BUILDING A LIBRARY: Poetry Anthologies
Emerson, Sally, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
Anthologists of poetry must be ringmasters who present the old favourites then amaze the crowd with tumbling dragons. Take The Rattle Bag (1982) by maestros Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney. The loopy idea of ordering the poems in alphabetical order according to titles or first lines works surprisingly well. Every poem is unexpected and we feel we have found them ourselves rather than having been directed to go and read them. You shouldn't be without this rumbustious collection originally aimed at younger readers, who of course dislike direction even more than the rest of us; or its slightly more sedate companion The School Bag.
Paul Keegan's The New Penguin Book of English Verse (2000) has authority and surprise. It is arranged chronologically by poem, by the date of the poem's first appearance, and every few pages has something fresh, a fine juxtaposition or a funny epigram or moving epigraph, a ballad or poem by "anon". Egalitarian, interested in the female voice where it can be heard, with the nerve not to modernise spelling and punctuation, this is an elegant volume.
Poetry anthologies by theme are much in vogue now, such as poems for gays and lesbians, and Daisy Goodwin's useful collections for ragged states of mind, but the core anthologies are those which range over the centuries. You cannot get much more classic than Palgrave's Golden Treasury (1861 and many editions thereafter) which touchingly proclaimed it was including "all the best original Lyrical pieces and Songs in our language, by writers not living". Its confidence and joy gives it a welcome innocence, though you will miss many great poems and poets, even John Donne. …