Cover Image: 100 Poets

100 Poets

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Member Reviews

This collection of poems was just not for me, however I think the concept of the book is a brilliant idea to create a collection of 100 poems and add context about the poems and about the authors.
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Having thoroughly enjoyed John Carey's 'A Little History of Poetry', I was pleased to be given an advance copy of '100 Poets:  A Little Anthology' for review.  Thanks to NetGalley and Yale University Press for my book - opinions, as always, are entirely my own.

As the book's subtitle suggests, this is quite a little book.  It features 100 chapters which are quite concise - some are a quick introduction to the poem or poet and a short poem, others feature more commentary or a longer poem/excerpt from a poem.  All the expected literary canon poets are here - Homer, Byron, Wordsworth, Yeats, Eliot, etc - although there were a few surprises along the way too.  

It needs to be said that this is very much a book of western poetry - there is little beyond the ancient Greeks and Romans, Brits and Americans.  That said, it provides an interesting wander through the history of this poetic tradition from the early epic poetry of Homer up to poets who have only recently left us, such as Maya Angelou.  

There is an attempt to include women poets - Sappho makes an early appearance, there are a handful of female Victorian poets in there and some 20th and 21st century ones.  I really appreciated this effort to make it more than an anthology of dead white guys!  Still, ethnic minority poets barely get a look-in here - it's very much a mainstream book so you probably need to look elsewhere if you want the more offbeat or modern.  I was surprised to see no living poets included as there are some I love and who - I think - would warrant a place in this collection.

I'm fairly au fait with poetry in general, having done a traditional English Literature degree that started with Homer and worked forwards!  I also teach poetry a lot and was quite familiar with a lot of the writers featured here.  In some cases, it was like visiting old favourites - but on the other hand, I was reminded that I hate Walt Whitman's poetry (wow, that's a lot of focus on semen!)   This is a great book to dip in and out of and an engaging introduction to the poets.

As with any anthology selected by one person, the choices probably say more about the curator than the poets.  I was often surprised at the choices made - often pleasantly so as Carey introduced me to some lesser known of the poems.  Given the unfamiliarity with some of the material, some more commentary would have been handy in places - I still don't really get what Ted Hughes was on about!  Mostly though, I was happy to be swept along by Carey's enthusiasm and expertise on the subject, rather than niggling thoughts on whether he picked the best Larkin poem (spoiler - he didn't!)  

There's lots of great poetry here and tonnes of food for thought.  It might help you to discover new writers or learn more about old favourites - the poem introductions and commentary by Carey are often lively and enlightening and enjoyable, even though they sometimes focus too much on the well known writers.  I wanted less Wordsworth, more Charlotte Mew, less Robert Burns (I needed a Scots dictionary for that bit!) and more Elizabeth Bishop, less Milton and more Plath.  

However, this proves that poetry is all about personal taste - my version of this type of anthology may feature different choices to Carey's but I totally accept that I'll never have the breadth of knowledge he does and so it is just lovely to be in the hands of an expert for a while.  I'd especially recommend this to those relatively new to poetry as it is a good overview of the history and an interesting introduction to some of the western world's best poets.
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I loved this  anthology of poems so much, all selected by John Carey as personal to him, I loved reading works that he feels connected to the most (not necessarily what he considers best)  I found it an enjoyable and beautiful anthology one I will return to

Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for a free copy for an honest opinion
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What a fascinating review of poetry from one of the leading experts in the world. Carey has a way of making you understand writing in a whole new way. I wished I was in one of his classrooms in Oxford.
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This is, as it states in the introduction, a personal selection of 100 poems that start in the classical world and end somewhere after World War II. It's interesting to me, more for what it says about John Carey than what it says about poetry in general. 
I am of an age where my English Literature degree course started with the classics and moved creakingly through to the 20th Century, and I recognise a good 60% of these poems as things I was taught as we moved through the chronology. They are not things I would read for pleasure again, as I have widened my reading broadly since then and am much more interested in women's poetry, performance poetry and poets and poetry which reflects a far more global experience than what is trapped between these pages. 
This is a good place to start if you want a very broad overview of poetry from day dot to mid Twentieth Century. I was pleased to see that it does include some women poets and some poets of colour but in large part what you have here is the accepted canon. Some of the biographical notes are interesting and some of the choices of the more well known poets are also interesting.
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An excellent personal anthology of poems that mean something to John Carey and which he considers worthy of inclusion. Short biographical notes and analysis accompany the poems and I found the collection a real delight. It’s not in any way a guide to the “best” poems and poets, nor an attempt to redefine the canon, but taken for what it is – one man’s choice of poems – I found it an enjoyable and sometimes surprising anthology.
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I’ve always had something of a weakness for poetry anthologies and possess way more than I could ever need. Nor do I think I’ve bought my last. They tend to be odd beasts. Too many are just stuffed full of the usual suspects — which is fine as far as it goes, if, for example, it’s one of your first and these poems are new to you.

But after a while, you get tired of seeing not just the same (largely dead white male) names but the same works by them over and over and you want something a little different. You want to dig a little deeper. That’s where the more eclectic, more intelligently curated, anthologies come in — the likes of The Rattle Bag, or Neil Astley’s ‘Alive’ trilogy or Larkin’s still near-unassailable Oxford Book of 20th Century English Verse. These are the ones that eschew the endlessly anthologised usual suspects to give you less well-known works by major writers or, even better, selections from poets you may not have heard of at all. There’s no greater feeling than discovering a new favourite poet or poem.

100 Poets doesn’t belong to either of these classifications. It calls itself an anthology but it isn’t really. Most poets within it are represented with short extracts, some with more than one. These seem to be intended to illustrate Carey’s short commentaries on each writer, rather than give the reader a flavour of the poets themselves. In some cases, they still manage to do this but in others the selections seem too short or disjointed to work as anything other than documentary quotation for the commentaries themselves.

But it’s the commentaries that are the real meat of the book and why you’d really want to read it. Carey is never less than fascinating and he is, for my money, one of those public academics I’d consider more worthy of the appellation ‘national treasure’ than many of the names I’ve seen it attached to. He’s better on some poets than he is on others, of course. He’s great on the Sappho and Dante but surprisingly slight on Shakespeare and his entry on Phillis Wheatley is so negligible that it makes you wonder why it was bothered with at all. His entry on Eliot, however, is excellent and sums up in a few short paragraphs all the disquiet I’ve felt about his poetry for years.

It’s a short book and so each entry is necessarily short and as a whole this makes it feel closer to Carey’s journalism rather than his more serious academic endeavours. Mostly I was reminded of Carey’s similar collection Pure Pleasure, which had the wider remit of the ‘best books of the 20th century’ and which had previously been serialised in The Sunday Times. These mini-essays are similarly so short that they could quite easily find their way into a weekend supplement somewhere.

What is most puzzling is just how it fits with its apparent companion volume A Little History of Poetry. You could perhaps call it a reader for that more straightforwardly historical narrative rather than a complementary anthology as such. The book’s real strength probably comes in the ability to dip into it, to pick it up and put it down relatively easily. It’s an ideal gift for just about any poetry-head or as a pretty undemanding but still astute and informative introduction to the Western poetical canon in general.
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A useful guide to what works broadly be regarded as canonical poets. This book provides a satisfying amount of context to be allow the reader to get their teeth into each poem or extract, as well as gaining a good grounding in the biographical details of some many iconic poets.

The selection of verse itself gives the reader plenty to invest in and often prompts further reading. As is often the case with this kind of collection, it would have been good to see some more unexpected poets and/or poems represented but, as it stands, this will serve as a good introduction to the famous poets in Western culture.
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I really enjoyed this! I’m not a big poetry person, so I learnt lots about the backgrounds of the poets and their most famous poems. I had only heard of a handful of them (Shakespeare, Brontë, Dickinson, Plath etc) so it was good to see names I didn’t know of and enjoy their work. I particularly liked the earliest poets and the ancient Greek that was covered. Overall, it was a lot more factual than I had originally thought with only one or two poems by the poets. I did like how Carey added his own criticisms and thoughts about the poems, it definitely added a more thoughtful tone to the book. If you’re looking for something educational and quick to read (and if you’re a big poetry fan) then you’ll love this.
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Unfortunately this book just wasn’t for me. I really enjoyed the mini biographies before the poems but most of these poets I had never heard of and they were not to my taste. There was a few exceptions such as Christina Rossetti who is my favourite poet. A few other well known poets including but not exclusive to Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Burns and the more modern day Maya Angelou. I feel this would be a good introduction for anyone wanting to dip their toe into poetry.
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An incredibly brief overview of 100 poets from Homer and Sappho through those like Marvell and Milton to present day. I enjoyed that there was a broad range of poets and that at times non-English speaking poets were included. However, the descriptions of the poets was incredibly brief and at times it didn't really seem to actually inform the reader about the poet - Ezra Pound for example was talked about just as imitating Japanese poetry, nothing about his contributions to modernism and I also did not like that Carey would criticise particular translations but then include them immediately after when there are other options available. The poems included also sometimes are just fragments which doesn't really allow you to get a feel for the writer overall or how to extract fits into the wider poem.
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100 Poets is a fantastic piece of reference. Quick and easy to nip in and out of when needed or to indulge in completely from start to finish. A wonderful addition to any bookcase
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This would make a fantastic retirement present or a gift for an undergraduate student of literature. The brief introduction to each poet helps the reader to contextualise each extract. The range of poets is reasonably diverse, but focuses on the established "canon". It covers an impressive breadth of history.
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An interesting springboard for anyone interested in Anglophone poetry
The paths of glory lead but to the grave - Thomas Gray

The choice to use old English translations from Greek and Latin originals makes the threshold for the modern reader a bit higher than I imagined aforehand

Love and war are the main topics at first, with some added nature and capital letter God later on in the bundle. 

Andrew Marvel his section is almost a mini essay, with quite some background on the perception of nature (nature is a garden) and it’s links to the concept of innocence. It’s the kind of writing I would have liked to seen more in the bundle, just giving a tad more depth to the poets. Milton and Paradise Lost is also treated in a similar manner.

Christina Rossetti is my favorite of the first 50 poets, with two poems that are in my opinion very good:


Remember me when I am gone away, 
         Gone far away into the silent land; 
         When you can no more hold me by the hand, 
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay. 
Remember me when no more day by day 
         You tell me of our future that you plann'd: 
         Only remember me; you understand 
It will be late to counsel then or pray. 
Yet if you should forget me for a while 
         And afterwards remember, do not grieve: 
         For if the darkness and corruption leave 
         A vestige of the thoughts that once I had, 
Better by far you should forget and smile 
         Than that you should remember and be sad.

From the antique

It's a weary life, it is, she said:
Doubly blank in a woman's lot:
I wish and I wish I were a man:
Or, better then any being, were not:

Were nothing at all in all the world,
Not a body and not a soul:
Not so much as a grain of dust
Or a drop of water from pole to pole.

Still the world would wag on the same,
Still the seasons go and come:
Blossoms bloom as in days of old,
Cherries ripen and wild bees hum.

None would miss me in all the world,
How much less would care or weep:
I should be nothing, while all the rest
Would wake and weary and fall asleep.

But maybe Poe, with the Raven being included in full, is the biggest surprise. I only associate him with horror stories but his use of rhythm is almost hypnotic in that poem.
Out, out by Robert Frost is harrowing, with a 16 year old dying by a hand cut off. W.H. Davies his social commentary in Sleepers is biting. In general till the First World War poems, history and broader events are hardly to be found in the bundle. Of the later 50 I think I liked Louis MacNeice - Prayer before birth most.

An interesting foray into anglophone poetry, an ideal starting place to explore other sources like:

Honorable mentions to look into more:
Sappho - best love poems I read in the bundle
Geofry Chaucer - time to dust of the Canterbury tales
Christopher Marlowe - all they that not love tobacco and boys are fools
John Dryden - quite harsh satire, like it
John Clare - his I am poem is shockingly modern in being so personal about his asylum stay, and contains the phrase Living Sea of Waking Dreams
Byron - the gladiator poem cleverly inverts sympathy we might feel for the civilized Romans towards the barbarian
Heine- the poem gains a lot of poignancy when one knows he was paralyzed 
Thom Gunn - with poems from the AIDS epidemic 
Seamus Heaney - a poem as directed as an ice pick about his return from school to home with a dead brother
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This is a great book looking at poets through the ages. The book has background to the poet and the meanings behind the poem.. I learnt a lot from many of the areas talked about in the book. Highly recommended to look at poetry through the ages.
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A short book that includes complete poems or shorter extracts from 100 poets, from Sappho and Homer to Seamus Heaney and Maya Angelou. It’s the perfect companion to John Carey’s A Little History of Poetry. Each poet’s entry comes with a few paragraphs of detail to help contextualise the work, and the briefness of the entries makes the book readable and accessible, rather than dense and intimidating, and it’s perfect for dipping in and out of.
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100 Posts by John Carey

I've just read this book cover to cover. This is a wonderful poetry book that takes you from poetry from BC to modern day. I liked that it gave each poet a mini biography.
It will be one that you'll want to keep on your bookcase to re-read many times over.
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