The Poetry Holiday

Guest post by Ana Sampson

As lockdown descended across Britain this spring, many of us turned to our bookshelves for comfort. I spend a lot of time in Tudor England, sitting with Thomas Cromwell as his boys brought in the candles (The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel), riding through England and France with Eleanor of Aquitaine (The Revolt by Clara Dupont) and in 1960s New York (Dancers on the Shore by William Melvin Kelley). My children and I went together to Narnia and Troutwine – the fantastically-named town in Chris Riddell’s Guardians of Magic. And we also read a lot of poetry.

By the time we leave school, some of us have been rather put off poetry. Children, however, don’t have any such prejudices. The earliest things we learn are usually songs and nursery rhymes: from the sun putting his hat on to the little piggies of our toes. We often read rhyming books with our children: my four year old is word perfect on everything from There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly to Room on the Broom, and woe betide me if I try to skip a verse to get to bedtime quicker!

Reading helps develop empathy because it enables us to live other lives, in other places, and to experience a completely different view of the world. We can broaden our horizons and expand our knowledge of our fellow humans without leaving the sofa. Flexing our imaginations means it’s a better mental workout than watching a story unfold on screen – there’s no glamorous location or CGI wizardry that can match up to what our minds can conjure. Poetry does all this too.

As lockdown descended, I was editing my latest anthology. She Will Soar gathers poems of freedom, escape and wanderlust written by women over the past two thousand years – from Sappho in ancient Greece to schoolgirls writing today. The theme took on a startling new resonance as the nation battened down the hatches at home. I’ve never been more grateful that, in the space of a few lines, a poet could snatch me up to dangle over mountain ranges, wash me onto a strange shore, or even shoot me into space. 

In the course of my research, poets whisked me off to Venice, to a lazy summer afternoon in Galway, to the Yorkshire moors, the South Downs and over Chinese mountain passes. They sent me spinning across the sea, hurtling through the desert and winding through the woods. I surveyed the Hubble Space Telescope close-up and pelted downhill on a bicycle. I undertook impossible travels, too, into the Underworld and onto enchanted islands. I loved sharing some of these poems with my children too. Travelling by book gave us the chance to travel in our imaginations when we couldn’t in real life, and I’ve never been happier to undertake voyages by verse.

She Will Soar: Brave, Brave Poems about Escape and Freedom by Women, edited by Ana Sampson is published by Macmillan, out 17th September. You can sign up to Ana’s newsletter here

Any opinions shared may not truly reflect those of the FCBG

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