Top Ten (Early) Poems by Ted Hughes

Ted Hughes is one of my favourite poets. He wrote a poetry of spirit but at the same time a poetry of sinew, his raw Anglo-Saxon words bringing nature to life and not just nature but the striving human mind looking at and learning from nature.

Jung describes two types of poetry the introverted and the extraverted.   The introverted involves the conscious intentions of the artist working to produce an anticipated result. His material is subverted to his judgement. He manipulates , adjusts, refines, paying attention to laws of form and style. Perhaps a good example is Philip Larkin who says he is trying to preserve a memory, an experience with his poetry.  With the extroverted artist or poet however creation is something else ‘his hand is seized, his pen writes things that his mind contemplates with amazement. The work brings with it its own form; anything he wants to add is rejected, and what he himself would like to reject is thrust back at him. While his conscious mind stands amazed and empty before this phenomenon, he is overwhelmed by a flood of thoughts and images which he never intended to create and which his own will could never have brought into being’. Even though it is her/his own inner nature revealing itself. Here the poet is subordinate to the work, her/his conscious mind could never have made it. S/he is carried away by the creative impulse and the work often leaps out whole as ‘Pallas Athene sprang from the head of Zeus’. Jung gives examples of this kind of creation as Goethe’s Faust Part II and Niezsche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra. It is clear which type of creative process he believes is the best. I believe that Ted Hughes is someone who, at his best, can write in this ‘extraverted’, powerful, oracular way.

The Thought Fox





Full Moon and Little Frieda


Crow and the Birds

Crow’s Last Stand

The Warm and the Cold      Freezing dusk is closing/ Like a slow trap of steel

Other poems Wind, October Dawn, View of a Pig, Song of a Rat. Thistles, Second Glance at a Jaguar, Heptonstall, Crow’s First Lesson, Examination at the Womb-door, Crow Alights, Crow’s Theology, Crow’s Song of Himself, How Water began to Play.

17 poems by Ted Hughes here


Top Ten Poems by Robert Lowell

Robert Lowell (1917-1977) is an influential poet. His first major book Lord Weary’s Castle won the Pulitzer prize. However, he grew unsatisfied with the style and after a decade long search with some influence from the common speech poetry of William Carlos Williams he published Life Studies, which marks a turning point in 20th century poetry. It brought in Confessionalism and a focus on the personal, the individual, rather then the Modernist approach which  largely holds with Eliot that ‘poetry… is an escape from personality’. Life Studies was honest, often brutally so, focusing on Lowell’s aristocratic family and his own incarceration in a mental hospital. It used a more straightforward language, direct, less ornate. ‘ Your nurse could only speak Italian,/ but after twenty minutes I could imagine your final week,/ and tears ran down my cheeks…’ Lowell’s precisely judged pictures of his own psychological troubles were starting points for Plath and Sexton. Lowell called himself ‘Cal’ partly after Caligula, and like most manic depressives had his failings. Once he was flown home in chains from South America.

After Life Studies his style changed again focusing more upon history and the person in history, as in For the Union Dead. And then in Notebooks, perhaps swayed by Berryman, he wrote 14 line unrhymed ‘Sonnets’ detailing events both personal and historical, borrowing quotes from everywhere, even his ex-wifes letters.

He was a friend and correspondent of Elizabeth Bishop and together with her remains the preeminent poet of the period.

  • The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket for his drowned cousin, put together Milton’s Lycidas, Hart Crane’s Voyages and Melville’s Moby Dick and this is what you might end up with.
  • Mr Edwards and the Spider ends with such a definitive vision of hell
  • Sailing Home from Rapello with his mother’s dead body
  • Man and Wife
  • Waking in the Blue about his time at the mental hospital
  • Skunk Hour my favourite: so controlled, so original, so potent
  • For the Union Dead
  • Waking Early Sunday Morning
  • Identification in Belfast A example of his ‘Sonnets’
  • Epilogue This is how you write poetry. some poems some criticism a fascinating if rather poor quality video, the Q and A session at 52 minutes shows  Lowell’s personality wonderfully.

Who is the most famous living English Language Poet?


An easy answer is Bob Dylan, especially if he wins the Nobel Prize for Literature this week (40-1 at Ladbrokes), or how about Paul McCartney whose poetry book Blackbird Singing was published by Faber and Faber. Whether they succeed in the step up from song-lyrics to poetry is a controversial question but it is fair to say they are not famous for their poetry. Neither  is Jewel whose book A Night Without Armor sold over a million copies, as did songwriter Rod McKuen’s poems in the late 1960s.

Other potential Nobel laureates who write poetry are Joyce Carol Oates (8-1), and Margaret Atwood (40-1), but one could argue that they are better known for their novels. Maya Angelou (100-1) is a more complex case. Although her civil rights activism and her autobiographical novel I Know why the Caged Bird Sings propelled her to fame, her poetry credentials are also well known; she read a poem at Bill Clinton’s inauguration  Perhaps it is worth following that direction Miller Williams read at Clinton’s reelection. George Dubya Bush didn’t seem to like poetry, what a surprise! But Obama selected Elizabeth Alexander in 2009 and Richard Blanco in 2013. Maya Angelou seems to be the best known there.

Another approach is to see who features in respected anthologies, those well represented in Norton’s Fifth Edition include Richard Wilbur (age 92), John Ashbery (age 86), and W.S. Merwin (age 85) Kamau Brathwaite (age 83) and Geoffrey Hill (age 81).

Then, there is Derek Walcott (age 83) who already has the Nobel Prize for Literature, and thus seems to have credentials unmatched by any living English Language Poet. (Although Doris Lessing who won in 2009 also has a ‘sideline’ in poetry.) But the Nobel Prize isn’t the only award out there.

What about the Pulitzer Prize, selected winners since 2000 include C.K Williams, Paul Muldoon, Kay Ryan, and Sharon Olds for last years The Stag’s Leap. Or the Griffin Prize for which you can win CAD$75,000 (that is Canadian Dollars not Carol Ann Duffy’s) Selected winners include Charles Simic, Charles Wright, C.D. Wright and Gjertrud Schnackenberg, who interestingly was married to right wing philosopher Robert Nozick.  (Don’t believe him, he’s trying to trick you into becoming a Libertarian). Or the T.S. Eliot Prize, winners include Mark Doty, Michael Longley, Anne Carson, Alice Oswald, Don Paterson, Carol Ann Duffy, John Burnside.

Who are we missing? Simon Armitage, Jo Shapcott, Derek Mahon, James Fenton, Sean O’Brien, Eavan Boland. Or in the US there’s Louise Gluck, Jorie Graham, Philip Levine, Rita Dove. What about Les Murray? What about Billy Collins? He’s popular, and in the end popularity counts. If you look at best seller lists on Amazon the clear winner is Mary Oliver followed by Wendell Berry. In the UK it’s Pam Ayers. But Mary Oliver won the Pulitzer Prize back in 1984 so she might not be such a bad favourite.

But then if we are talking English language what about India, I don’t know much Indian poetry but a lot of Indians do, so could Arvind Mehrotra or Jeet Thayil be the most famous.

Top Ten Poems by Elizabeth Bishop


Elizabeth Bishop is one of the best poets of the 2nd half of the Twentieth Century. She has such a precision with words, fine observational skills and a way of looking that brings out not only the view but the viewer as well. Her aim was to show ‘not a thought, but the mind thinking’. Although this was not a swift process, she would keep poems on the wall for months waiting for the right word to fit in. Apparently The Moose took her 20 years to finish. Influenced by Marianne Moore and friend to Robert Lowell. Her pet theme is Travel, she lived for a long time in Brazil and also translated some South American poets

  • Chemin de Fer
  • The Fish  One, two, three, four, five, once I caught a fish alive
  • Over 2000 illustrations and a Complete Concordance
  • The Bight
  • First Death in Nova Scotia
  • Filling Station
  • The Armadillo watch out! at this time of yearthe frail, illegal fire balloons appear’ Robert Lowell wrote Skunk Hour in response to this.
  • In the Waiting Room
  • Crusoe in England a masterpiece – I love the section about the knife that ‘reeked of meaning’
  • Poem  – about recognising the location in a small painting, which ends brilliantly ,

It’s hard to stick to ten poems, even though Bishop only published 100 or so poems in total. You could read her complete poems in a day, a lifetime’s art compressed into one session. I also like The Moose; The Shampoo; At the Fishhouses; Sandpiper; Brazil, January 1st 1502; Roosters; and One Art, one of the very few good villanelles in English.

Some commentary here

Galway Kinnell

In choosing ten poems, I simply mean to recommend the poet through palpable examples. Unfortunately, I cannot print the poems but I will try to provide links to at least some of them.

Galway Kinnell

Now aged 86, Galway Kinnell is one of our oldest living poets. A Pulitzer Prize winner, he recognises and captures the horrors and joys of everyday life. Despite his Christian beginnings, ‘Little by little I stamped out the Christian applications’, there is no escape into the mystical for him but somehow a spiritual element comes down and inhabits his poetry, which is full of the harsh beauty of nature and the hushed delight of being alive, despite all that is wrong with the world.

  • The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ into the New World a gritty and celebratory portrait of Avenue C in Manhattan, a Jewish and Puerto Rican Neighbourhood, the triumph of his early poetry.
  • Vapour Trail Reflected in the Frog Pond
  • The Porcupine
  • The Bear
  • St. Francis and the Sow a short perfect piece that is in some ways his signature poem, combining a love of nature and how there is something, spirituality, or just a gentle way of looking that magnifies the ordinary
  • Daybreak
  • Blackberry Eating since it is late September
  • The Road between Here and There
  • Oatmeal a sort of ars poetica, eating porridge with John Keats. I love this line which appears out of nowhere – ‘maybe there is no sublime, only the shining of the amnion’s tatters’.
  • The Deconstruction of Emily Dickinson many of his poems are available online here including The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ into the New World