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Desert Island Poems


Joseph Coelho chooses a poem that unsettles and thrills.


Joseph Coelho’s new books include Zombierella: Fairy Tales Gone Bad, Walker Books, and The Girl Who Became a Tree: A Story Told in Poems, Otter-Barry Books.


The Listeners by Walter De La Mare is such an effortlessly creepy poem and one I return to again and again, it’s as much about what is not said as what is said. The fact that we never get to know who The Listeners are, we only have the assurance that they are present and ‘listening’. This poem is a masterclass in scene setting with its ‘Moonlit door’ and solo bird flying ‘up out of the turret’. We, the readers, are immediately transported to a monochrome horror setting where ‘phantom listeners’ lurk. The regular rhyme lulls us into a dreaded certainty that all is not as it should be, that there is no escape for the poem’s traveller protagonist who is destined to knock on a door due to some bargained compulsion… ‘tell them I came, and no one answered.’ He calls out seemingly aware of the ghostly beings that hear him and in addressing them leaving us with the feeling that his journey is far from over, that as he rides off and out of the poem, disaster surely awaits him.


This poem has long been a reminder to me of the unsettling power of horror and the thrill that a creepy text can bring.


The Listeners is one of the poems featured on The Poetry Archive where it is read by Maurice Riordan. poetryarchive.org/poem/listeners


The anthologist’s must-have anthology poem


Allie Esiri is the award-winning anthologist behind best-selling collections A Poem for Every Day of the Year and A Poem for Every Night of the Year. Out now in paperback is A Poem for Every Autumn Day, a gorgeous seasonal collection which graces the cover of this Books for Keeps Poetry Special.


But which poem would she say most deserves a place in anthologies? We asked her.‘Of all poems, well it’s an impossible task, but it would be hard not to include Shakespeare’s most famous sonnet and the best-known love poem in the English language. The Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge described Shakespeare as ‘myriad-minded’ for his ability to hold several ideas in play at once. His fellow poet John Keats later described a similar ability of the dramatist to surrender any opinions of his own to his vision of the world as it is, even to the point of uncertainty and confusion, which he called ‘negative capability’. Both of these virtues are present in spades throughout Sonnet 18, in which the speaker declares that the charm of a beautiful day in summer pales in comparison to the almost unimaginable magnificence of his beloved. Read it aloud. It’s a wonder.’


Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate: Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, And Summer’s lease hath all too short a date: Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, And often is his gold complexion dimm’d, And every fair from fair sometime declines, By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimm’d: But thy eternal Summer shall not fade, Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st, Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade, When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st: So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.


Books for Keeps National Poetry Day 2020 15


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