Making less mean more

You know the format. Which ( let’s say five) poetry collections would you take to a desert island ? And why ? Who are the poets who really matter to you ?

I’ll nominate my five winners in later posts. At the moment, though, I want to name three . who won’t be  spending their time with suntan oil and tall, cool drinks.

1.Ted Hughes.

Ok- he’s a great poet and “Thought Fox” is the best poem ever written about writing a poem. But  Ted doesn’t do cheerful, not even mildly optimistic. And he loves guts.

I once heard him read “ Crow” on the radio. It was past midnight, and the wind was howling outside. He scared me rigid. Woke up screaming for a week afterwards. Likes his viscera, does Ted.

2.Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Don’t jump down my throat- yet. I know he is a superb, spiritual poet. I can see that phrases like “ shining out like shook foil” are incredibly clever. But somehow they don’t bang my drum. I get it- intellectually. But not emotionally. Maybe he works too hard, but he leaves me cold- always has.

You want a good religious poet ? Read George Herbert. I mean it. Read him. He’s the best.

3.TS Eliot

I used to have endless arguments with a dear friend (long dead) about TSE. John said he had captured the very essence of the twentieth century, but I can’t help thinking that his style is deliberately obscure. Poetry should be difficult. You should have to work hard to understand it, because a poem says something about what it is to be alive, and that’s a complex business. However ,the trick lies , not in hanging endless footnotes from your poem ( “ The Waste Land”) , but, through skill and heart, making less mean more.

To be fair “ Four Quartets” is tightly written, complex and worthwhile.


But TS doesn’t get to go on the Caribean holiday.


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