100 words each on our favourite poems

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To celebrate World Poetry Day, we talk you through the poems and poets we love – in under 100 words each.

Desiderata, by Max Ehrmann 

‘Desiderata’ is a firm family favourite. It may be 90 years old, but it’s chock-full of solid advice and important reminders that still ring true. I find something useful in it every time. And you’ve gotta love anything that makes use of the word ‘vexatious’. Emily Bate

The Waste Land, by T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot is my favourite poet and ‘The Waste Land’ is my favourite poem. Almost a century after it was written, it still feels startlingly modern. When I first read it in Mr McGladdery’s English class, it changed the way I viewed poetry, history, art and mythology. I knew that I’d never read – or write – in the same way again. At university, I learned it. Reading it out loud, I discovered its rhythm and register, its wild flips between bleak and whimsical, literary and coarse. I think it’s the most important poem in the English language. Rhys Williams

The Eve of St. Agnes, by John Keats 

When there’s a cold bite in the air, the beginning of John Keats’ The Eve of St. Agnes invades my head:

St Agnes Eve – Ah, bitter chill it was!

The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold.

Just two lines, no more. I can’t remember how the rest of the poem goes. But I don’t need to. My solidarity with that owl takes the edge off my shivers.  Claire Harcup 

In Kyoto, by Matsuo Basho

Even in Kyoto,
hearing the cuckoo’s cry,
I long for Kyoto.

When poems connect with us, we don’t just remember them – we take them into ourselves. This haiku, by the 17th century poet Basho, comes back to me when I feel that something in the world is missing that I can’t put my finger on, or when I feel myself giving in to nostalgia. If I’m lucky, Basho puts me right. Russ Hope

On The Ning Nang Nong, by Spike Milligan

It’s my favourite because I had to learn it off by heart in year 2 and it’s stayed in my head ever since. And I can say it all in one breath. Caroline Hopper 

Roald Dahl, Sylvia Plath, and T.S. Eliot (again)

For me, poetry is like a favourite album or familiar smell – one sniff, and I’m back in a time and place that’s long gone. So I’m sharing three poems – one from childhood, one from my teens, and one that I love right now.

  1. The Three Little Pigs‘ by Roald Dahl. Because that Miss Hood was the kind of gal I aspired to be.
  2. Lady Lazarus‘ by Sylvia Plath. Because no one speaks to the pitch-black darkness of a teenage girl’s soul like Sylvia.
  3.  Finally, my current fave. Grab a cuppa and listen to T.S. Eliot reading thisClê Morse-Privett

Wilfred Owen and Charles Bukowski

St Mick’s School, Garston, Watford, Herts

1977

Double English

We’re sat in the lecture theatre, horsing around. Mr Armstrong strides in.

He’s tall. Muscle-bound. And very scary.

“Oh! Jesus Christ!” He shouts at us. Red in the face. Veins popping. I very near soil myself. He continues… softly, caressing the words…

“I’m hit,” he said; and died.

My intro to Wilfred Owen and First World War Poetry.

And here’s one of my favourite singers reading a poem by one of my favourite writers. It’ll break your heart. And it’s only two minutes long. Andy Hayes


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