Do you wish you were reading more poetry but don’t know where to start? We’ve asked last year’s top 15 Foyle Young Poets to recommend poems for these strange times. Hear from these award-winning poets about what they’ve been reading and how they’re coping with the lockdown. Check back later this week as we share more of their reading tips!
Nadia Lines: War Music and Squirrels
“The poetry book I would recommend right now is War Music by Christopher Logue, an unfinished modern poetic adaptation the Iliad, Homer’s Ancient Greek epic poem about the Trojan War. It is ingeniously written, using fantastic and inventive imagery which always blows me away. Logue’s interpretations of the Iliad’s characters are fresh, insightful and often very funny – the goddess of love Aphrodite becomes ‘Miss Tops and Thongs’, the great hero Achilles is ‘Wondersulk’. Whether you have read the Iliad or not, War Music is gives the tale modern relevance and highlights the fact that humanity has changed very little in the last 3,800 years. Novel-length yet still missing chunks of the original, this truly epic poem will keep you busy! I also like to think about how I would fill in the gaps that Logue did not adapt – how would you go about doing so? (While I’m here, I’d also really recommend the Iliad itself – it is, after all, a 16,000-line long poem! The Trojan War is a gory, enthralling and totally alien world to immerse yourself in during these long weeks… You can read Samuel Butler’s translation here.)
The poem which I really love at the moment is ‘To a Squirrel at Kyle-Na-No’ by W. B. Yeats. I’m a big fan of small poems and this one is simply charming. It makes me happy every time I read it. Though it won’t keep you occupied for long, it might put a little smile on your face. It is innocent and wholesome and I want to see more squirrel poems!
As for me, I’m still trying to get my head around the fact that my A Levels have been cancelled. My days had been devoted mainly to studying and for all of it to end so abruptly was very disjointing. I try to think of a few things to do each day but so far, I’m taking it easy. It’s quite hard to be inspired when you can’t experience daily life so I’m following writing prompts online – Sav Brown’s Escapril on Instagram is quite good for daily prompts. I’ve been writing a little poem just before bed each night. I’m trying to eat meals and go to sleep at regular times, but I’m not pressuring myself to get much done – there is really not much to do!”
Dana Collins: Keeping Darkness At Bay
“One of my favourite anthologies is Stressed, Unstressed (edited by Jonathan Bate, Paula Byrne, Sophie Ratcliffe and Andrew Schuman), which essentially serves as an anxiety reliever. As anyone currently in limbo about uni can tell you, we’re all rather worried! This collection features some hopeful and peaceful poems to help shut a wandering brain down. My copy is dog-eared and tattered from how much I’ve read it, and I think it has the perfect mix of older poems and contemporary poems.
The poem I keep returning to as of late is Lord Byron’s ‘Darkness’. Byron intended it as a criticism of the inequality he was witnessing in his own time, and he outlined a dark, dangerous world which would come to be if people didn’t change their ways. Mainly, I read it with the knowledge of our current social and political landscape, and see the irony in Lord Byron’s prediction coming to a head. It’s definitely not an optimistic poem, but I’ve been thinking hard about it nonetheless! Here’s how it begins:
I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air…
I’m reading more than ever since the Foyle Young Poets winners’ writing retreat at The Hurst. I was given so many recommendations of poems and poets, which I’ve slowly been making my way through. Every day I discover a poem which influences me – one good thing about isolation is that you get to ruminate a lot! I’ve been starting many poems and finishing few of them. Since one of our workshops with Mimi Khalvati, where she taught us how to create a sonnet, I’ve been experimenting and playing with form in ways I hadn’t prior to becoming a Foyle Young Poet. It’s tricky but so rewarding to get to the end of a first draft and know I’ve created something which I wouldn’t even have attempted a few months ago.
During this strange period of self-isolation and social distancing, there is nothing more important than connection. I have very much taken advantage of apps like Houseparty and Netflix Party to keep in contact with friends I’ve been cut off from. The biggest favour you can do for yourself is to stay social – I’m not sure how I’d survive if I didn’t. Another thing to remember is that productivity isn’t the be-all-or-end-all of your worth. Lots of people are optimising the time they’re stuck at home to begin a side hustle or work excessively on their academics. While this can be a great coping mechanism, society’s obsession with productivity can become unhealthy very quickly. Sometimes the best way to get through something as anxiety-inducing as a global pandemic is just to watch some movies and do nothing. Cut yourself some slack. You don’t need to use this time to pen the next modern classic; just keeping afloat is enough.”
Dana Collins is a top 15 winner of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2019.
What have you been reading? Do you have any recommendations? Share them with us in the comments! And find out more about the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award for 11-17 year olds and start your entry here.