I Like it Because...

We asked all the librarians working on the Poetry On Loan initiative to recommend a favourite poem, and to say why they like it so much. They themselves also asked their managers and various local dignitaries to do the same. Here is a list of the titles that people put forward, with the reasons for their choices. We don't have the space to print all the poems in full, but we have included a few excerpts as tasters, and occasionally the whole poem.


Annus Mirabilis - Philip Larkin

Sexual intercourse began

In nineteen sixty-three

(Which was rather late for me) -

Between the end of the Chatterley ban

And the Beatles' first LP...

"I like this poem because its wonderfulness, its setting in time, corresponds to my personal feelings for that time (1960-1963). Larkin perfectly conveys the general celebration that was to become the hallmark of the 60s, while maintaining his individual self-deprecation, which gives a comic touch to the verse."

- Philip Benjamin-Coker, South Yardley Library.

Cargoes - John Masefield

...Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke-stack

Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,

With a cargo of Tyne coal,

Road-rail, pig-lead,

Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

"There are dozens of poems that could have been chosen, from oldies like Masefield as well as contemporary, but I have chosen this because of the beautiful language and rhythm that drips off the page and is an evocation of a long disappeared world."

- Alun Evans, Sutton Coldfield Library.

"Cargoes is THE poem I remember from school. The sense of place and adventure conjured up by the quinquereme and the galleon always stirred my imagination; set against this the mundane British coaster always brought a smile."

- Steve Palmer, Foleshill Library

Woodchucks - Maxine Kumin

Gassing the woodchucks didn't turn it out right.

The knockout bomb from the Feed and Grain Exchange

Was featured as merciful, quick at the bone

And the case we had against them was airtight,

Both exits shoehorned shut with puddingstone,

But they had a sub-sub-basement out of range

"What knocks me out about Maxine Kumin is the way she jumps straight into the middle of the action, her use of selected details - 'needle teeth still hooked in a leaf of early Swiss chard'- and the surprising constructions - 'she flipflopped in the air'. And of course the solid but inconspicuous frame of end-rhymes."

- Charles Johnson, Redditch Library

Valentine - Carol Ann Duffy

Not a red rose or a satin heart.


I give you an onion.

It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.

It promises light

Like the careful undressing of love...

"I love the imagery in this - all the things the onion represents."

- Carol Jones, Earlsdon Library, Coventry

"I like Valentine because my first sight of it on a poster stopped me in my tracks. Forget sloppy romance, it is the most accurate and unsentimental description of love I have ever seen. A copy now lives on my kitchen wall, for obvious reasons if you know the poem, above the onion basket."

- Gillian Mortimer, Ludlow Library

Memorial - Norman MacCaig

Everywhere she dies. Everywhere I go she dies.

No sunrise, no city square, no lurking beautiful mountain

But has her death in it ...

"I came to Norman MacCaig's poetry in a rather roundabout way. Developing a taste for jazz I heard a copy of Tommy Smith's 'Misty Morning and No Time', which was inspired by the work of Norman MacCaig. I enjoyed the music so I went to find the poetry, and the only copy in Birmingham libraries was on the shelf where I work (spooky). I have to confess ignorance of this poet before this event, but I have been a passionate advocate since! Wonderfully evocative language, humorous, poignant, and always rewarding. I have chosen Memorial for very personal reasons, the grief and emotions are raw and almost touchable. When my father died six months later, this poem echoed through my mind like a tolling bell."

- Mike Reed, Hall Green Library

Before Sherratt & Hughes Became Waterstones - Sophie Hannah

Romantic entanglements often occur

In a pub or a railway station,

But being a writer I tend to prefer

A suitably bookish location.


I've never liked nightclubs, nor am I the sort

To go for a snog in the loos.

By far the most interesting place to cavort

Is the ground floor of Sherratt & Hughes...

"I like this poem because it creates an immediate image, it is witty, and it involves the use of double entendre - a much neglected art form!"

- Andrew Scragg, Wolverhampton Library

High Flight (An Airman's Ecstasy) - John Gillespie Magee

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of; wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sun-lit silence. Hovering there

I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air;

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue

I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,

Where never lark nor even eagle flew;

And while, with silent lifting mind I've trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

"I love the sense of freedom and exhilaration this poem creates. How wonderful it must be to 'dance the skies on laughter-silvered wings'. It seems all the more moving to realise that the poet was only nineteen when he died."

- Barbara Wallace, Walsall Library


Salutation to the Dawn - Anonymous

Look to this day, for it is the very life

In its brief course be all the varieties and realities of your existence.

The glory of action,

The bliss of growth,

The splendour of beauty

"I find it very moving."

- Pat Davis, Chief Librarian, Telford and Wrekin

The Journey of the Magi - T.S. Eliot

...And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,

Lying down in the melted snow.

There were times we regretted

The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces.

And the silken girls bringing sherbet....

"This was the first poem that showed me the possibilities of rhythm in writing for adults as opposed to rhythmic pieces I loved as a child, such as The Owl and the Pussycat. It also triggered a curiosity to seek out and delight in new words like 'refractory'; I love the poem's atmospheric qualities as well as the unsentimental religious appeal. For some reason I hear it in a Welsh accent!"

- Cathy Evans, Worcestershire Library Services Manager.

Dulce et Decorum Est - Wilfred Owen

"I first encountered the 'war poets' at school, and I can still easily recall the vivid imagery of many of the poems that conveyed the horror of war (and as a child, I was not terribly receptive to poetry!). Of them all, this one stands out in my mind and for me it captured the horror, despair, hopelessness and hypocrisy of war in a way a textbook never could. It still stands as one of my favourite poems."

- Ian Everall, Public Library Services Manager, Walsall Libraries

The Lady of Shalott - Alfred Tennyson

"I have always been fascinated by the stories of King Arthur and his knights, and for me this sums up the romance and mystery of those tales."

- Judy Goodison, Area Librarian, Mid-Staffordshire.

Spring and Fall: To a Young Child - Gerard Manley Hopkins

"I like it because, as in all his poems, Manley Hopkins invents his own vocabulary which is wonderfully evocative and in a very few words, he can create an atmosphere which I find stays with me, long after I have read the poem. This is a poem about death, and it is sad, but there is something satisfying about the circular way he links youth and our understanding of our own mortality, which in this case the child unknowingly sees in the autumn leaves falling from trees and is sad, without really knowing why."

- Vivien Griffiths, Assistant Director (Libraries and Learning), Leisure and Community Services, Birmingham.

Musee des Beaux Arts - W. H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,

The Old Masters: how well they understood

Its human position; how it takes place

While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking

dully along....

- Richard Honeysett, Senior Assistant Director of Libraries and Leisure, Solihull

Trouble in a Tavern - Dafydd ap Gwilym (trans. Bryan Walters)

"Chosen because Dafydd is tremendously modern in his style, with a wonderful sense of humour."

- Tim Williams, Acting Head of Community and Economic Services Department, Shropshire County Council

I Started Early, Took My Dog - Emily Dickinson.

I started early, took my dog,

And visited the sea;

The mermaids in the basement

Came out to look at me,


And frigates in the upper floor

Extended hempen hands,

Presuming me to be a mouse

Aground, upon the sands

"I love this poem for its strange imagery, told in such simple language. It always seems to me extraordinary that Emily Dickinson could lead such a quiet, reclusive life as a New England spinster, only to be revealed after her death as unique and original genius of poetry. Her work defies any attempt to categorise it - and why try? Just read her for her own sake, and enjoy it."

- Jenny Smallman, Assistant Librarian, Ludlow Library


Tyger, Tyger - William Blake

"Chosen because it appeals to all ages and inspires awe in nature."

- Councillor Mary Farnell, Mayor, Market Drayton

Casabianca - Felicia Hemans

"A poem about desperate, lonely courage, and the trust that only a child can have in a parent."

- Councillor Gillian Darby, Chair, Arts and Culture Policy Team, Coventry

One Foot On the Sea, and One on Shore - Christina Rossetti

"Christina Rossetti is one of my favourite poets. She uses language in a simple way but the message is a powerful, if poignant, one. The emotions of the reader are fully engaged."

- Councillor Ian McArdle, Lord Mayor Elect, Birmingham

This article was written by Christine Bridgwood and the many 'poetry activists' from the consortium of 16 West Midlands Libraries in the Poetry on Loan project. This project was supported by the Arts Council of England (through Poetry Places) and West Midlands Arts.