Thursday 28 September 2017

National Poetry Day 2017 ~ Guest Author, Ana Sampson

National Poetry Day is an annual celebration that inspires people throughout the UK to enjoy, discover and share poems. Everyone is invited to join in, whether by organising events, displays, competitions or by simply posting favourite lines of poetry on social media using #nationalpoetryday.

National Poetry Day was founded in 1994 by the charity Forward Arts Foundation, whose mission is to celebrate excellence in poetry and increase its audience. The Day enjoys the support of the BBC, Arts Council England, the Royal Mail and leading literary and cultural organisations, alongside booksellers, publishers, libraries and schools.

The theme for National Poetry Day 2017 is Freedom.

On National Poetry Day I am delighted to welcome Ana Sampson, editor of Best-Loved Poems

I asked Ana about the emotional connection we have with poetry and why in this fast and furious digital age poetry still has the ability to calm our souls.

On the pleasures of poetry 

Ana Sampson 

Poetry is personal. I’m never more conscious of that than when one of my anthologies is published, since readers (and my own friends and relatives) are never shy about telling me which poems I shouldn’t have left out! When compiling a collection like my latest, in which the brief was to include the ‘greatest hits’ of poetry in English, what really strikes is me is how these verses still resonate so strongly with readers after, sometimes, hundreds of years. Although we have changed a great deal through the ages in our language and references, our preoccupations, our values and what perplexes us have changed amazingly little through time.

The poems we love most will depend on our own taste, and how it has been shaped by our teachers, our parents and our peers. Poetry we read as children often has a special place in our private canons, and catches in the memory throughout our lives. It’s one of the reasons that poetry has been so effectively used – by Deborah Alma the Emergency Poet, among others – in therapies for dementia patients. Works by Robert Louis Stevenson, Lewis Carroll and A A Milne are easier for me to recall than any of the items on my to-do list, and many times as entertaining. It’s also great fun to share them with my children, especially since very young children are used to most of their books rhyming and love the rhythm and music of verse.

Our life experiences will also influence our poetry choices. There are certainly poems about parenthood that are only now beginning to pierce me as my daughters grow: a couple by Kathryn Simmonds, Walking Away by C. Day Lewis and Penelope Shuttle’s Outgrown. It’s wonderful to read a poem that expresses something we, too, have felt and know that whatever road we are walking, we’re not alone. 

Reading a poem slows us down naturally. It takes time – more time than when reading prose – to chew over the words, examine the language and the phrasing and puzzle over meanings. It forces the reader – literally, if you read aloud – to allow themselves a breathing space in a way that a flow of text simply doesn’t. I think this is one of the reasons I can’t recommend poetry highly enough as a way to relax. It’s also usually brief enough to squeeze into the tiniest of tea-breaks and the quickest of commutes – unless you’re embarking on Paradise Lost (also to be recommended, but perhaps for a beach holiday!) If you reach for a book rather than your phone, you’re also giving yourself a break from screen time, and saving yourself from the often inaccurate versions of much-loved poems reproduced enthusiastically but often carelessly online. Of course, as an anthologist, I may not be entirely unbiased on this point! But wherever and however you find them, I promise you that five minutes reading a poem this week will be time well spent, a gift to yourself and an easy resolution to keep. I hope you discover something wonderful this National Poetry Day.

Michael O'Mara
21 September 2017

Whether in search of comfort, inspiration or escape, this treasury of celebrated verse brings together half a millennium of familiar and much-loved poetry to cherish.Including the classic poems of Tennyson, Marvell, Byron and Rossetti, alongside the more contemporary voices of Ayres, Larkin and Zephaniah, this special collection is divided into themes to suit every mood. From magic voyages through antique lands to the wonders of nature and the roar of city life, from love and war to those poems we used to know by heart, this volume is a bold and beautiful array of the finest verse from some of our greatest poets.

Best-Loved Poems is published by Michael O’Mara Books, and is Ana Sampson’s fifth anthology of well-known poems. Waterstones

My thoughts:

I really loved this treasury of verse, not just because it featured some of my favourite poetry, but also because I found the work of new poets and discovered a whole wealth of inspiring verse.

Not only is this a lovely collection of poetry but also the very tactile nature of its beautifully designed cover makes me want to keep touching the book and, no matter my state of my mind, I can find something to either soothe, or inspire. For ease of use, the book is nicely divided into well described sections and I particularly liked the little flower and bee line drawings which are scattered throughout like little gems. 

Everyone has a favourite poem, it could be something as modest as a favourite childhood poem read by a beloved parent, mine is, The Lamplighter by Robert Louis Stevenson, or it could be a poem that acts as a poignant reminder of something rather important, mine is Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night by Dylan Thomas, or a love poem written in a Valentine card, as Sonnets from the Portuguese : XLIII by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Just as the familiar brings comfort, so finding the work of a new poet inspires and I was especially interested to find, in this volume,  The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry, both a poem and poet that I hadn't read before and, if you haven't, then I would urge to read this poem, as it's really rather beautiful.

As a prolific reader, I read copious novels from all different genres,. Thanks to clever historians I am flung back into the dim and distant past, or courtesy of talented authors I delve into the minds of the most depraved individuals in contemporary crime novels, and whilst I'm not discounting the powerful effect of reading these wonderful stories, there are times when my soul cries out for peace and calm and that's when I turn to reading poetry.

I have an arsenal of poetry books that I keep for quiet days and Best Loved Poems is certainly up there with the best of them.

My thanks to Ana for her guest post today and for sharing her thoughts so eloquently
on National Poetry Day


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