This year marks the Poetry Society’s Centenary. We are celebrating our 100th birthday with a year-long programme of poetry activities, ranging from performances and lectures to country-wide education programmes and one-off commissions and competitions.
Over the next four issues of Poetry International Web we intend to showcase some of the poets and poems we’ll be working with over the year in our diverse range of activities. For our first centenary issue we launch a special bumper selection of poems from two of the UK’s best-known and loved poets.
Ruth Padel has published eight books of poetry as well as two books of criticism, 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem (Vintage, 2004) and The Poem and the Journey (Vintage, 2008), in which she collects a series of succinct poetry appreciations in the form of mini-essays. These reflect her tireless work as a critic and journalist in helping readers find their way through the wealth of contemporary poetry, giving new readers access to poems and showing familiar readers of poetry new things to delight in.
Her championing of poetry is not just confined to the printed word. Formerly Chair of the Poetry Society, she has been a great supporter of our work over the years, experimenting with new types of poetry events at festivals and setting up poetry conferences. She is an Honorary Member of the Poetry Society and her publication here coincides not only with the Poetry Society’s centenary, but also with the bicentenary of the birth of her great-great-grandfather Charles Darwin.
Her selection for Poetry International Web includes a number of poems from her new book, published this month, Darwin: A Life in Poems (Chatto & Windus). We are also publishing poems from her three previous titles, as well as one new poem, ‘Learning to Make an ‘oud in Nazareth’, to mark the direction she is heading with her poetry at the moment.
Our second feature has, sadly, become a tribute to one of the UK’s great poets. Adrian Mitchell, who was a Vice President of the Poetry Society, died just a week before Christmas 2008. You will, I hope, have already seen our January tribute to him, featuring a number of poems and recordings taken from his 1983 appearance at the Poetry International Festival in Rotterdam. To this we add a further selection of poems spanning almost fifty years of his writing life, which were collected in the recent Bloodaxe anthology, In Person.
The loss to British poetry is palpable; Adrian Mitchell was one of the most eloquent and moving of poets, with a deep moral conviction and a deftness of skill that could unashamedly speak up against injustice and inequality. This is not to say he was merely a public poet. Our selection also reveals the tender skill with which Adrian tackled personal subjects, from moments of private grief, as in ‘Especially When it Snows’, to playful captures of childhood memories, as in ‘A Puppy Called Puberty’.
We hope this selection will move, astonish and delight you, but also that these poets will inspire you to go one step further. For this year of poetry, we hope you might follow the examples of these two champions of poetry and find a way to inspire others with poetry.
The Poetry Society