‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers –That perches in the soul – ” Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
I was browsing in the bookshop, and a book flew into my hands. It was called Poems for a World Gone to Sh*t.
A “world gone to sh*t” – that seems a fair diagnosis of the current age. And who can say they’re not to some degree infected by the hopelessness this tends to engender? It’s a widespread general malaise. But here in the bookshop this bold wee book fluttered in my palms. I opened it, and read the epigraph by Oscar Wilde:
We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
It was my first inkling of why Poems for a World Gone to Sh*t had flown so urgently out of the shelves. It’s that fully-feathered thing, a book of hope. It deserves a perch in every human soul.
Hats off to the publishers, UK-based Quercus, for a beautiful uncluttered book design, and for a stunning selection of poetry. Voices from the past (Shakespeare, Rumi, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Henri David Thoreau, Lorca and Li Chíng-chao, for example) share these pages with contemporary poets (like Kate Tempest, Margaret Atwood, Wendy Cope, Kim Addonizio, Tracy K. Smith and Hollie McNish). Every poem is vivid and relevant and compelling. The book is arranged in five sections, the titles of which brilliantly encapsulate the fierce, defiant and compassionate wit that characterises the anthology:
- What the f**k?
- Get me the f**k out of here …
- Keep your sh*t together
- Let’s do something about this sh*t
- Life is still f**king beautiful
Poems in a World Gone to Sh*t isn’t sentimental, twee or detached from reality. On the contrary, it begins with the world’s wounds, with pain and injustice and helplessness (whether personal or social/political). But its healing stems from the way it also reminds us that we’re not alone if we are reeling in response. It shows us what a good life is and can be, and why it’s worth struggling for. And all the while, Poems in a World Gone to Sh*t provides a veritable choir of strong voices to help us sing ourselves up out of the muck. Here, for example, is Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919), from her poem “Protest”:
To sin by silence when we should protest,
makes cowards out of men. The human race
has climbed on protest…
The few who dare, must speak and speak again
To right the wrongs of many.
And this, from “New every morning” by Susan Coolidge (1835-1905):
Take heart with the day and begin again.”
Sue Wootton is co-editor of Corpus.
Poems for a World Gone to Sh*t (2018) is published by Quercus.