favourite poets

Valerie Bloom - 10 May 2006

I spend a lot of time going into schools to give readings and run writing workshops and later on I will invite you join me for a week of school visits on this site. I enjoy the interaction with students and teachers and for me the visits are very rewarding.
Unfortunately, when I was young we didn't have
writers visiting our school, but there are a few writers I'd have loved to talk with face to face.

One question I get asked frequently is 'Who is your favourite poet?' It's difficult to choose one because there are so many poets I admire, and some favourite poems may not necessarily be written by a favourite poet. But if I had to choose a couple of poets who are no longer with us, for the poets Hall of Fame, I'd plump for Robert Frost and Charles Causley. My favourite poem by Robert Frost is 'The Road Not Taken', and if you type it into a search engine you can read it online. Go to 'Poets' and listen to Charles Causley read 'Timothy Winters' (and other poems) on the Poetry Archive website.

So how about you? What do you think of poets coming into your school? And if you had to choose two to talk to who are no longer alive, who would they be? And what question would you ask them?


Ummm, hi mumm, err...do we have any videos or soundclips of u, cause I need it 4 my IT project. And what's for dinner? :P

Hi Valerie, this is cool being able to talk to you. We had a book of your poems in my primary school, I can't remember the name but it was a great book.I think it had clouds and a bird on the cover. Idon't know that many poets but we studied Siegfried Sassoon for GCSE and I would love to meet him and hear him talk about his war experiences and how he started writing poetry. His work is so powerful, the way he talks about the waste of life and the stupidity of war, that's something we still need to hear today I reckon. If anyone is interested his poem Dug Out is on this website, you can actually hear him reading it out. Thanks....... Susie Heard

Hi Susie. Great to hear from you. I'm pleased you enjoyed 'Let Me Touch the Sky' in primary school. I agree with you that Siegfried Sassoon would be an interesting person to speak to. One of my favourite poems of his is a powerful piece called 'The Hero'. He also influenced another favourite war poet, Wilfred Owen. Have you read anything of his? If not you might like to start with 'Dulce Et Decorum Est'. I get shivers every time I read it. It's not on the Archive but you can read it if you do a search. Thanks. valerie

Welcome, Valerie.

The poet I would like to meetis dead but not long dead. Hamish Henderson was a senior academic at Edinburgh University, a father figure in the revival of Scottish folk music - the real sort - not the shortbread tin atrocities - and a man with experience of war, especially in the desert with the 8th army. His poetry reflected his immense learning and literacy in many languages but also struck a chord with thousands of young people because of his sincere and passionate political idealism (see The John MacLean March and The Freedom Come-All-Ye). And if he made the mistake of hero worshipping the ikes of Stalin (see The Ballad of the Taxi Driver's Cap)well, he wasn't the only one of that generation to be taken in. His poetry stands quite well enough on its own but he may be better known nowadays for his songs which are still sung by young and old, each generation rediscovering the blend of humanity and anger which cries out for a tune. It's very unfortunate that his frequent use of Scots puts a wider audience off his works in standard English. I would like to be able to ask him how he thought poets of today should react to today's world, today's leaders and today's wars.

I didn'tknow the name Hamish Henderson, so thanks for the recommendation, John, I will look out for his work. It sounds as if his poetry comes straight from the heart. If I could meet any poet no longer with us, I think I would choose Emily Dickinson. She had an exceptional way of seeing the world.You might even use the word visionary. I don't think she was given enough appreciation in her time, which was probably because it was still unusual for a woman to publish literature under her own name and make a name for herself. Another woman poet I admire is Stevie Smith. she suffered from depression, which is something I empathize with as I have had similar problems. Art, music or poetry can really help you through those dark times.

Thank you, John. Like Nina, I was not aware of Hamish Henderson's work and look forward to finding out more about him.

Nina, I agree with you about the therapeutic effects of the arts. I've certainly found poetry to be a balm in troubled times.

Valerie, if a professional poet like you doesn't know of Hamish Henderson then he is probably rather less well known outside Scotland than I had thought. As a taster you may enjoy his 'Lines to a Fool (who called a contemplative man 'dead')'

You sniggre at him, a walking corpse that gropes / For 'barren leaves' on learning's desert slopes. ' Yet never to art (or life) you gave your praise, / Nor risked a fall, all your efficient days. // That man with inward eyes and laggard tongue / Can sit tonight the living trees among,/ While you from truth under your boards are hid / And weary me, scratching on your coffin lid.

You can imagine the shades of Burns and Byron applauding that one.

Hamish Henderson - Collected Poems and Songs is published by Curly Snake Publishing of Edinburgh

Thanks John. I can see why Hamish Henderson is a favourite. There's definitely a place for him on my bookshelf.

The theme of this thread is 'poems that move me' and I feel -- sense -- imagine -- that others may be moved as I am by the work of Norman MacCaig, another giant recently lost. It may or maynot be anything to do with climate change but I'm told that basking sharks are becoming more and more common. I remember them as fairly common off Kintyre some years ago, the second biggest sharks in the world (after the whale sharks)though entirely subsisting on a diet of plankton rather than Scotsmen. I've seen them at a distance -- huge black creatures posing a real enough danger in that they could upset your boat without knowing they'd done it. MacCaig puts it best in his poem. I met him only once, thirty years ago. He was not the least unfriendly but had such an intellect that he could have upset anyone's boat without knowing he'd done it.

BASKING SHARK To stub an oar on a rock where none should be/To have it rise with a slounge out of the sea/Is a thing that happened once (too often) to me// But not too often -- though enough. I count as gain/ That once I met, on a sea tin-tacked with rain,/ That roomsized monster with a matchbox brain.// He displaced more than water. He shoggled me/ Centuries back -- this decadent townee/ Shook on a wrong branch of his family tree.// Swish up the dirt and,when it settles, a spring/ Is all the clearer. I saw me, in one fling,/ emerging from the slime of everything.// So who's the monster? The thought made me grow pale/ For twenty seconds while, sail after sail,/ The tall fin slid away and then the tail.

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