I am coming to the end of what has turned out to be an extended period away from work, due to difficulties in my current post. As things were becoming completely untenable at work I discovered Anthony Wilson’s Lifesaving poems. This anthology is of the poems he feels most passionately about. Each poem is accompanied by an essay or meditation about how Anthony first discovered the poem and why it matters to him and resonates for him. The collecting of the poems started out as notebook entries, then became blog posts before being published as a book by Bloodaxe. He imposed a limit of one poem per poet and a quick glance through the contents revealed that these were not the poems I might have chosen. Thom Gunn is represented by ‘Autobiography’ but not the more obvious The Hug. Reading the accompanying essay I could see that Anthony Wilson chose the poem which led him to want to read more of the poet’s work and to want to write poems. Finding a poem for the first time is a moment of epiphany and if I am being honest my Thom Gunn poem is one of his more obscure ones, ‘Breakfast’ which was published in ‘Touch’ in 1974. I read it as a teenager with its message of the speaker continuing to go through his days,
‘without love, without hope but
Can poetry save your life? They don’t change how the world works nor do they rescue the drowning but they can alter how you view the world. Anthony Wilson put together his book as a thank you note to the people who had shared the poems with him and to the poems themselves. I came to it at a time when I was at a very low point after a hitherto successful career as a university administrator. I wasn’t feeling that good about my ability to read and write poems either. But poetry was still there as bedrock, as something which would not let me down. I discovered I could still comment on drafts of other people’s poems and prose. In a gesture of generosity (and on a most difficult day at work) various writing friends (you know who you are) sent me poems to fill up my in-box. Then came the books for me to review and various messages of support and the shadows began to lift. Can poetry save your life? Well in my case it helped save my sanity and for that I am grateful.