Allie Esiri: Who Should be Included in a 2021 Poetry Anthology?

Writing in his 1821 essay ‘The Defence of Poetry’, the Romantic poet Percy Shelley famously declared that ‘Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world’. A bold statement, it captures the rather paradoxical nature of the poet – at once a figure who has the potential to shape the world irrevocably with just a handful of well-chosen words, and one who is also perpetually overlooked and under-appreciated by society at large.

This new anthology seeks to shed light on the place and influence poets hold in the world – as forces of change and witnesses of history; as chroniclers of the everyday and architects of transcendent images – and to make sure that their genius is very much appreciated. Within the pages of the book you will discover an array of some of the greatest poems ever written by 366 different poets – one for each day of the (leap) year.

Poetry at its best has always, from Homer in Ancient Greece to contemporary greats such as Kae Tempest, Simon Armitage and Amanda Gorman, enabled us to see different worlds, or rather, our own world differently. And yet so many similar collections of verse have focused almost entirely on white, western male writers, creating an even more unacknowledged class among the already unacknowledged exceptional women, LGBTQIA+ and minority poets. It is important to redress this wrong and include a huge range of writers from across the globe and across time, going as far back as 2000 bc. Sitting alongside canonical titans such as Chaucer, Shakespeare and Wordsworth are lesser known names such as Enheduanna and Charlotte Mew.

But unlike my previous anthologies, which were built around the idea of offering A Poem for Every… the focus here is as much on the writers as their works. Each poet is introduced to you through a short paragraph that will give you a snapshot of their life story, their place in literary history and other pieces of context or anecdotes.

A Poet for Every Day of the Year, edited by Allie Esiri

Much of this book is dedicated to the promotion of those who have been unfairly all but forgotten. But conversely, it’s also important to address the complex reputations of some of our most beloved writers. How do we go about reconciling the fact that so many writers who were so rich in talent were so inexcusably poor in their treatment of others? Racism, religious bigotry, misogyny, intolerance and cruelty have been found in countless poets – does this diminish the brilliance of their writing?

It is a difficult, sensitive issue with no easy answer, but maybe we can turn to the poets themselves for guidance. W. H. Auden – seemingly one of the good guys, who helped a woman escape from Nazi Germany through a marriage of convenience – once argued for the separation of the artist from their work in his poetic elegy for W. B. Yeats, saying, ‘The death of the poet was kept from his poems.’

But the book also seeks to celebrate all the progress that has been made. Poetry today is less an elitist circle, more an ever-growing community that’s enriched by a plurality of writers who are giving a voice to the historically voiceless and lending an ear to those too often left unheard. I’m proud to have put together an inclusive book that strives to be representative of, and relatable to, readers of all backgrounds.

A collection of such infinite variety fittingly has no set way of being read. You can make it a daily habit – a poem in the morning to invigorate the mind, or every evening to calm the soul – or approach it as a treasure trove of poetic gems to dip into whenever you want. 366 poets are waiting for you within these pages. All they need, dear reader, is you, as, in the words of Walt Whitman, ‘To have great poets, there must be great audiences.’

Allie Esiri

Allie Esiri curates poetry anthologies, audio projects, live shows and film. Her poetry anthologies are A Poem for Every Night of the Year, the bestselling new poetry book of 2016, A Poem for Every Day of the Year and Shakespeare for Every Day of the Year. Credited with bringing poetry into the digital age, Allie Esiri’s apps iF Poems and The Love Book feature readings with actors including Helena Bonham Carter, Tom Hiddleston, Bill Nighy and Emma Watson.

A Christmas Poetry Feast!

Today we have no blog, but a feast of Christmas poems, chosen by or written by Children’s Poetry Summit members!

 

William Shakespeare, Chosen by Allie Esirie, from Shakespeare for Every Day of the Year, edited by Allie Esirie, Macmillan.

Christmas Morning

 

Last year

on Christmas morning

we got up really early

and took the dog for a walk

across the downs

 

It wasn’t snowing

but the hills were white with frost

and our breath froze

in the air

 

Judy rushed around like a crazy thing

as though Christmas

meant something special to her

 

The sheep huddled together

looking tired

as if they’d been up all night

watching the stars

 

We stood at the highest point

and thought about what Christmas means

and looked over the white hills

and looked up at the blue sky

 

And the hills seemed

to go on forever

and the sky had no bounds

and you could imagine

a world at peace

 

Roger Stevens

 

For Christmas

 

I give you a wooden gate

to open onto the world,

 

I give you a bendy ruler

to measure the snow that swirls,

 

I give you a prestidigitator

to make your woes disappear,

 

I give you a hopping robin –

he’ll be your friend throughout the year,

 

I give you a box of mist

to throw over past mist-akes,

 

I give you a slice of ice

to slide on mysterious lakes.

 

Chrissie Gittins, from The Humpback’s Wail.

 

Liz Brownlee, first published in Christmas Poems, Chosen by Gaby Morgan, Macmillan.

 

Christmas Blessing

Into our home
bring fairy lights
colour to shine
on darkest nights.

On the tree
hang figurines
absent friends
returned to me.

Wrapping paper
fills the room
generosity
in bloom.

On the table
the pudding flames
all winter long
its fire remains.

 

Lorraine Mariner

 

 

Christmas Day

 

It was waking early and making a din.

It was knowing that for the next twenty minutes

I’d never be quite so excited again.

It was singing the last verse of

‘O Come all Ye Faithful’, the one that’s

only meant to be sung on Christmas Day.

It was lighting a fire in the unused room

and a draught that blew back woodsmoke

into our faces.

It was lunch and a full table,

and dad repeating how he’d once eaten his

off the bonnet of a lorry in Austria.

It was keeping quiet for the Queen

and Gran telling that one about children

being seen but not heard.

(As if we could get a word in edgeways

once she started!)

It was ‘Monopoly’ and me out to cheat the Devil

to be the first to reach Mayfair.

It was, “Just a small one for the lad,”

and dad saying, “We don’t want him getting ‘tipsy.”

It was aunts assaulting the black piano

and me keeping clear of mistletoe

in case they trapped me.

It was pinning a tail on the donkey,

and nuts that wouldn’t crack

and crackers that pulled apart but didn’t bang.

 

And then when the day was almost gone,

it was Dad on the stairs,

on his way to bed,

and one of us saying:

“You’ve forgotten to take your hat off….”

And the purple or pink or orange paper

still crowning his head.

 

Brian Moses

 

 

 

 

 

 

Allie Esiri: A Childhood Love of Poetry and Shakespeare

A Childhood Love of Poetry and Shakespeare

In recent years, while compiling poetry anthologies and their accompanying apps and audiobooks, I have rediscovered the power of poetry when spoken aloud. This has never been more apparent than in the course of compiling my forthcoming anthology, Shakespeare For Every Day of the Year.

As I have been revisiting Shakespeare’s work, the words come alive in my recollections of where I have heard his poetry most vividly rendered. This has not only been on stage, but also in school classrooms, weddings, films, political theatres and funerals throughout my life.

Since childhood I have found poetry books the easiest to read of them all. From my earliest memories, I know Louis Untermeyer’s The Golden Treasury of Poetry lived for a long time at the side of my bed, and my mother tells me she could hear me reciting the poems, night after night.

As I got older, all of these poems remained lodged in my heart, there to witness, and to console, its every leap and break.

I first encountered Shakespeare in that treasury, and asked my aunt for Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare for my eleventh birthday. This sumptuous volume, pink cloth encompassing the hardback cover, quickly became my second most prized possession, and furnished me with more material to enunciate to my wardrobe and drawers.

Curiously enough, as Shakespeare For Every Day of the Year is released this month, I will have done a very similar thing to the eleven-year-old Allie who, after finding so much to love in Shakespeare, decided he needed a book of his own. If just one person who picks up the book feels even a whit of what I did when I first saw and heard these lines, I would consider it a job well done.

Now I am all grown up, I have had the privilege of getting many of the poems I loved as a child published in anthologies of my own, and spoken by some of our greatest actors for the next generation of potential poetry-lovers.

More than any of my anthologies to date, my latest should be consumed through the ears. So here is a little taster of what’s to come.

Sir Simon Russell Beale reads Sonnet 18 for Shakespeare for Every Day of the Year, edited by Allie Esiri (Macmillan, 2019). Other readers on the audiobook include Damian Lewis and Helen McCrory.

Allie Esiri

Allie Esiri is an accomplished curator and host of live poetry events at The National Theatre, The Bridge Theatre and at major literary festivals. Her anthologies, including A Poem for Every Day of the Year (Macmillan, 2017) and A Poem for Every Night of the Year (Macmillan, 2016) have been listed as best books of the year in The Times, The Observer and The New Statesman. Her poetry app, The Love Book, features readings from Helena Bonham Carter, Emma Watson and Tom Hiddleston, and has been credited with bringing poetry into the digital age. Shakespeare For Every Day of the Year was released on 19 September, 2019.

To contact Allie please visit her website.