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My favourite books 30: Common Ground

Common Ground, edited by Marghanita Laski

Carcanet, 1989

We have no shortage of poerty anthologies in this house, but Common Ground is the shared favourite.  Laski was a novelist and critic who sought to compile “Everyman’s commonplace book” – it contains all the verses you think you know, organised not by author or date, but by theme: “Loves”, “Beliefs and Doubts”, “Home”, “Time Passing” etc.  It finds room for everything from The Song of Mr Toad to the Book of Common Prayer, and from John Donne to Dorothy Parker.  It’s a thoroughly worthwhile, quality collection.

Common Ground is available at Alibris.

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My favourite books 29: Selected Cautionary Verses

Selected Cautionary Verses by Hilaire Belloc

Originally published by Duckworth; this edition, Puffin 1950

Properly cruel verse and satire for children, with plenty for adults to enjoy as well – indeed, the effect is not dissimilar to a DreamWorks cartoon, working on different levels for all the family.  With a little practice, I could still recite Matilda, Who Told Lies And Was Burned To Death, from memory, but you’d have to buy me a drink first.

Some of Belloc‘s beliefs were pretty obnoxious by modern standards, which is one reason why the rest of his voluminous output is now little read.  He was a “man of letters”, like Chesterton or Jerome.  Do they still exist?  


My favourite books 28: In Parenthesis

In Parenthesis by David Jones

Published Faber & Faber, 1937; this edition 2010

In my opinion, this is the most rewarding poetry to emerge from the First World War.  Denser, more elusive and much longer than Owen or Sassoon, it demands that you immerse yourself in its world, where prose and verse, myth and sordid reality intertwine.

Jones served in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers at the Somme and Ypres.  It took him nearly twenty years to muster his thoughts on paper, by which time the corollary of WW2 was almost upon us.  You can read more about David Jones, artist and poet, here; come November, I recommend you find a week for In Parenthesis.

Exiit Edictum by David Jones, 1949.  From the Tate Collection.


My favourite books 27: The Works of Tennyson and Lynne Truss

The Complete Works of Alfred Lord Tennyson

Macmillan & Co, 1895

Salvaged from my aunts’ house when the contents were being broken up.  900 pages of 9pt type in double columns – beautifully set, and almost impossible to read.  Tennyson isn’t the god he used to be, what with Maud refusing to come into the garden, the Light Brigade inviting dismay instead of admiration.  But this is a good book to own (you never know when you might need it), and I’d be happy to have Crossing The Bar read out at the final knockings.

Lynne Truss is a sportswriter, radio dramatist, grammarian and more; her best novel is Tennyson’s Gift, a romp (no better word) around Freshwater on the Isle of Wight with Tennyson, mad photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, Eeyore-ish painter GF Watts, ingénue actress Ellen Terry and the neurotic Charles Dodgson.  A great single-sitting holiday read.

Published Hamish Hamilton 1996; this edition Penguin 1997.


My favourite books 26: The Mersey Sound



Penguin Modern Poets 10: The Mersey Sound – Adrian Henri, Roger McGough, Brian Patten

Penguin 1967; this edition 1974

After a week of London, I could struggle for relevance with a week of Nigel Williams (The Wimbledon Trilogy, Fortysomething…).  Instead, a week of poets.

The “Mersey Poets” came from an age when poetry ran dangerously close to the mainstream.  School anthologies included the likes of Timothy Winters and Naming of Parts, before pupils moved up into Larkin and Hughes; Bob Dylan, Smokey Robinson and John Lennon were routinely described as poets, and there was a taste in the air for poetry that spoke the language of the common man (thanks and goodnight, Ezra Pound); a coming together of poetry, performance and pop.  It couldn’t last.