When life is tough, pick up a poem!
When life is tough, pick up a poem! The best titles for those who love rhymes
- British literary critic Bel Mooney, rounded up her favourite poetry books
- She admits to trying verses on her husband from Up In The Attic by Pam Ayres
- Her top picks also include Joinedupwriting, Sleeping Letters and In Still Life
From his beginnings as a young Mersey Sound poet in late-Sixties Liverpool, to his status as National Treasure, Roger McGough has never flagged in his mission to bring poetry to the people.
His famous quirky wit is an essential ingredient of Joinedupwriting (Penguin £8.99), but there is also an underlying sense of time passing, ageing, loss — and the realisation that the act of writing keeps all that at bay. For a while, at least. Another triumph.
I have always rejected the elitist idea that poets who embrace pleasing rhymes to entertain are beneath serious attention — so Pam Ayres deserves thanks for the delightful Up In The Attic (Ebury £16.99). I tried some verses on my husband (not a poetry reader) and was rewarded by his mirth.
Bel Mooney picked out a selection of her favourite poetry books to gift this Christmas (file image)
My prescription for Christmas jollity would be Pam’s book passed around by the family — and when you reach the beautiful poem Down The Line you might be surprised by a few tears.
Like McGough and Ayres, William Shakespeare understood the wisdom of clowns as well as the power of tears. All that — and so much more — dances through the pages of Shakespeare For Every Day Of The Year, edited by Allie Esiri (Macmillan £18.99).
This would make a perfect gift for anybody who has ever liked a single speech by Shakespeare. Esiri’s choices set 365 extracts in context and she provides a synopsis of every play. Wonderful.
The sweet, small collection Dog Poems (Serpent’s Tail £7.99) should be slipped into every dog-lover’s Christmas stocking. Here’s Sir Walter Raleigh writing hilariously about a lady’s ‘rude and ill-mannered’ dog, Lord Byron mourning his beloved Boatswain, and a host of other voices from Chaucer to this century — all honouring man and woman’s best friend.
But be warned — some of the poems will make you cry if (like me) you have mourned a beloved animal.
Sleeping Letters (Chatto £12.99) by Marie-Elsa Bragg is moving, challenging and hauntingly beautiful. When the author was six, her mother (an artist and the wife of broadcaster Melvyn Bragg) committed suicide. This exquisite book chronicles the quest to process a grief that can never end. Poignant prose and intense spiritual meditations connect Marie-Elsa Bragg (an Anglican priest) with both her parents, forgiving both the living and the dead. This is one I shall return to again and again.
When the prize-winning Belfast poet Ciaran Carson died two months ago, Ireland lost a tough-minded chronicler. Carson’s first action on receiving his diagnosis of lung cancer was to embark on a series of poems, on the surface about individual paintings (by Poussin, Canaletto and Constable, among others), but also celebrating family life and his locality.
In Still Life (Gallery £10.50) Carson tunes us into the music of art as well as the mystery of mortality. My only complaint is this final collection from a great poet cries out for illustration. A better edition please.
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