It has been two years since I first picked up the companion collection ‘Poems That Make Grown Men Cry‘. I was excited a year ago to finally get a copy of ‘Poems That Make Grown Women Cry’ also edited by Anthony and Ben Holden. So re-reading what I wrote then about the first book, I am rather surprised at myself that it has taken me as long as it has to finally finish reading this collection.
I didn’t pick it up because I was researching a character like I had before. I very much picked it up because of the lovely journey the previous volume had taken me on and the emotional stories behind why they been picked. That was the reason I got myself a copy of the companion collection selected by women as soon as I realised it had been published. I then surprised myself entirely by the fact I have had a completely different response to this book.
In truth it is just as brilliant, but as it turns out I have a rather complex relationship with poetry. I just haven’t connected as deeply with this collection. And that is certainly not a reflection on the stories nor the poems that have been chosen. There are certainly a few among the pages that resonate with my heart.
Rosie Boycott’s selection of ‘Funeral Blues’ by W.H. Auden in particular is a poem I cherish and one of the few I have ever tried to commit to memory. It is the same with Judi Dench and Emily Mortimer’s choice of ‘So, we’ll go no more a roving’ by Lord Byron. I have even had the joy of rediscovering one of the few pieces by Lewis Carroll that I actually enjoy, ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’, which Bella Freud put forward for the collection.
A few pieces I hadn’t know before have come to my attention, including Thokozile Masipa’s choice of ‘Walls’ by Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali; Catherine Mayer coupled selection of ‘Listen’ by Else Lasker-Schuler and ‘No Solace Here’ by Gottfried Benn; Claire Tomalin’s choice of her daughter Susanna’s piece ‘Verses from my Room’ will likely haunt my thoughts a while, echoing alongside Annie Lennox’s choice of ‘Suicide from the Trenches’ by Siegfried Sassoon. And in moments when I need to boost my self-esteem Warsan Shire’s ‘for women who are difficult to love’ selected by Taiye Selasi, will never be too far away.
You see there is plenty to enjoy, however going back to my complex relationship with poetry, the words that resonated with me the most in the book (at least at the time I read them, with poetry that changes with my mood) were Sebastian Faulk’s remarks about a friend of his that simply does not connect to poetry in the same way he does. I deeply, deeply relate to his friend the vast majority of the time. I appreciate poetry, and I deeply appreciate that my education, which included dissecting poetry to death, didn’t turn me away from it entirely. But I don’t feel the connection described by so many.
Poetry, like love in ‘Walls’ needs to traverse rather a tough barrier to get into my heart. It is a wondrous form, and I relish the moments when my heart yearns for a bit of poetry to ease whatever rumblings of feelings that need to be quietened a bit. I regularly go to several of the poems in ‘Poems that Make Grown Men Cry’, or ‘Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep’, by Mary Frye. In lighter moods ‘Love’s Philosophy’ by Shelley will soften me around the edges. When I seek amusement I turn to my favourites in ‘The World’s Wife‘ by Carol Ann Duffy.
Poetry is not a constant need though, and I suspect you may be wondering what may have finally prompted me to finish this book and write a review.
Because I have finally found a poem that makes me cry.
Finally understanding that feeling, I felt I could at last I could come back to this collection and write about it with the justice it fully deserves. I had the character I was researching stuck in my head when I discovered the wonders of the companion collection; I am very glad that this time I was able to discover poems in this collection with just my own heart.