Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times, edited by Neil Astley
496 pages, paperback. Miramax Books.
At the risk of sounding like a grade school kid giving a book report, let me just say that Staying Alive is the best poetry anthology I’ve ever read … and I did read all 463 pages of poetry, many more than once.
Each section begins with insightful quotes by poets about poetry. The book also contains a glossary of poetry terms and an analytical essay on “the sound of poetry.” The anthology includes poems by Mary Oliver, Elizabeth Bishop, Billy Collins, e.e. cummings, and Denise Levertov, as well as numerous translations of poets largely unfamiliar to speakers of English.
Painfully poignant, intensely gripping, and at times raucous, Staying Alive is like having a best friend stand by you through all the pain and triumphs of your life. This is the good stuff; not the tedious, obligatory verse you studied in high school. Certainly there were some poems that struck chords more than others, and a few that I actively disliked. But repeatedly I found in these pages words that inspired me, comforted me, and brought me to bittersweet tears. The book is aptly named: these poems may well help to keep you forging ahead through the most challenging of times.