W. B. Yeats – Collected Poems
When I found a short Selected Poems in the school library I thought it was pronounced ‘yeets’ – soon enough though, I had my own copy of the Everyman Collected, which travelled with me everywhere for two years. No other writer was as influential for my emotional development; these d ays I’m not sure that was an unalloyed good, but Yeats was a true friend during a lovesick adolescence.
John Milton – Paradise Lost
I read Book One out loud on a train back to London, taking turns with my mother to read those long, winding sentences. Eight years and approximately 50 000 words of academic prose later, the love-affair continues – but my apologies to everyone else in the quiet carriage that day.
Jack Gilbert – Collected Poems
People sometimes talk, probably melodramatically, about a poem or poet that ‘saved their life’. If such a phenomenon does exist, then for me that poem is ‘A Brief for the Defence’ and that poet is Jack Gilbert.
Richard Wilbur – Collected Poems
In the UK, Wilbur is criminally under-read, but I can’t think of any other writer who people take to as gratefully or rapidly as they do Wilbur. I have about twenty of his poems memorised – more than anyone except Shakespeare.
William Shakespeare – The Sonnets
I’m afraid my tastes are depressingly conventional – but who wouldn’t be conventional when the mainstream is Shakespeare? The best to ever do it.
John Phipps is a writer, critic and editor. He is hoping that 2020 will be the year, in which he finally writes a poem he actually likes.