Number 11 in my series where I ask a well-known poet to choose some of their favourite poetry books is award winning poet, Philip Gross. He was asked to choose 5-8 books, one of which could be an adult collection, one of which had to be his own. The first book I read of Philip’s was Manifold Manor and I became an instant fan. Until recently he was Professor of Creative Writing at the University of South Wales. He is a Quaker, and that special relationship between words and silence informs much of what he writes; poetry for adults and for children. Off Road To Everywhere, illustrated by Jonathan Gross, was the winner of the CLiPPA (CLPE) poetry award 2011. His new book, Dark Sky Park, Poems from the Edge of Nature illustrated by Jesse Hodgson (Otter-Barry) is available here, and was also shortlisted for a CLiPPA 2019. His website is here.
This selection comes from the particular angle that is me. I guess everything here is a crossing point on the (supposed) border between children’s and adult poetry.
Charles Causley, Figgie Hobbin (1970)
This was the book that made it possible for me to write poetry for young people. Causley was a poet who wrote adult poems that could be intriguing to young people in the way that folk tales are… and, in this book, children’s poems that make adults stop and think – deceptively easy to read, with a strangeness that lasts.
T.S. Eliot, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939)
I’m not worried that much of the world these poems have such fun with is far away back in another century. Even writing from ten years ago is ancient history when you’re nine years old. What matters is the irresistible larkiness of the language, that makes yoy feel part of its world by sheer rhythms and richness of words.
Helen Dunmore, Secrets (1994)
Such is the sadly late Helen Dunmore’s reputation as a novelist for adults and children, and as an adult poet, that it’s easy to overlook this slim, superb and subtle contribution to children’s poetry. It seems even more valuable now in this extraverted age as a reminder that young people have a right to rich interior lives.
Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes, The Rattle Bag (1982)
The radical thing about this anthology, compiled by two great poets, was that it has no apparent order, no mission to instruct us or promote a particular style. They simply chose their favourite poems, mixed them up together and opened the doors to people of all ages, saying, Poetry is all of this, and more. Welcome in.
Philip Gross, Manifold Manor (1989)
Some books come as a surprise even to their own writer, with the feeling that they’ve stumbled into an unsuspected small world and are simply discovering it. This was one of those. Incidentally it is a set of writing prompts and models, an invitation to join in, and a celebration of how our imaginations are haunted by real history.