I was fortunate enough to get onto Radio 4’s Front Row for a few minutes and have William Sieghart prescribe a poem for my ailment – my feeling of being overwhelmed by the mundane deadlines of a straightforward life. Compared to the things other people find themselves facing, mounting work deadlines, a party to plan, and a mountain of paperwork to grapple with, I know these are not problems at all. But that sense of forever rushing, forever being on the back foot, can be tiring, and so I listened with delight at Sieghart’s choice of poem for this minor ailment of modern life: Wendell Berry’s The Peace of Wild Things. This is a beautiful and quiet poem, one which invites us to step outside all the noise.
‘I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
From The Peace of Wild Things
Elsewhere in the collection, Sieghart offers poems for life-changing moments and experiences, providing possibly unexpected solace to those suffering loneliness, regret, insecurity. His choices show both his love of the form and his belief in ‘the power of poetry to explain people to themselves.’ There are poems I recognised (including one I’d loathed teaching in an old GCSE anthology and which I am now seeing in a new light) and new poems for me to appreciate and grow to love. My favourite of this ‘new’ group is one he prescribes for ‘News Overload’: Sheenagh Pugh’s Sometimes.
‘Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail;
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.’
Using the idea of the power of literature to help us face and cope with life’s tensions and difficulties as the basis for an anthology is not a new idea – I’d loved Ella Berthoud & Susan Elderkin’s TheNovel Cure; An A – Z of Literary Remedies when it was published in 2015. Sieghart’s collection, however, is just the right size, just the right weight to have to hand, to reach for. The fact it is a poetry anthology means we can have the text right there when we need it, and, as a poetry collection alone, it is a beautiful read.