Some specific questions about each poem
Among Women by Esther Morgan
A very atmospheric poem. Do you like it? Often the atmosphere of a poem is the most memorable aspect of it (for example, Walter de la Mare’s classic, The Listeners). Do you feel you have got to the bottom of this poem? Do you think this poem has a bottom to get to? What are you left with after reading this poem?
Various Portents by Alice Oswald
Alice Oswald’s poem is absolutely huge in its scope; it’s like a searchlight. Do you like this poem and if so what is it that appeals to you?
Are there any particular lines, ideas or images that grab you? This poem suggests so much in so many directions all at once.
Camels of the Kings by Leslie Norris
This poem is so much fun, telling the Christmas story from the perspective of the kings’ camels, who are accustomed to rather more service and fuss than they found in Bethlehem. Do you know any other of Leslie Norris’ poems? Arguably, this poem is about the ideas of humility and revelation surrounding the Christmas story. Would you agree?
Snow by Louis MacNeice
Take the last line – “There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.” It begs the question, “What, then?” Any thoughts?
The Boy who laughed at Santa Claus
Would you describe this as a children’s poem? Is there such a thing as a children’s poem?
December Stillness by Siegfried Sassoon
Although this is not strictly a sonnet (for a start, it only has twelve lines, not fourteen) it somehow feels like a sonnet. Would you agree? Where does the sense of movement forward come from, in the poem? The poem feels like a journey in itself.
Year Ending by Caroline Cook
This is such an original poem. Is it a nature poem? The word “tranced” at the start of the line bang in the middle of the poem seems to flick a switch in the poem and also changes the sound of it; “traced” would have teamed up with “rakish” but “tranced” attaches itself to the word “charged” in the line below, like a cobweb catching on a thorny hedge .
Planting Mistletoe by Ruth Pitter
This is a mysterious, magical, glowing poem. It reads in part like a gardening manual, and is also a spell, an incantation. What do you make of it?
New Year Behind the Asylum by David Constantine
This poem is absolutely brilliant, yet can be quite uncomfortable to read aloud. It is so powerful, so devastating and so full of compassion and humanity. What are your own thoughts? Have you found it difficult to read aloud?
The Year’s Midnight by Gillian Clarke
Like some of the other poems in this selection, this poem seems to straddle lots of different ideas – historic, biblical, environmental. Above all, it is so beautiful. Do you find its tone optimistic? Pessimistic?
‘Ring out, wild bells’ by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
This poem comes from the sequence In Memoriam, that Tennyson wrote in memory of a close friend who had died suddenly, when young. So in fact the poem is partly about trying to overcome grieving; the poet is looking to the new year to help him get over his loss. Though it is about a lot else besides. It’s one of those poems that you think you know well and suddenly realise just how much more is in there than you had ever realised, and why it stands out as so extraordinary.
The Mistletoe Bride by Carol Ann Duffy
This is a new poem written specifically to be the last poem in this year’s pamphlet. It has the most wonderfully Blue-beardy, gothic echoes. If you think about the colours, or absence of colours, in the poem, do you think that is one reason why the ending is so clever and vivid? What are the other reasons that make the ending so effective?