A Gathering of Friends


Below are poems brought to The Poetry Exchange – in person or online. Click on each poem to discover how they have been a friend to someone. In some cases you can also listen to a unique recording created by The Poetry Exchange team, made in response to the person’s thoughts and feelings about the poem.

Nominated by: Sarah Butler

“I find there’s something really calming about this poem. It relates to my work and thinking about place, landscape, how we relate to it (or not), how we articulate it (or don’t).”

Reader: Jacqueline Kington

Read and Listen to the poem HERE

Nominated by: Martin Zarrop

“His collected poems was the first collection that I bought after I began writing in. As with many American poems, it has a deceptive simplicity but manages to talk about an abstraction – happiness – by the use of beautifully observed detail.”

Read the poem HERE

Nominated by: Suzanne Iuppa

I have gone back to this poem when I have experienced feeling displaced. Elizabeth Bishop is a huge influence on my writing. “One Art” expresses deep loss without being over sentimental-  it also communicates the idea of “this too will pass,” one of my Grandmother’s favourite sayings!”

Read the poem HERE

Nominated by: Martin Heaney

“it reminds me of when I first really listened to poetry… reminds me of the West of Ireland and gentleness.”

Reader: Martin Heaney

Read and Listen to the poem HERE

Nominated by: Jane May

“As a kid of about ten I was trusted to take the train once a month from my home in Instow, North Devon coast, to Exeter for treatment on my eye. It stopped at every tiny station on the way. But I can still hear  the hiss of the steam, and see the bare platforms, willowherb, haystacks. And the final verse, the blackbirds, perfect.”

Read the poem HERE

Nominated by: Monika Kolovos

“I love this poem. When I was a student my English Lit Professor recited this poem – he was rather severe but when he read this poem out he was transformed. I love the movement in it, the motion and the thought that these incidental moments can become treasures.”

Read and Listen to the poem HERE

Nominated by: Patricia Sumner

“I love this poem for its outpouring of wisdom.  It teaches me to be content with my lot, to focus on the miraculous nature of life, and to strive to be the best person I can be.”

Nominated by: Gill McEvoy

“I clung to this poem when I was ill with cancer. It truly was my friend. I sometimes open my garden with the local hospice group to raise funds for the Hospice and I hang poems wherever I can, including this one.“

Reader: Tom Anderson

Read and Listen to the poem HERE

Nominated by: Annette Brook

“This poem has always been a calming influence.”

Nominated by: Julie Batty

“a friend you can turn to for those moments when you feel so unworthy.”

Reader: Tom Anderson

Read and Listen to the poem HERE

Nominated by: Vicky Wilson

“It matters to me because it is expresses the importance of not shying away from doing what is difficult from following the path you believe in even if it means alienating those around you. It acknowledges the loneliness involved in making this kind of choice, but tells you that it’s worth…doing what is right for you even if it means leaving behind the ‘little towns’, the friends still asleep.”

Read and Listen to the poem HERE

Nominated by: Subhadassi

“I wrapped myself in its sonic power and incantatory realm many a time in my youth, and found succour in it – the poem has the strength and beadth of the ocean it describes, which perhaps is the ocean of life.”

Read this poem HERE

Nominated by: Helen Chadwick

“so many friends that I have got close to in setting their words to music and song.”

Nominated by: John Siddique

“It seems to me this is a truly wise poem….the voice in this poem speaks to me both as another human calling me to go out and live, it speaks to me as literature, and as God through the poem as prayer when I am lonely or a bit too lost, and I need to find the way back to the essential and the authentic.”

Read the poem HERE

Nominated by: Paul Sherreard

“so many friends, this was the first one that sprang to mind, so I suppose it must be my best friend poem. This piece reminds me why I read and write poetry.”

Read the poem HERE

Nominated by: Helen Nicholson

“I learnt this poem when I was about 16, and it  speaks of regret, love, ageing and the way in which we carry feelings of guilt hen we’re young. I am not sure why it speaks to me – but there’s something about the stuff that the grandmother accumulates that is a metaphor of living and dying that has never left me.”

Reader: Natasha Gordon

Read and Listen to the poem HERE

Nominated by: Debs Hart

“I can think of no better articulation on what true love really is.”

Read the poem HERE

Nominated by: Helena Lymbery

“It’s a great source of strength because it is so very strong and defiant. And epic. It actually feels something like the size of a heart. Which is a comfort.”

Read the poem HERE

Nominated by: Sarah Salway

“The reason for picking this is because I didn’t get it at all at first reading. I had two small children, lots of students and I felt I had to be in control of everyone and everything. This poem felt like an indulgence – how could I just leave. BUT… then it came to be a friend as i began to realise how exciting it felt to search for my own voice ‘deeper and deeper’, and not hide behind helping everyone else.”

Read the poem HERE

Nominated by: Fiona Lesley Bennett

“This is a poem that articulates what matters in creative and artful work – it sees no division between beauty and the power to do good, to make a difference. I know it has been a friend to the poet, Marge Piercy and she was on of the first contemporary poets whose work I devoured collection after collection.”

Reader: Fiona Lesley Bennett

Read and Listen to the poem HERE

Nominated by: Georgina Chatfield

“This was given to my mother when her mother died. As the granddaughter wasn’t sure where I fitted into the grieving. I was 18. I adored her and didn’t know how to express myself and how I was feeling about things. And this poem really spoke to me.”

Reader: Michael Shaeffer

Read and Listen to the poem HERE

Nominated by: Carole Moffat at Durham Book Festival

“I discovered this poem in my late teens after visiting the Laing Gallery and seeing the pre-Raphaelite paintings. For me it’s not about death and grief but rather It’s acted as a force of resilience and survival.”

Readers: Rebecca Manley and Fiona Lesley Bennett

Read and Listen to the poem HERE

Nominated by: Jocelyn Cunningham

“I came across it an old Collected Works of my mothers and it immediately appealed to my love of theatricality but also to my fledging understanding of existentialism. I learned it then by heart and still lines come to me in the oddest of moments seemingly unrelated at the time.”

Read the poem HERE

Nominated by: Geoff Church

Read the poem HERE

Nominated by: Rommi Smith

“This poem, like all the Poems that I count as ‘friends’, none of them are quite me, or can speak for me and so, there is space in the ‘conversation’ for my voice.”

Nominated by: Jacqueline Kington

“poems can act as photographs – snapshots of a moment that otherwise might go unrecorded. This poem has a bitter-sweet feel to it….although I know the poet and the specific story behind this poem, it also acts as a connector to all those bitter-sweet moments that mark our lives.”

Reader: Jacqueline Kington

Read and Listen to the poem HERE

Nominated by: Claudia Barwell

 “this friend was there with me for the actual event itself.  A specific time and place and it saw me through it.  I love it for that. Just for the record – I had a calm and lovely “home birth” – the only pain relief was this calm and reassuring friend telling me “let your body perform this ancient task/with the knowledge/that is woven into your cells/wired into your spine”.

Reader: Claudia Barwell

Listen to the poem HERE

Nominated by: Terri Lee

“This poem to me sums up what is needed to have a decent life. The moral code you should live by”

Read the poem HERE

Nominated��by: Andrea Witzke Slot

“I have read and reread (and taught) this poem countless times, but it never ceases to reveal new layers to me. Whether reading it as a poet, a mother, a friend, or when leaving or entering a marriage or relationship or any heartfelt endeavor, or when struggling to understand a new aspect of my life past or present, this poem has been there for me. It is with the greatest subtlety, too, that Rich takes us under to a place where we are ultimately alone to figure things out, where we finally see “the wreck and not the story of the wreck.”

That wreck could be so many things; it is not a disaster but an ancient story of a kind that lies there silently beneath us and into which we must sometimes begin our journey, alone, to witness the present and past of our lives, ambitions, hopes, failures.”

Read the poem HERE

Nominated by: Andrew Frame

“This poem is such an evocation of what we might now call a panic attack. I think it particularly effective when recited.”

Read the poem HERE

Nominated by: Luke Pell

“There something about the landscape of the voice, the the mouth, the body, that comes up spitting and soothing in Smith’s writing. by a lake…. not only commands this visceral quality and the texture of environment but the cusp of despair and promise… It’s a place I come to to remember the brightness that will come from pain, the wonder of feeling.”

Nominated by: Jacqueline Kington:

“I suppose I have different poems as friends at different times and this one resonated strongly, giving words to powerful feelings and the challenge of building shared understanding.”

Reader: Jacqueline Kington

Read and listen to the poem HERE

Nominated by: Robbie Burton

“Five years ago, three weeks after my husband died, I was walking along the canal and noticed a piece of paper attached to the rail leading to the towpath. It turned out to be a copy of Tall Nettles – part of the National Poetry Day celebrations.  It made my step a bit lighter.”

Reader: Caitlin Richards

Read and Listen to the poem HERE

Nominated by: Marge Piercy

“A poem can be an emotional support; I’m not the only one who experiences that or feels that way. I’m not such a freak. My ideas, my feelings, my experiences are authentic and deserving.”

Reader: Natasha Gordon

Read and Listen to the poem HERE

Nominated by: Steve Constable

“For me this poem perfectly captures the frustration of writer’s block and offers the perfect antidote in the final line.”

Read and Listen to the poem here: HERE

Nominated by: Becky Swain

“This poem has always been a favourite of my mothers – she introduced it to me when I was about 11 years old. I have known it off by heart since I was very young. When I see a Cabbage White I smile and think about how unique it for it’s crooked flight.”

Read the poem here: HERE

Nominated by: Eve Lyons

“This poem has such beautifully simple advice for life, simple, yet so hard to live and do.”

Read the poem here: HERE

Nominated by: Heather Bolton

“I have loved William Blake’s work longer than I can remember! His words still speak to me. The meaning is as bright today as when it was first written.”

Read the poem here: HERE

Nominated by: Jan De Wandelaer

Read the poem here: HERE

Nominated by: Adrian Brett

“The simple sentiment shows once-lauded beauties reduced to old framed paintings lying among Seine-side bric-a-brac, faded like their love and the roses and lilies in their hands”

Read the poem here: HERE

Nominated by: Elaine Cusack

“The poem comforts me. It fits like a comfy jumper but I’m not comfortable. I’m not uncomfortable either. Rereading it makes me pleased to be who I am but spurs me to keep writing”

Read the poem here: HERE

Nominated by: Christine Camorgan

“Simple, honest, real and poignant.”

Read the poem here: HERE

Nominated by: Diana Bennett

“I saw this poem on the tube on one of my many visits to see my husband who was in hospital. The poem jumped out at me and I had to make a note of it. It describes exactly the feeling of excitement and anticipation I have had through the many different chapters of our relationship at those moments when we are about to meet up after having been forced to spend time apart. It was a great boost to my spirits to read this poem during the time of visiting him in hospital and to be reminded of all ‘our meetings’ over the years.”

Read and listen to the poem here: HERE

Nominated by: Clare Shaw

“The poem captures despair, and also how, at the heart of it, is a wild hunger. For joy. How darkness needs light, and vice versa. The delicacy and ferocity of the language, its musicality, its gathering force – speak directly to me in times of extremity; and in quieter, calmer waters, they remind me of the beauty of the storm.”

Read more here: HERE

Nominated by: Rishi Dastidar

“How rare and refreshing to see joy celebrated in this way; the light that leads to love hymned. I love the knowledge that this pleasure, that comes in parts, has to be taken and grasped now now now. And that looking, really looking hard at the beautiful things, is what matters most of all..”

“I can’t remember how I first encountered this poem…sometimes the friends you can’t remember making are the best ones.”

Nominated by: Eric Weiskott

“This prose poem has been a friend to me since I discovered it while browsing Strand Books in New York City. I was attending Wesleyan University at the time but had not yet met Elizabeth, and I didn’t know it was her poem when I fell in love with its surreal opening sentence: “Where do you go after a season in Denver, walking through Africa in shoes of sand.” A year after reading this poem and buying the book on the spot, I was writing my own book of poetry under Elizabeth’s supervision as a senior thesis.

Nominated by: Linda Carver

“The intimacy of children juxtaposed with the alientation between women who wait at school gates. It speaks to me about the way I too felt about dispersing with a head full of domestic chores and no opportunity to imagine or develop friendship.”

Nominated by: MaryAnne Smith

“It is a reminder that you need to be your true self in order to find fulfilment in life – and love, and that you also need to show wonder, mellowness and warmth.

Read the poem here: HERE

Nominated by: Hafsah Bashir
“I constantly had to negotiate motherhood with what I wanted to study and felt enriched but often guilty too of maybe not getting the balance right. While I studied all the different facets of traditional English poetry, I came across Khalil Gibran’s ‘On Children’ which I felt a connection too possibly due to my roots with the eastern world, It seemed to resonate and reassure me, to have trust and faith that a stable bow is all that is needed to send my children out in the world.”

Read the poem here: HERE



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