I’ve decided to make May a month of poetry and song lyrics (mine and others) so instead of the traditional book review you’ve come to expect on a Monday, today and all the Mondays in this May will be devoted to books of and about poetry. I’ve selected collections and poets that have struck me and stayed with me long after I read them and if you haven’t read or heard of them before, I hope you’ll find something new that strikes and stays with you.
Today’s selection is a collection of poems called Postcards from Planet Earth. If it sounds familiar, it might be because it made it onto both My Top Ten Books –Then list and My Top Ten Books – Now list.
This was the poetry book I studied in Year 12 and at the time of constructing My Top Ten Books – Then list, I wrote: “This is one of those rare books of poetry that just keeps getting better. Every time I read it I get something different out of it. I’m not sure exactly what I love about it but the variety is extraordinary, the viewpoints fascinating and the beauty is limitless. As soon as one poem from the collection loses its shine, another is there to take its place.”
Here are a few extracts:
From “Protest Poem” by Vernon Scannell:
(on being unable to use the word “gay” in its original meaning anymore)
A good word once, and I’m disconsolate
And angered by this simple syllable’s fate:
A small innocence gone, a little Fall.
I grieve the loss. I am not gay at all.
From “Star-Gazer” by P.K. Page:
The very stars are justified.
I have proof-read
the beautiful script.
There are no
From “A Martian Sends a Postcard Home” by Craig Raine:
(this is a Martian description of humans going to the toilet – I love it!)
Only the young are allowed to suffer
openly. Adults go to a punishment room
with water but nothing to eat.
They lock the door and suffer the noises
alone. No one is exempt
and everyone’s pain has a different smell.
From “Love Song for Words” by Nazik Al-Mala’ika:
And why do we fear words?
They are the friends that come to us
From distant spaces in the soul
They surprise us, catch us unaware,
And sing for us, and a thousand ideas are born
Ideas that were dormant in us, never before expressed
But the friendly words, the words
Offer them as gifts:
Why should we not love words?
From “The Examination” by Roger McGough:
Realizing finally that I would never be published,
That I was to remain one of the alltime great unknown poets,
My work rejected by even the vanity presses,
I decided to end it all.
Taking an overdose of Lyricism
I awaited the final peace
When into the room burst the Verse Squad
Followed by the Poetry Police.
From “After I Am Dead” by Chaim Nachman Bialik:
There was a man and he exists no more.
His life’s song was broken off halfway.
He had one more poem
And that poem is lost,
Honestly, I could include an extract of every poem in the book. If you’re not someone who can sit and read a book of poetry straight through, here are some poems to search out if you need some guidance in its exploration:
“Two Haiku” by Roger McGough
“Interview with a Poet” by Miroslav Holub
“Lessons in Parsing” by Rashid Husain
“Planning a Time-Capsule” by Bruce Dawe
“anyone lived in a pretty how town” by e. e. cummings
“Do Not Despise Me” by Konai Helu Thaman
“Sonnet CXVI” by William Shakespeare
“Love Story” by Wendy Cope
“Not My Best Side” by U. A. Fanthorpe
“Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas
A terrific additional extra is all the explanatory notes (because sometimes poems are difficult to understand if you don’t know the subtext) and at the end are several versions of the same poem, showing the process of creation, as well as several poems translated from their original language into English by different people, showing the differences that can be created when two people interpret the same piece of writing.
I highly recommend this book of poetry, particularly if you are someone who struggles with the flowery poems written hundreds of years ago. So much of it has a modern voice, despite the occasional William Shakespeare and Dylan Thomas (although these are so perfect and so well known that there is a sense of modernity and currency about them). If you’re looking for a book of poetry as a first step to delve into the genre, this is a great one to start with.