Poets on Poetry by Josephine Hart ; BUILDING A LIBRARY

Article excerpt

The following are some of the many books which have guided me forward in the quest for a deeper understanding of the poetry and the poets who shaped my life.

T S Eliot taught me the simplest lesson in his collection, On Poetry and Poets: that poetry is "one person talking to another". This made me realise that poets, in their work, were the great conversationalists. However, even in prose they seemed to have the gift of summarising with wit and wisdom what would take others pages to explain - a sample from Eliot's collection:

" Finnegans Wake and Paradise Lost... two books by two great blind musicians, each writing a language of his own based upon English"; Byron is "a manufactured self "; and Kipling, a "visitor from another planet... who knew something of the things which are underneath". Add his master-work The Sacred Wood, and the admirably titled To Criticise the Critic, and the path to what Seamus Heaney calls the kingdom of poetry becomes immediately more accessible.

As befits an Irishman in The Redress of Poetry, with its echoes of Shelley's The Defence of Poetry, Seamus Heaney throws down the gauntlet to all who question the moral force of poetry and art - which is, he has boldly and bravely stated, "part of the creative push of civilisation itself ".

Another collection, The Government of the Tongue, includes a searing essay on that most complicated story of triumph and tragedy: that of Sylvia Plath. …