September 7, 2011
As Carol Ann Duffy launches her ‘Anthologise’ competition for secondary schools, Liz Lochhead – who will be one of the judges – shares her enthusiasm:
I love anthologies.
Themed ones are good. I Wouldn’t Thank You for a Valentine, Carol Ann Duffy’s choice of Poems for Young Feminists, or Out of Fashion, her anthology more full of poems about garments than any magic wardrobe… Lovely stuff.
I like the anthologies that are all jumbled-up best: The Rattlebag, edited by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney, is everybody’s favourite to dip into and guzzle, like it was a box of chocolates of every flavour going.
My personal favourite anthology ever, though? I’ve just taken down from my shelves (and spent a whole afternoon reading, when I was supposed to be working!) Voices, the First Book and the Voices, the Third Book, two anthologies edited by a man called Geoffrey Summerfield, who changed my life.
These were books I found in the English Department cupboard in the comprehensive school I first taught in when I was twenty-three years old. (I bought copies for myself, though they were officially school books for teenagers and I was supposed to be grown up. ) I was beginning to write things — I had been doing so since I was eighteen — and I was beginning to read, and read over again, poems I loved.
So in Voices I recognised poems by Roger McGough, Philip Larkin, MacCaig, Morgan, Heaney, Hughes, Plath. Loved them all over again. But I did not know the poems by Denise Levertov, Carl Sandburg, Charles Causley, Robert Lowell, Tony Connor; nor, though I’d heard of the poets, of course, even read some of their work, these poems by Robert Frost, Gerard Manley Hopkins, that Blake, this D.H. Lawrence poem called ‘A Sane Revolution‘ that proved poetry can do politics. There were some great new poems by Anon. (She’s just the best ever. Always will be.)
I don’t think I’d have kept writing poems if I’d never come across this anthology. The one volume introduced me to small, perfect, Chinese poems translated by Arthur Waley and, on the other hand, to an American poet called John Logan and his long poem that is nearly prose, almost a story, a wonderful poem that starts ‘It is the picnic with Ruth in the Spring’… This book taught me that I needed all these voices as I searched for my own. And it made me hungry to write.
Anthologies in the Voices series are available to borrow or read at the Scottish Poetry Library.