Review by Julian Budden
IT IS all too easy to dismiss poetry as over blown pretentious
nonsense. Who but other poets ever reads the stuff and, even amongst
their number, could any claim to know the hundred poems in this
As for non poets, well, most of us can probably recite a few
lines of something by somebody or other. Like, for instance, that
rhyme about daffodils. And what was that poem by what's his name
that starts 'if you' then gives us a list of 'if you's' any annoying
lifestyle guru would be proud of?
In The Nation's Favourite Poems you will find
both. Wordsworth's The Daffodils flowers at number five
while at number one is If by Rudyard Kipling (as if you
didn't know, which is not a line from the poem).
In a way these two examples highlight all that is good and bad
about any type of anything that claims to appeal to a nation.
It leaves you with a feeling selections are 'favourite' not because
they are any good, but because they are known by a large number
This may sound harsh, but even a casual browse of any bookshop
poetry shelf will reveal poems of greater merit than some of those
Fortunately, enough people voted
for examples that attempt to stray from the path of bland-ocrity.
Hugo William's Toilet could flush away some preconceptions
of what poetry is, while Roger McGough, generally regarded as
the peoples' poet, can be found residing at a lowly 87. This,
with a poem that is probably his 87th best, Let Me Die A
Young Man's Death.
Also included, perhaps rather predictably, is Larkin's This
be the Verse. With its famous parent bashing opening
line it has lost none of its power to shock. Not least because
of the profanity used but also because, like all good poetry,
it still means something today.
Can this be said of Shakespeare though? You knew he would be
included. After all, he has been around for long enough, and there
does seem mass appeal, but is his stuff really any good? Personally,
it is all lost on me, but, if you must, there are a couple of
sonnets here for you to mull over and draw your own conclusions.
Propping up the whole lot, at the bottom of the pile, is Carol
Ann Duffy. A wordsmith of such exceptional skill you feel number
one sighed 'oo' when it read the poem, hence the number.
Despite the shortcomings, this book is well worth a read. Don't
let the fact that some people feel poetry is only read by poets
put you off. Reading this book could well inspire the poet in
you. There is something here for everyone and more than enough
to amuse, bemuse and confuse. See, it inspired me already.