In some ways this book is a very personal collection of poetry, an anthology for one. Lifesaving Poems was a notebook that then turned into a popular blog.
Anthony Wilson’s inspiration came from a Seamus Heaney quote questioning how many poems a person can recall responding to over a lifetime.
Answering that question, as this book does for Wilson, is going to make for a very select and subjective collection of poems. What the success of the blog showed though was that this didn’t seem to matter.
Lifesaving Poems presents each of the selected poems that Wilson recalls having an impact on him followed by a page or more of commentary. What I liked about the commentary was that it wasn’t academic analysis. Sure Wilson may have directed the reader to technical proficiency but overall I found the commentary clear, concise, conversational and engaging.
Indeed, while some of the poems did not inspire a response in my own reading, a thoroughly enjoyed all the commentary. Sometimes that commentary caused me to review what I’d read and develop a new understanding.
A side effect of reading Lifesaving Poems was of course being exposed to some UK poets who I hadn’t heard of. I did experience some frustration upon discovering (and getting excited about) new UK poets only to find that their works were only out in short print runs or from small publishers whose operational costs were high and priced the works out of the market for me.
But Lifesaving Poems might just be my favourite poetry book of the year. It’s approach to discussing poetry doing much more for me in terms of developing understanding and taste than the standard approach to reviewing and critiquing poetry.
If you’d like to sample some of the commentary go here. The commentary text is similar if not the same to that in the book, though the formatting is different.
A worthwhile spend for lovers of poetry whether poets or readers. And as a bonus its readily available in Australia through Booktopia.
Previously published on Adventures of a Bookonaut.