Poetry Books

By Glover, Michael | New Statesman (1996), December 5, 1997 | Go to article overview

Poetry Books


Glover, Michael, New Statesman (1996)


Michael Glover finds a few poetic gems among the patronising, safe and dull

Something is amiss in the small world of poetry for children. Last year about 150 titles were published, a mixture of picture books for younger children with rhymes for texts, anthologies, and collections by individual poets. The winner of the annual Signal Award for the best children's poetry book of the year went to an anthology of poems about death compiled by a poet who writes for adults.

A perverse decision? Not at all. There was no other book that deserved to win, and certainly no collection by a single poet. So what's up? It comes down to tradition - and who writes the stuff.

Generally speaking, poetry published for children is imposed from above by big people in short trousers, reimagining their way back into the misty realms of childhood. Except that childhood is not perceived as misty any more. Nowadays children are usually kids: defiant, snotty-nosed, up-front, anti-contemplative. Anthologies of poems of this raucous kind, usually published only in paperback, appear in profusion - especially from Macmillan.

Then there is another kind, which can be described as the traditionalist's idea of the ideal bedside anthology of children's poetry: something that looks safe; something that, 50 years on, you will be proud to have owned. This is the area that Oxford University Press has made its own, but this year's stolidly reassuring anthology is The Macmillan Treasury of Poetry for Children ([pounds]25).

It is a tame, dull, hefty book, illustrated in fifties fashion, with swathes of Kipling and Chesterton, and much poetry of the kind that you would expect to find in timeless anthologies for children because it's - well - timeless, isn't it? Nor, in spite of an uplifting introduction by Charles Causley, the best poet for children currently living, does the book have any of the quirkiness of an anthology edited by a real person with prejudices and odd preferences.

Luckily, several new anthologies are much better: Roger McGough's Book of Poems About Love (Kingfisher, [pounds]12.99), for example, which has warmth, good humour, and spiritual depth.

Veteran anthologist John Foster has edited two good collections this autumn, one for very young children, called First Verses (Oxford University Press, [pounds]12.99), especially good on finger rhymes and action rhymes, and with full-colour illustrations that enhance the text rather than shout it down; and another, Magic Poems (Oxford University Press, [pounds]3. …

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