In those emotion-charged days following the death of Nelson Mandela in December last year, I watched Maya Angelou read His Day Is Done, a poem tribute she had written “on behalf of the American people” to the iconic African leader, and cried. Watching this wonderful, wise woman, now in her mid 80s, with her dark molasses voice, describe Mandela’s fortitude, his generosity of spirit and our hopes that his would be an enduring legacy, was deeply moving. At school, even before I had had time to make any big life-changing decisions, it was Frost’s The Road Not Taken that first introduced me to the conflicting emotions of hope and sadness.
It is perhaps unsurprising that, in April, which is designated Poetry Month, a new anthology, Poems That Make Grown Men Cry edited by Anthony and Ben Holden, has been released. This book is not an academic tome nor is it wide-ranging in its selection, but that was not really to be expected. Of the “modern, cultural giants” who have been invited to contribute many are english, and in show-business (Anthony Holden is a well-known British writer and biographer, and his son Ben is a film producer). Thus it is heavily biased towards the poets from the United Kingdom; Seamus Heaney’s Requiem for Croppies, Millay’s God’s World (chosen by acclaimed Shakespearian thespian and Star Trek Captain, Patrick Stewart), Wordsworth’s Character of the Happy Warrior and Phillip Larkin’s Funeral Blues. But it is none the less for that.
And for those who ask (a la Edwin Starr) Poetry, huh, yeah/ What is it good for? Welsh bard Dylan Thomas has an answer: “Poetry is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toe nails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that nor nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shred and forever all your own.”
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry: 100 Men on the Words That Move Them, is published by Simon & Schuster.