The poetry challenge
A year ago today I was planning my poetry challenge. As a reluctant poetry reader the challenge was to read at least one poem a day, every day and to choose a new poet every week. By the end of the year I should have read at least 365 poems and 52 new poets. One year on I can claim success and more. I managed to read on average about four poems a day. Some weeks I did cheat and would choose to read a poet’s collection I had previously started and failed to complete, but in the course of those weeks I invariably found other poets to read somewhere along the line. Because here is the thing, once you embark on including poetry as part of your daily life you begin to see it everywhere; in newspapers and magazines; at the beginning of books; on the internet; in the underground; on the back of cereal packets. Poetry exists everywhere we just don’t notice it.
So how did I choose my poets and where did I source their collections? When I started I knew very little about poetry, but I did know loads of poets. The first thing I did was broadcast a plea on Facebook and Twitter. The response was staggering. I began with a list long enough to keep me going for the first couple of months. Many of these poets continued to send me suggestions throughout the year if they came across something they thought I would like. Even with this very unscientific approach I find that the poems span many centuries and continents. I am surprised by the many Scottish poets in my list but also by the diversity.
I admit to buying a few new poetry books, both hard copy and ebook. I found many of the poetry ebooks under £2.00 and often free. I also used WWW.Poemhunter.com, a superb source that allows you to download free poetry ebooks.
Because I lived part of 2013 in France I had to organise my library books with care but I am sorry to say the libraries only held a limited online selection.
Most of my books were second hand. Early on in the year I visited Callander where bookshop owner, the lovely poet and publisher Sally Evans, guided me on the best and most influential poets to read. She insisted I read John Donne and I am glad she did. ABE Books, a marketplace of online second hand bookstore was my main source.
My greatest joy was trolling the shops of Paris. There I found the elusive Edwin Muir, an old version of French Poetry with translation, a bilingual version of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Yeats and Emily Dickinson. The search was as pleasurable as the reading.
So what did I learn from this challenge? The aim was to improve my own writing. I am not sure if this is achieved, time will tell.
I have learned that reading poetry enriches your life in unimagined ways. New worlds have been opened up to me. I have discovered a love of art, I know more about Greek Mythology, politics, oppression, nature, life and love.
The challenge may have ended but I will continue to read poetry every day. This is a daily habit I intend to keep.
Throughout the year I have managed to read full collections but often I could only dip in and out again. I only managed a glance at Shakespeare’s sonnets and the French collection. Milton’s Paradise Lost and Seamus Heaney’s Translation of Beowulf have been neglected. My new challenge is to work on finishing the unfinished and immersing myself in the epics. And I can’t wait.
Below is my list of readings:
Week 1 – Thomas Hardy, Poems of the past and present, full collection
Week 2 – Kathleen Jamieson, The Overhaul, full collection
Week 3 – The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, complete poem
Week 4 – Billy Collins, selection of poems from Poemhunter.com
Week 5 – Two Billies – William Letford, Bevel, full collection and William McGonagall, A Selection, full collection.
Week 6 – Sharon Olds, Stag’s Leap, full collection
Week 7 – Robert Crawford, The Tip of my Tongue, full collection
Week 8 – Mark Doty, Atlantis, full collection
Week 9 – T S Elliot, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, full collection. And Sydney Goodsir Smith, Under the Eildon Tree, full collection
Week 10 – Moya Cannon, Carrying the Songs, full collection
Week 11 – Emily Dickinson, Everyman’s Poetry Collection, full collection
Week 12 – Bernardine Evaristo, Land of Abraham, full collection
Week 13 – Rhona Fitzgerald, Oidreacht/Inheritance, full collection
Week 14 – Christopher Reid, The Song of Lunch, full poem
Week 15 – Sheila Blackhall, The Toad on the Rock’s Opinion, full collection
Week 16 – Warsen Shire, Teaching my mother how to give birth, full collection
Week 17 – Dylan Thomas, Everyman’s Poetry Collection, various selection
Week 18 – Don Patterson, Landing Light, full collection
Week 19 – August Klienzahler, The Strange Hours Travellers Keep, full collection
Week 20 – Pablo Neruda, Love – Ten Poems, full collection
Week 21 – James Robertson, Hem and Heid – ballads, sangs, saws and poems, full collection
Week 22 – Elizabeth Burns, The Gift of Light, full collection
Week 23 – WB Yeats, Everyman’s Poetry Collection, various selection
Week 24 – Charles Baudelaire, The Poems and Prose Poems of, various selection
Week 25 – Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, various selection
Week 26 –Wong Phui Nam, Way of Exile, various selection
Week 27 – Ray Bradbury, On Creativity, complete book
Week 28 – Paul Muldoon, The Poetry of, various selection
Week 29 – Marina Tsvelaeva, Bride of Ice, various selection
Week 30 – WH Auden, Tell me the truth about love
Week 31 – Chris Salt, Home Front, Front Line, full collection
Week 32 – Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken and Other Selected Poems, full collection
Week 33 – Epic of Gilgamesh, part read
Week 34 – The Poems of Wilfred Owen, full collection
Week 35 – Yardza Garcia, A Shy Girl Screams Poetry, full collection
Week 36 – Wendy Cope, If I Don’t Know, full collection
Week 37 – Edwin Muir, Selected Poems, full collection
Week 38 – Alice Walker, Horses make the landscape look more beautiful, full collection
Week 39 – Poems of the Great War 1914-1918, various poets, full collection
Week 40 – George Mackay Brown, Northern Lights, Poems and Prose, full collection
Week 41 – Maya Angelou, And Still I Rise, full collection
Week 42 – Ted Hughes, Birthday Letters, various selection
Week 43 – Tennyson, various selection
Week 44 – Theodore Roethke, selection of poems from Poemhunter.com
Week 45 – Louise Gluck, selection of poems from Poemhunter.com
Week 46 – Sai Murray, Ad-liberation, full collection
Week 47 – Kevin Cadwallender, various selection
Week 48 – John Donne, Complete works, various selection
Week 49 – Robert Louis Stevenson, Everyman’s Poetry, various selection
Week 50 – The Poetry of Jalaluddin Rumi, various selection
Week 51 – Moon in The Pines, Haiku, full collection
Week 52 – Michael Ondaatje, The Cinnamon Peeler, various
Some were great, some were good and a few were truly awful but they were all worthwhile to read.