Review published on July 1, 2016.
In recent history, poetry hasn’t always been the most accessible or appealing of literary genres. Indeed, at times it can be demanding and alienating in ways that commercial and popular fiction simply isn’t. And yet as Somerset Maugham said, poetry is ‘the crown of literature.’ It is as poet Rita Dove affirms, ‘language at its most distilled and most powerful,’ and what Samuel Johnson defined as ‘the art of uniting pleasure with truth.’ Whilst the truth has always remained, sometimes the pleasure of poetry has been lost.
But Bloodaxe’s Staying Alive trilogy has been one of the most important contributions to making sure that poetry remains pleasurable and accessible in the twenty-first century. Beginning with the eponymous Staying Alive in 2002, followed by Being Alive in 2004 and Being Human in 2011, the trilogy includes over one thousand poems that showcase poetry as a vital and relevant art form for the contemporary world. The selections in the anthologies do much to highlight the range and flexibility of poetry, to introduce poets old and new, and to allow readers to find within their ranks a poem or poet that they can connect with.
The anthologies are just bursting with the energy and power of the written word in poetic form, and the poems themselves deliver artistically and emotionally. Covering the gamut of human feelings and experiences, as well as a diversity of voices and ages, it really is the go-to collection for our times. And whatever your taste or experience with poetry, whether you’re a poetry aficionado or a newcomer, everyone is bound to find something of note within these anthologies. And for me, the Staying Alive trilogy – and the individual anthologies themselves – warrants being included in the best books in the twenty-first century for this ability to make poetry inclusive and far-reaching, modern and relevant, and for ensuring poetry, far from being forgotten, has its place at the heart of literature.
The Staying Alive Trilogy
Bloodaxe pbk May 2012
The Portrayal of Disability in Literature by Emma Claire Sweeney