We’re entering the period when Sunday supplements tell us what assorted famous people will be reading / pretending to read on their holidays, or what the paper’s fiction editor recommends for the beach. You’ll occasionally spot a poetry book among the Booker-shortlisted doorstops and impressive historical biographies, but not often. The Guardian’s opening salvo for 2013 divides the world of books into “Fiction”, “Crime” and “Non-Fiction” – and the Guardian is at the more poetry-friendly end of the broadsheet spectrum.
This is unfortunate, because poetry makes ideal holiday reading. It’s about slowing down and taking the time to see something differently; about finding a poem that intrigues you and spending ten minutes lingering over the words, then coming back to it a day or so later and finding something new; about taking time out from frenetic routine and habitual stresses. If that’s not holiday reading then I don’t know what is.
I’m convinced there are lots of people who love reading but are missing out on poetry because they’ve never given themselves the chance to try it properly (i.e. slowly and without straining after meaning). What better time to take the plunge than when you’re actively relaxing? And if you’re an occasional reader of poetry, what better time to discover a new author or remind yourself how life-affirming good poetry can be?
So here’s a summer challenge for 2013: when you pack your holiday books, I want you to include a poetry collection by a living author. Any collection at all, but something you haven’t read before. And I want you to give yourself the luxury of reading it slowly.
If there’s a poet you like the look of – one you’ve seen reviewed or been recommended – then so much the better. But if you don’t know where to start, here are some suggestions (with apologies to overseas readers for the UK bias):
1. To avoid taking a punt on a single author you can choose an anthology. I rate Bloodaxe’s Identity Parade very highly (containing poems by 85 contemporary poets along with a brief biographical sketch of each), though you could also try something like Carcanet’s Oxford Poets 2013 (which is essentially more of a multi-author collection than a pure anthology). In either case, the benefit of an anthology is that you get to sample more poets; the downside is that you need to be extra-disciplined to read slowly rather than skimming through lots of poems.
2. Take advantage of Happenstance Press’s three-pamphlet lucky dip offer. Pamphlets are short collections, often by emerging poets or by established ones wanting to do something more concentrated than a full-length collection. Happenstance specialize in pamphlets and are really good at it (I’ve yet to read something of theirs that I haven’t enjoyed), and their great-value £7 offer for three pamphlets is the poetry equivalent of leaving it to the chef. If you like the pamphlet idea I’d also recommend taking a look at Templar Poetry and Smith Doorstop (two other publishers with excellent pamphlet lists, of which more in a future post).
3. Spend some time on a poetry review site such as Poor Rude Lines and see what grabs your attention. Then order it direct from the publisher (not from Amazon: poetry publishers survive on tiny margins, and the difference between a direct sale and an intermediated one is substantial).
4. Give yourself a shake and realize that you take risks on new authors or new books all the time. Find a bookshop with a decent poetry section and spend half an hour browsing. Look for the slim volumes rather than the ones with dead poets on the cover. Find something you like the look of and buy it.
If you’re even half tempted to give this a try, please do. There’s a reasonable chance you’ll surprise yourself.
I’d love to hear what you choose / how you get on. I also have a favour to ask: please can you share this post more widely – not because I’m on some maniacal self-promotion drive, but because I want as many people as possible to try a poetry book this summer. Just one book each would make a big difference to poetry publishers and a big difference to how much you enjoy your holiday.
Go on – you know you want to…