Issue #25 / February 2019

I know who the greats are, but who are your most loved poets?


During one of the ‘In Conversation’ events, you mentioned that you look to some poets for inspiration in your songwriting. Which ones?


Dear Astrid and Katie,

I have always read a lot of poetry. It’s part of my job as a songwriter. I try to read, at the very least, a half-hour of poetry a day, before I begin to do my own writing. It jimmies open the imagination, making the mind more receptive to metaphor and abstraction and serves as a bridge from the reasoned mind to a stranger state of alertness, in case that precious idea decides to drop by.

Sometimes the reading is something of a chore and there are many “great” poets I find boring, inscrutable, long-winded and painful to read. They can be bad news for the imaginative process.

However, I have a few poets that, purely on a personal level, always delight and are a simple pleasure to read. There are enough surprises within their writing to keep the mind light and alive. This is by no means a definitive list and in no particular order. I’m just sitting here at my desk looking at my bookshelf, in fact. They are poets whose company I consistently enjoy.


Stevie Smith

Frederick Seidel

William Blake

Sherwood Anderson

Rae Armantrout

Langston Hughes

E. E. Cummings

W. B. Yeats

John Berryman

Sylvia Plath

Thomas Hardy

Philip Larkin

Emily Dickinson

Sharon Olds

W. H. Auden


Just to say, my list, in this instance, is of poets writing in the English language, for no other reason than to make the list more manageable.

Beyond this list, there are various poetry anthologies which are always an education and an immense pleasure to dive into, most notably those put together by the great Jerome Rothenberg – among them Barbaric, Vast and Wild, Shaking the Pumpkin, A Big Jewish Book, America a Prophesy and Technicians of the Sacred. (See Red Hand File #5).

Much love, Nick



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