Every month, we shine the light on a book from our collection – one which is new to the library, which has been particularly enjoyed by a borrower, recommended by a volunteer, or which seems salient to the month’s events or happenings. To see the archive of past books of the month from this year, click here.
The current book of the month is…
December: A Poem for Every Winter Day
Winter can be a gorgeous season at times – full of clear bright mornings, beautiful snowscapes, and gatherings together for seasonal celebrations. It might also bring isolation and reflection, as we retreat indoors and into darkness, the year draws to a close, and we take stock and make plans before a new year begins. A lovely companion for this time of hunkering down is our December book of the month, ‘A Poem for Every Winter Day’ – an anthology which reflects and inspires all these seasonal moods and many more.
Edited by award-winning curator, Allie Esiri, it’s a book which provides a beautifully eclectic selection of poems. Formerly a stage, television, and film actress, Esiri has also become a formidable force for poetry in recent years, organising events, editing books, and even co-founding the first ever poetry app, iF Poems, which promoted the literary form. This, her fourth anthology, forms part of a series of books which provide poems for each day, night, or season of the year.
Her winter edition spans from 1st December to 29th February, in case of a leap year, and each date is given two poems; one for the morning, the other for the evening. There are various styles and forms – ranging from vintage hall lyrics, to haiku, riddles, calligrammes, cinquains, sonnets, and nonsense poems – which provides a great unpredictability. We also find favourites from Esiri’s previous anthologies, ‘A Poem for Every Day of the Year’, ‘A Poem for Every Night of the Year’, and there are plenty of new additions too. Similarly, the format is accessible and familiar; some poems relate to the date on which they are selected – such as Christina Rossetti’s ‘Mix a Pancake’ on Shrove Tuesday – others show unusual relevancies or provide nice counterpoints to those before and afterwards, and each opens with a short introductory paragraph to explain their inclusion.
As one would expect, there is a seasonal core to Esiri’s choices. Wintery verse abounds; ‘A Winter Bluejay’ by American poet, Sara Teasdale, describing how ‘crisply the bright snow whispered’ or ‘Spellbound’ by Emily Brontë, wherein the ‘wild winds coldly blow’. And it feels apt that, as spring approaches towards the end of this calendrical anthology, we find poems which long for the end of winter, such as ‘In Tenebris’, by Ford Madox Ford, which awaits the spring lark, and the excitement of lambs ‘stumbling to and fro’ in ‘First Sight’ by Philip Larkin.
But the anthology changes moods and subject matter up beautifully and there are also many, not so specifically seasonal, surprises; introspective poems, invoking the deeply personal, and those written for or about other individuals, communities, or social groups. These range in scope from political and historical commentary, for example, poems reminding us of the date on which Rosa Parks stood up against racial segregation on a bus in Alabama, or the start of the Spanish civil war and the fight for freedom of expression explored in Federico Garcia Lorca’s, ‘The Little Mute Boy’, to the levity of a worm watching telly, a punning love poem, and the heartening ‘Heroes’, by Benjamin Zephaniah. Roger Stevens even explores the very components of poetic writing, likening the form to horse racing in his ‘The Poetry Grand National’, included on the date of the first ever Aintree event, and we meet the light side of language in Spike Milligan’s ‘The ABC’.
And as the winter nights draw in, we might find comfort in poems celebrating or enjoying the dark, like Eleanor Farjeon regretting that ‘The night will never stay’, even though we might wish to ‘pin’ it in place ‘with a million stars’. In ‘Don’t Be Scared’, Carol Ann Duffy gives the darkness the warmth of ‘a blanket / for the moon to put on her bed’, and AA Milne evokes the wonderful woozy feeling of falling asleep ‘In the Dark’. But, perhaps unsurprisingly for a book focused on the darkest months, there is also much longing for light and celebration of its anticipated brightness. Poems about the moon’s many faces or Guyanese poet John Agard’s look at the prism of a rainbow; ‘so full of glow / and curving / like she bearing a child’.
This is a book full of joy, comfort, and reflection. It’s a great addition to Esiri’s seasonal series – an anthology which shares its breadth of poetry with beautiful balance, between mornings and nights and from one day to another, so that a reader is never too far from the darkness and never too far from the light.