“If you have the words, there’s always a chance that you’ll find the way.”
Seamus Heaney

Following the recent passing of the incomparable Seamus Heaney, I felt a strong urge to spend some time reading poetry. That, dear reader, sounds like a Weekly Challenge!

So this week I shall be reading 7 poets, wandering lonely as a cloud through a different one each day, as follows (not necessarily in order):

John Donne
WB Yeats
Charles Bukowski
Emily Dickinson
WH Auden
Pablo Naruda
Li Po

Seriously, who reads poetry for fun?

I’ve never read verse for fun, and always thought of myself as a poetry outsider. I mean, come on, who dips into a bit of poetry for fun? Anyone? If you think about it, poetry has become the golf of the arts world. Aside from the obvious elitist comparisons (sure, anyone can play but they DON’T do they?), where golf complicates a ripping good walk, poetry does idiotic and incomprehensible things with words and sentences, leaving fans hooked and the rest of us feeling distinctly left behind. So poetry exists on the margins, quietly forgotten by most of us, who’d much rather consume prose than verse, just as we jabber away about football rather than veering into the impenetrable territory of Tiger Woods’ putting problems.

So when I sat down last week to think about how Poetry Week would be structured, a funny thing happened, I realised that far from being unknown to me, poetry had actually been something of a companion throughout my life. As a kid, I’d laped up the humorous verse of Roald Dahl, TS Eliot, Rudyard Kipling and Edward Lear, only to be frozen out by the more grown-up fare of those same authors. During English lessons at school, too, I’d got my fix, secretly enjoying our force-fed diet of Coleridge, Larkin and Ted Hughes, while silently swooning over the war love poetry of Wilfed Owen and Siegried Sassoon. But then along came Chaucer and Shakespeare to flumox me once again.

During my arts degree at University I’d dabbled in poetry too when it had suited me, writing some of my work in verse and song lyrics, whilst wooing my wife with some godawful romantic rhymes I’d penned in a fit of passion, knowning full well I was violating every basic rule of meter and structure. Finally, as I recalled my career on the London arts scene, I began to remember watching dozens of performance poets, not to mention the many poets I’d interviewed for a recent National Gallery film project, including the great Seamus Heaney himself.

Poetry had always been there, then, I’d just not chosen to admit it. This week, finally, was my chance. Once again My Year In Flux had shown me a new experience I’d been preparing for all my life without realising (or choosing to admit) it.

I’d be reading poetry for fun, and I’d be doing it for an entire week, and I felt excited about it.

Who to read: compiling a long list

But where to start and who to read? There is, of course, a dizzying array of ‘Top X poets of all time’ lists, including a handy Top 10 from the New York Times, another from the Daily Telegraph, a selection by the Huffington Post, a broad selection of picks from Poetry Professors on Poetry.org and even a Top 500 Poets on Poem Hunter. What started as an exciting journey of discovery quickly descended into an unmanageably long list. So I stopped searching and looked at the long list which those articles had helped me compile.

My poet long list

WH Auden
Baudelaire
William Blake
Robert Browning
Charles Bukowski
Chaucer
Coleridge
EE Cummings
Roald Dahl
Emily Dickinson
John Donne
Bob Dylan
TS Eliot
Allan Ginsberg
Seamus Heaney
Homer
Ted Hughes
Keats
Kipling
Philip Larkin
Edward Lear
Li Po
John Milton
Pablo Naruda
Ovid
Sylvia Plath
Shakespeare
Siegfried Sassoon/Wilfred Owen
Gertrude Stein
Alfred Lord Tennyson
Dylan Thomas
William Wordsworth
WB Yeats

How I got to the final 7 poets

With my long list in hand, I then agonised over how to shorten the list. Would I go by region, language or country, or an equal blend of the sexes, or perhaps chose a mix of romantic, humorous, epic and other formats? Once again, I felt bewildered by my lack of knowledge, knowing full well I didn’t really possess the poetry prowess to pull together a meaningful short list. I even considered selecting the magnificent seven at random before taking a final decision: if I was doing this challenge for fun, I’d better pick 7 poets I actually wanted to read. So I did, entirely subjectively, and here they are:

John Donne
Charles Bukowski
Emily Dickinson
WB Yeats
WH Auden
Pablo Naruda
Li Po

I’ve omitted Heaney because I spent last week reading his superb Death of a Naturalist after hearing about his death.

7 poets, 7 days of poetry, here we come. Wish me luck!

I’m reading loads of poetry this week as part of my program of Weekly Challenges. Each week, for an entire year, I’m trying something completely new. That’s 52 new skills and experiences in 12 months. To find out what I’m up to this week, or to see previous Weekly Challenges including Walking on the Moon, Turtle Conservation and a Raw Food Diet, have a look here.