A Little History Of Poetry

by John Carey

During these past weeks of lockdown, some days I’ve found stress relief watching a live owl cam. On other days, I reach for poetry. This newly released poetry manual by John Carey is a bite-sized beauty that takes the reader on a journey of poetry through the ages; from Gilgamesh (ancient Mesopotamia), to the works of Horace (carpe diem!) right the way through Shakespeare and Keats to Seamus Heaney and poets of the current day.

There’s something to delight and inform on every page, little nuggets of wisdom to store up your sleeve for that first Post-Covid19 dinner party, where I’m sure other guests will be so relieved to be out, they’ll indulge both your owls and your odes. Carey has condensed things into digestible chapters, perfect for those moments of reading stolen between serving as dinner lady, cleaner, home schooler, parent and general dog’s body who must prevent the basketball smashing the crap out of the pot of tulips planted last February.

I especially loved the chapter on Hughes and Plath (my favourites). Carey references Sylvia Plath’s letters home, at the time when she was at her most prolific and producing a poem a day. Carey notes that Plath would arise in the winter dark of 4am, her creative experience resembling ‘writing in a train tunnel or God’s intestine’ which sounds a little to me like surviving lockdown.

Reviewed for Zimmermann by Sophie Lee.