I did it: in 2008 I read fifty-two collections of poetry by fifty-two different poets; and, for the most part, I wrote a little post here with my thoughts (often late). It’s been a fantastic journey. I read all the great poetry I already had on my shelves, and from about July onwards I followed my nose in finding new collections to read, both from poets I’d heard of and those completely new to me.
It’s been such fun. The experience of reading poetry in a sustained, concentrated manner has meant a lot to me. Apart from when I was on holiday, my poetry reading time was on the tube on the way into work in the morning, and I can really recommend it as a way of starting the day. It’s something I’m going to keep up for as long as I can; from here on in, I definitely plan to always have a book of poetry on the go. Sounds obvious, but I’ve never read poetry in such a deliberate way before, and the rewards have been huge.
One of the rewards has been really working out my own taste. Of the poetry I’ve read, quite a bit has left me puzzled and cold; a lot has resonated with me very deeply; some has delighted me and a few poets and poems honestly feel as if they’ve changed me and the way I look at things – I almost feel like writing a thank-letter to a few of the poets I read in 2008. But all have taught me something about poetry, about the world, and about how I might want to write myself.
Reading deeply and broadly is surely the first stepping-stone for anyone who wants to write, and the favourites that I have picked up this year will no doubt go on to influence both my reading and my writing. In particular I have been arrested and inspired by the following:
Lynne Wycherley’s landscapes;
Gillian Allnutt’s sparse lyricism;
John F. Deane’s rather mournful take on spirituality;
the same in R.S. Thomas, along with a real flinty toughness;
George Szirtes’ scope and attentiveness to form;
Alice Oswald’s earthiness;
Kathleen Jamie’s dealings with the natural world;
Luci Shaw’s ‘baptised imagination’;
Alice Major’s astonishingly inventive take on the Canterbury Tales/1001 Nights;
John Burnside’s deeply spiritual meditations;
the same in Fiona Sampson;
Gwyneth Lewis’s beautiful wit and wisdom;
Sam Meekings’ downright genius;
Helen Farish’s exquisitely honed observations;
U.A. Fanthorpe’s lightness of touch;
Kathryn Simmonds’ magical gaze on the everyday.
I’ll definitely be coming back to all these poets again and again – both reading their other collections, and re-reading what I read of theirs last year, and also allowing them to teach me how to write.
So, what else is next? As I said, I’m going to carry on reading poetry in a very deliberate way, and for 2009 I’ve set myself a new project: to read some of the epics. I immersed myself in contemporary poetry last year, and this year I’m going to look back: to some of the great big long poems that have shaped the canon of English poetry. It’s mainly going to be poetry written in English, I think, but I’m starting with the Iliad, and the Divine Comedy will feature, too.
As to whether I’ll keep a blog, I’m not so sure. This one has been fantastic, as I’ve really enjoyed keeping an online record of what I’ve read: it’s helped keep me going, given shape to the project and also made me think more deeply about what I’m reading (though I won’t pretend anything I’ve written here has been particularly deep). But I’m not so sure how well a blog would fit with reading epic poetry; I’m anticipating it’s going to take me a while to read the Iliad, so it would be a pitifully infrequently updated blog, and I’m sure no one will want to read a three-hundred word summary of my thoughts on it when I’m done. But who knows? If I do do something new, I’ll make sure I link to it from here.
Thanks to everyone who’s read this, anyone who commented and all those who’ve encouraged me in my reading. Most of all, thanks to the fifty-two poets, whose work I so enjoyed in 2008.
Kayvee, January 2009.