well transform your feelings about poetry.

1. The Rattlebag ed. Ted Hughes & Seamus Heaney

You won’t find many anthologies as diverse and spellbinding as this renowned collaboration from the 20th century poets Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney. Filled with an amalgamation of contemporary poems, medieval masterpieces and poems in translation, there’s a striking variety of pieces to sink your teeth into. Prefaced as simply a collection of the duo’s favourite poems, it is ordered in a way they felt was the least arbitrary — alphabetically — and contains everything from Plath’s impassioned verse, to folk songs passed on through the oral tradition. It’s a fairly hefty book as well, with hundreds of pages home to hundreds of poems. Accessible to people of all ages, it accompanies The School Bag, a classroom friendly version which is just as exciting as its older sibling. Overall, it’s an excellent and classic anthology that’s in many ways timeless.

“[Poetry is] a refuge from the unwavering difficulties of life”

2. Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times ed. Neil Astley

This anthology is just as intriguing as its title; these are indeed real poems for unreal times (and certainly applicable for our current situation). Edited by the founder of poetry publishing house Bloodaxe Books, Neil Astley, it contains a variety of gripping and dramatic contemporary poetry, featuring various modern poets such as W.H. Auden and Maya Angelou. This immense book, coming in at 500 poems, selects poems based on their spiritual and emotive power, demonstrating the importance of poetry as both an expression of humanity, and as a refuge from the unwavering difficulties of life. Described by Helen Dunmore as “A book for people who know they love poetry, and for people who think they don’t”, it’s a great one to get started with, and with three sequels of equally striking quality, a great one to introduce you to the intense and fascinating world of poetry.

3. Tell me the Truth about Life ed. Cerys Matthews


Mountain View

Arts’ Summer Reading List

With the epigraph ‘100 poems that matter’, it’s hard to argue with the quality and depth of Matthews’ compilation. This beautifully covered book isn’t quite pocket size, but it’s beautifully succinct and heartfelt, with many poems selected being resonant and emotive. Neatly divided into themes with a short summary, it’s extremely helpful in navigating the different elements and styles of poetry that you may be unfamiliar with. None of the poems are overtly technical, and the short sections allow for easy navigation across the entire book. Developed for National Poetry Day 2019, the anthology focuses on poetry’s ability to “tap into the truths that matter”and, rather fittingly, stays true to its title. There’s some incredibly endearing poems here, as well as timeless classics that everyone should read at least once. It’s a lovely little book, and a perfect one to introduce to your reading, whether a first-time consumer of poetry or a seasoned student of the form.