‘I loved poetry from when I was very young… I had an anthology called The Golden Treasury and that was my favourite book. I used to just read and reread it’. Perhaps it is hardly surprising that Allie Esiri went on to create her own wonderful poetry anthologies, notably A Poem for Every Day of the Year and A Poem for Every Night of the Year. These are naturally substantial volumes, so publisher Macmillan has come up with the inspired idea of creating accessible volumes devoted to each season; A Poem for Every Spring Day is out now.
But what road led Allie to become the editor of such anthologies? After taking a degree in French and Spanish, she turned to acting before moving on to writing and the creation of a poetry app. Theatre allowed her to work with poetry, but even earlier at school she had learnt poems by heart, something she is still grateful for. She feels strongly that this is a discipline that is still valuable if presented properly and not forced and comments that teachers she meets notice how children, often the shy ones, respond when given this chance to perform, ‘It is a particular gift for children at school that they do not forget.’
Creating each anthology takes a long time, two or even three years. Allie relies on her own extensive knowledge, as well as recommendations from friends, individual anthologies and collections for material to include, ‘I go down little rabbit-holes and get completely distracted’. Then the organisation, in the case of these anthologies the days of the year will direct attention to specific days, or maybe she will want to feature specific poets or have a run of poems around a specific theme: April features a whole sequence of nonsense poems because, of course, April 1st is April’s Fools Day. ‘It is like having a giant puzzle – does this particular piece fit?’, she says. A notable feature is the range of poems that are included. Allie casts her net wide and there are contemporary poets – indeed some specially commissioned for the collection – as well as familiar classics. ‘I absolutely wanted all those well-known poems, but at the same time, I didn’t want it to be the anthology you pull down from your grandmother’s shelf’. It is this inclusive feeling that is particularly strong for here the reader will find poets from around the world – John Agard, Matsuo Bashō, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Yusef Komunyakaa – as she says, ‘It’s important for children to see themselves represented in all walks of life and definitely in terms of curating a poetry anthology.’
These are anthologies designed for a wide audience and they allow people to do their own choosing. A particular feature is the brief explanatory note that accompanies each poem. Allie wanted to include these introductions because she felt poetry can need a bit of de-mystifying and, just like the labels on pictures in a gallery, they can be ignored if necessary. But she thinks they have helped readers just as having a poem a day allows a way in. Nor should we adults underestimate what children might be drawn to or their ability to love the sound of words: ‘I love children telling me their favourite poem and they can really surprise me.’ She is also delighted adults have found her anthologies; they are indeed for all ages.
So what is it about spring, the season covered in this new anthology? Why does it have such a connection with poetry, and why is it celebrated by so many poets? Allie agrees there is a very rich selection to draw on, and though almost all the poems in this seasonal collection are from the A Poem for Ever Day/Night of the Year anthologies, there were opportunities to add some new poems. And indeed the tone is predominantly hopeful. She contrasts this with the autumn anthology that appeared last year. As she reminds me, April used to be the start of the New Year. Also, in the northern hemisphere the change in seasons is very noticeable and poets have found this an inspiration; she cites Emily Dickinson and John Clare who could both have individual anthologies around their poems on spring.
Does poetry make a difference – especially at times like this? She points out that the figures show that more people are buying poetry and sharing poems across social media. The Internet has proved to be a great facilitator. People have always looked to poetry in times of need; poets express what most of us find difficult to express. ‘The art of reading a poem is in itself mindful, and people have been reminded what poetry can do.’
Does she have a favourite spring poem? ‘I really really love I wandered lonely as a cloud’ – the ultimate spring poem perhaps.
Ferelith Hordon is editor of Books for Keeps.
A Poem for Every Spring Day is published by Macmillan Children’s Books, 978-1529045239, £14.99 pbk.