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.

Gaby Morgan: In Praise of Anthologies

In Praise of Anthologies

1993 was an interesting year. Bill Clinton became the 42nd President of the USA. Sleepless In Seattle was released. Three members of One Direction were born and Macmillan Children’s Books published two slim anthologies, Doin Mi Ed In – Rap Poems by David Orme and Martin Glynn, and ‘Ere We Go! Football Poems by David Orme, launching a poetry list that is still going strong twenty-five years later. They introduced an exciting new band of very lovely poets to the world and I am so very lucky to be working with them all half a lifetime later. These were collections written for kids rather than at them and introduced them to a wide range of themes viewed from all kinds of different angles.

The biggest revelation that first year was Glitter When You Jump – Poems Celebrating the Seven Ages of Women by Fiona Waters. It was the most astonishing thing I had ever read and introduced me to ‘Phenomenal Woman’ by Maya Angelou and ‘Warning’ by Jenny Joseph.

Over the years I have read an awful lot of anthologies and was delighted to find that you often can hear the anthologists ‘voice’ in a collection. Brilliant anthologists such as Fiona Waters and Anne Harvey weave the most fascinating stories with incredible skill. When Roger McGough delivered the manuscript for Sensational he had written poem titles at the bottom of each page and I could very clearly see how each poem inspired the next – it was such a delight to follow his thoughts.

After many years of learning from these masters I was lucky enough to be asked to compile anthologies starting with Read Me: A Poem for Every Day for the National Year of Reading.

In my youth I spent days on end compiling the perfect mixed tape. A single song was often the spark for an entire C90. I crafted the perfect collection of summery songs, a tape to impress a new love or even one full of please-stay-in-the-friend zone songs. I still use these mixed tape skills today and that is how I compile anthologies. You have to have album tracks or the hit singles don’t shine. For people who dip and browse you need a very strong beginning and end. You need enough familiar poems – ‘Daffodils’! – for people to feel comfortable and enough brand-new to make people look beyond the collection. You start to tell a story and then the poems suggest themselves.

Poems pop into my head and bring their friends with them…

The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ by W. B. Yeats, ‘I hear it in the deep heart’s core’,

Beattie is Three’ by Adrian Henri, ‘How her fist fits my palm/A bunch of consolation’,

The White Cat of Trenarren’ by A.L. Rowse, ‘My cat and I grow old together’,

Let No One Steal Your Dreams’ by Paul Cookson, ‘Your only limit is the sky’.

They are joined by poems that I have heard performed such as ‘Dear Hearing World’ by Raymond Antrobus, ‘I have left Earth in search of an audible God’, or poems that I have come across on social media like ‘Saltwater’ by Finn Butler, ‘Everyone who terrifies you is 65 per cent water’ – look them up, they will bring you joy!

The world has changed enormously in the past quarter century and our poetry list has followed the curve of the earth and the signs of the times. We have published a wide range of poetry titles including landmark anthologies such as The Works: Every Kind of Poem You Will Ever Need for the Literacy Hour chosen by Paul Cookson for a new primary curriculum in 2000. Books to echo trends in popular culture like pirates and wizards, or to reflect upon historical events such as the 50th anniversary of the moon landings and the centenary of the end of WWI. To mark sporting events like the Football World Cup or the Olympics; or delve deeper to demonstrate hope and light in challenging times with poetry about extraordinary women, poetry promoting empathy and tolerance, poetry that celebrates our history and heritage and great big gift anthologies which celebrate poetry itself.

Poetry is powerful stuff – from nursery rhymes, to song lyrics, to poetry shared on social media to verse novels. We turn to poems to soothe or rally, to praise, to celebrate, to comprehend, to grieve, to shout ‘I love you’ or to pick ourselves up when it seems impossible – they are words for life.

Gaby Morgan

Gaby Morgan is an Editorial Director at Macmillan Children’s Books and proud curator of the Macmillan Children’s Poetry List. She has compiled many bestselling anthologies including Read Me and Laugh: A Funny Poem for Every Day of the Year, Poems from the First World War, Poems for Love, Fairy Poems – which was short-listed for the CLPE Award – and A Year of Scottish Poems.