A good anthology is a gift, so I thought I’d use the next couple of weeks to recommend some lesser-known alternatives to Carol Ann Duffy’s Christmas Poems.
The all-you-can-eat chronological survey is, I suspect, a dying genre — who, realistically, is going to attempt a Book of Twenty-First Century Verse even at this early stage? Meanwhile, retired Oxford professor John Carey’s recent 100 Poets: A Little Anthology (Yale) — a miniature Western Canon that runs from Homer to Less Murray — seems to concede that the game is up for the blockbusting donology.
The contemporary anthology comes into its own, however, as poetry’s Spotify Wrapped: a playlist that reflects a particular set of tastes and interests, on repeat.
There is, for example, the anthology of the delightfully unexpected sub-category, such as Where to Walk is To Embark (Shearsman, 2019), ed. Eduardo Moga / trans. Terence Dooley, a survey of Spanish poems about London since 1811.
Then there is the anthology which redeems a gift-market title with an all-star cast, such as Cat Poems by the World’s Greatest Poets (Serpent’s Tail, 2018), ed. Tynan Kogane, who cunningly assembles a line-up of untamed avant-gardists — from William Carlos Williams and Amy Lowell to Kim Hyesoon and Guillaume Apollinaire — that is guaranteed to please nans.
And finally there is the anthology that generously embodies a deep knowledge of a particular time or place, such as Land of Three Rivers: The Poetry of North-East England (Bloodaxe, 2017), ed. Neil Astley, with historical notes by Alan Myers. Here, five hundred pages of poetry evoke a human landscape in a way that makes its glitzy names (Caedmon, Auden, Sting) seem no more essential than the little-known or anonymous authors of verses on ‘the glittering north’ (Lilian Bowes Lyon).
A new anthology combines something of all three approaches. Swirl of Words / Swirl of Worlds: Poems from 94 Languages Spoken Across Hackney (PEER, 2021), ed. Stephen Watts, began as a public art project in the London borough. Watts set out ‘to create a kind of poetry map of Hackney’ by pursuing
the idea of a kind of anti-anthology, which favours an organic approach [...] The choice of one poem may suggest the next, where voices from different languages create new and unexpected associations.
It’s been lovingly assembled and typeset with facing-page translations. You can read it online, but there is also a limited-edition hardback, which has been more beautifully printed than most commercial anthologies.
[Some Flowers Soon will return with more gatherings of flowers next week.]