One day in the offices of Pavilion Books the gardening editor was having coffee with the poetry editor. ‘We’re thinking of publishing an anthology of poems about London,’ the poetry editor said. ‘Do you know anyone who might be interested in editing it?’
‘Oh yes,’ said the gardening editor, ‘My author Jane is bound to be interested. She lives in London, works part-time in a bookshop and I’m sure she reads lots of poetry.’
Being a bit of a jack of all trades and filled with boundless enthusiasm, I said I’d love to edit the anthology. The eight books below are the result of that coffee break.
Where possible I have chosen the version of the piece closest to that which the author originally wrote. If everything is reduced to an easy read the progress of time is rendered meaningless and much of the beauty and mystery of words is lost.
Ode to London
2012, 2018 Batsford £9.99, £7.99
Rather than divide London by area or time, this anthology looks at some of the things that make up the city. For centuries the River Thames was the true heart of London; transporting wealth, trade and all manner of people. Private gardens, street trees, city parks and the wide open spaces beyond are as much London as the terraces and tower blocks. A city is nothing without its inhabitants. The famous, the lonely and the busy all make up ‘the tangled prints of London’s feet’.
Anyone who has spent more than a few days here will know that, as a nation, the British are obsessed with the weather. Each day brings forth a new set of surprises. In recognition of this, the last section of this anthology includes a series of London dawns across the years and seasons.
Favourite Poems of England
2014, 2017, Batsford £14.99, £9.99
Each section of this anthology looks at a different aspect of life in England. There is a somewhat idyllic look at the country as a whole and a brief history, courtesy of Rudyard Kipling and an anonymous rhyme about the kings and queens. The poems then travel round the country, from Sussex to the fells and beyond. City life and rural life divide the country. London, Oxford, Cambridge and Bath contrast with the anonymous cities and a rural life of haymaking and meadows. Wherever it may be, an Englishman’s home is his castle. There are grand country estates and tiny cottages all, in an ideal world, surrounded by a garden with ‘a thousand beauties’ and in possession of a ‘stately view’. Each season brings forth a new set of experiences and occasional delights, often providing moments of thought-provoking beauty.
There are also things that are unusual to England: St. George and his dragon, Morris dancers and the mysteries of Stonehenge. Corner shops, wiggly roads and museums that open sporadically can all be found in other countries but, equally, have something uniquely English about them. The final section is largely written by poets who are away from England. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and this is particularly true of these poems. For those abroad it is easy to focus on England’s charms.
Apart from one or two snipes about the climate, the class system and the roads, the majority of poems have been chosen to show the appealing and attractive face of England – faults it may have, but there is also much that is good in this green and pleasant land.
First World War Poems
2014, National Trust Books £12.99
Thousands of poems have been written about the First World War. Some are undoubtedly great whilst others would probably not have survived but for the picture they paint, giving us a war described in verse.
The anthology is divided into themes and begins just before the outbreak of war in 1914. This was the first war to be fought extensively on land, sea and in the air and, although the Trench Poets are the most numerous, I have included sections on each of the forces. It was also the first war in which women and those at home were involved to any great extent; everyone participated in this conflict.
Horses, dogs and birds were all used and gave their lives in large numbers to help the cause. Particularly on the Western Front, the peace and beauty of nature stood in sharp contrast to the violence and filth of war. Flowers still grew in the battle fields, sunrises and sunsets still inflamed the skies and each year spring came, bringing with it hope of better times.
After the Armistice, people tried to rebuild their shattered lives, amidst a prevailing atmosphere of grief and disillusion. The war memorials in every town and village, the tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey and, I hope, the final chapter of this anthology will ensure that we never forget the sacrifice that so many made.
Classic Readings and Poems for Life
2014, Batsford £14.99
Birth, childhood, falling in love, growing older and dying affect us all and often need marking in some way. The poems and readings in this anthology have been chosen so that they can be used at formal events such as weddings, christenings and funerals, but also so they can be read quietly to offer joy, hope, amusement or consolation. According to our circumstances, events can make us wildly happy or leave us distraught and I have tried to include pieces that cover a whole range of emotions. Within the sections there are different balances between poetry and prose as different events and views suit themselves to different mediums. Poetry can often tread the delicate path between feelings, while prose can offer a more down-to-earth or direct perspective.
The anthology takes the reader from cradle to grave and a little beyond on either side. Each section is distinct but many overlap; the dividing lines between new life and childhood, love and union, and death and solitude are wavy in life and I have made them equally wavy in this anthology as pieces will have different meanings to different people.
September 2017 National Trust Books £9.99
Most people have a favourite poem, even if it is only a half-remembered fragment from school. Many popular poems are also remembered for personal reasons: a piece read at a wedding or funeral, or one that brings back particular memories.
The poems are divided into sections but many cross the boundaries; sticking strictly to subject matter would have resulted in an unwieldy section on love and an almost as unwieldy one on death. Instead I have followed Laurence Durrell’s strategy, ‘I have always tried to arrange my poems for balanced readability – like one does a vase of flowers’. Included in this vase are, I hope, the majority of poems most readers would expect to find, plus a few pleasant surprises which will become future favourites.
A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year
October 2018 Batsford £18.99
The perfect way to start, or end, each day are a few moments of escape into the natural world. This anthology contains a poem for every day, watching the natural world as it progresses through the seasons. If one wants to plough a field one would read an agricultural manual. The point of the poetry here is to give an imaginative view of nature: owls marry pussy cats, carved leopards leap into life and snow is always deep and crisp. The point of these poems is that one can imagine.
What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
from: Inversnaid by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Friends: A Poem for Every Day of the Year
October 2019 Batsford £20
A poetic journey through companionship and consolation, looking at different aspects of friendship, with a poem for every day of the year. Within these pages are Emily Brontë’s ‘Love and Friendship’ and Stevie Smith’s ‘Pleasures of Friendship’, along with a host of other fine poems, old and new, from poets famous and obscure.
‘We two are friends’ tells everything.
Yet if you must know why, this is why:
Because he is he and I am I.
from: Friends by Edward Verrall Lucas
A Nature Poem for Every Night of the Year
September 2020 Batsford £20
Everything looks different at night. Shadows take on a deeper hue, colours appear indistinct and poems of the natural world reveal not only beauty and tranquility but also a little uncertainty, disquiet and even enchantment. It is a delicate time we should treasure. This collection follows the seasons from Emily Dickinson’s robin at the start of the year to William Blake’s ‘In Winter’. The words of famous poets mingle with lesser-known voices in an anthology which reminds everyone of the fragility and wonder of the world at night.
. . . .the stars,
Eastward, were sparkling clear, and in the west
The orange sky of evening died away.
from: The Two-Part Prelude by William Wordsworth
Coming autumn 2021:
I would obviously love you to buy these books, especially if you bought them from your local bookshop, you might miss it if it goes.