cvr9781471134890_9781471134890_hrThe statement ‘grown men don’t cry’ is, for me, on a level with ‘real men don’t eat quiche’ – both beg the question ‘why?’

The same thought may possibly have crossed journalist Anthony Holden’s mind at some point. Together with his youngest son, Ben, Holden compiled this eclectic collection of moving poems, chosen by a selection of well-known men – the actor Daniel Radcliffe, writers Salman Rushdie and John le Carré and singer-songwriter–poet Nick Cave, among them.

In the ‘Preface’ to the book, Holden recounts the story of a friend who, while enduring a domestic crisis, quotes Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Darkling Thrush’ and becomes particularly choked up at the lines ‘Some blessed hope whereof he knew/And I was unaware’. This incident led Holden to ask the critic Frank Kermode, who also knew the man, if there were any poems that made him choke up. Kermode began to recite Philip Larkin’s ‘Unfinished Poem’ (featured in the book) and was ‘rendered speechless’ by the line, ‘What summer have you broken from?’ After asking other male acquaintances if they had a poem that had a similar effect on them, Holden and his son embarked on this book.

Of the almost 100 poems that make up Poems That Make Grown Men Cry – chosen by men from 20 different nations, ranging in age from their early 20s to late 80s – about a dozen are by women. The most popular poets appear to be WH Auden (with 5 poems), followed by AE Housman, Hardy and Larkin (with 3 poems/selections each).

Organised chronologically, the poems in this book are preceded by a short explanatory note by the men who selected them. These pieces are probably the most interesting aspect of the book and give what would have been, without a doubt, an interesting poetry anthology anyway, far more substance and credibility.

I was particularly moved by John Carey’s explanation of his choice of Ben Jonson’s ‘On My First Son’, written after the death of the playwright’s child. ‘Over and above these obvious triggers of grief in Jonson’s poem’, he writes, ‘… it is the tone that, makes it for me, impossible – or anyway, unsafe – to read out loud.’

The war journalist Robert Fisk and actor–writer–director Julian Fellowes both chose Christina Rossetti’s ‘Remember’, Fisk for the lines ‘Better by far you should forget and smile/Than that you should remember and be sad’, Fellowes because he became aware of it when his mother was dying of cancer.

The book includes poems new to me, such as Theodore Roethke’s ‘My Papa’s Waltz’, about a young child’s utter adoration for his father, and Abioseh Nicol’s ‘The Meaning of Africa’, chosen by actors Stanley Tucci and James Earl Jones, respectively. There are also some old favourites that never fail to bring tears to my eyes – and I’m not a man – such as Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Let My Country Awake’, chosen by both the human rights activist Salil Shetty and filmmaker David Puttnam, and also Charles Bukowski’s ‘eulogy to a hell of a dame–’, selected by filmmaker Mike Leigh. An afterword by Nadine Gordimer ends the volume in which the great author mentions the poems that particularly moved her, including the aforementioned Tagore and Auden’s ‘In Memory of WB Yeats’.

This is an interesting book, a perfect gift purchase and also, dare I say it, a great gimmick. I understand the Holdens are now working on a similar collection of poems that make grown women cry. Funnily enough, I think that will be far more difficult to compile and also, possibly, may be even more interesting.

I look forward to it.


POEMS cover


Poems That Make Grown Men Cry is published by Simon & Schuster in association with Amnesty International on 10 April 2014 in the UK; 1 April in the US.

UK edition: HB: ISBN: 978-1-47113-489-0; £16.99.

The Holdens are also appearing at an Amnesty International-sponsored event for the book, along with some of the men who chose the poems, on 29 April 2014 at The National Theatre, The South Bank, London.



Also of interest: ‘A love letter to the letter – Letters of Note by Shaun Usher’; WB Yeats reads his own poetry – a rare pleasure; ‘The Journey of the Magi’ read by TS Eliot; ‘”Bright Star” by John Keats’; ‘Letters from the heart’ – our Top 20 love letters’



Photographs in article: Poems That Make Grown Men Cry (UK edition and US edition covers respectively), both supplied by the publishers.

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