Penguin Modern Poets

As a teenager growing up in the 1970s, one of my first experiences with *adult* poetry (as opposed to children’s rhymes and Dr. Seuss) was when we studied poems in our English lessons. I consider myself very lucky with my education; coming from a fairly impoverished background, passing the 11-Plus and getting into Grammar School was an achievement. And the educational standards of the 1970s were high, and the ethos somewhat liberal. Covering the Russian Revolution in depth in History lessons had a profound effect on my life; but it was the English lessons which were my favourite, and we studied some remarkable books. My great love of George Orwell stems from the fact we read and analysed “Down and Out in Paris and London”, “Animal Farm” and “1984”; discussions of “If, My Darling” led to a passion for Larkin; and poetry in general came from some wonderful Penguin collections; the Modern Poets series, and The New Poetry.new poetry

Lurking on my shelves is a copy of The New Poetry, and this was where I discovered Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes – their writing shone from the pages and led to me exploring their work as my teens went on (particularly Plath). Alas, this isn’t the original I had at school, but I felt the need to pick up a copy a few years back to revisit some of the words that inspired me as a teen. And recently I stumbled across one of the Modern Poets books in a charity shop – number 9, with Denise Levertov, Kenneth Rexroth and William Carlos Williams. This set me thinking about the Modern Poets series and having a look online, I can see just how influential they were.

Modern Poets 9

The Penguin volumes were intended to bring poetry to a much wider audience than had previously been the case. Prior to their release, verse was often published in large and expensive, rather off-putting volumes not readily available to less affluent readers. The Penguins, featuring three poets each with 30 poems from each author, were slim, inexpensive and therefore readily available to all; as well as being much less intimidating to look at!

Modern Poets 5

One I found I actually already had on my shelves! 🙂

Penguin has, of course, always been a publisher intent on democratising reading; from the early orange paperbacks onwards, their aim has been accessibility to a wide variety of literature for the general reader. So the Penguin Modern Poets were a laudable addition to this tradition and probably opened the eyes of a lot of people to the merits of poetry who might not have had the chance before.

modern poets

I never can resist the urge to collect, and a few more of these little volumes have made their way to the Ramblings. But I feel it would be foolish not to actually read them, and I have been trying to urge myself to read more verse. So – I am going to take a risk and set myself the challenge of reading the complete Penguin Modern Poets series! I think I will limit this initially to the first series (a second came out later) and so I’ll put links to my reviews of the books as and when I get to them. I imagine this being a long-term commitment, but surely it can’t be *too* difficult to read a slim book of 90 poems – can it?? 🙂

Here’s the list of the books and poets:

1. Lawrence Durrell, Elizabeth Jennings, R. S. Thomas – review here
2. Kingsley Amis, Dom Moraes, Peter Porter – review here
3. George Barker, Martin Bell, Charles Causley – review here
4. David Holbrook, Christopher Middleton, David Wevill – review here
5. Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg – review here
6. George MacBeth, Edward Lucie-Smith, Jack Clemo – review here
7. Richard Murphy, Jon Silkin, Nathaniel Tarn – review here
8. Edwin Brock, Geoffrey Hill, Stevie Smith – review here
9. Denise Levertov, Kenneth Rexroth, William Carlos Williams
10. Adrian Henri, Roger McGough, Brian Patten (entitled: The Mersey Sound)
11. D. M. Black, Peter Redgrove, D. M. Thomas
12. Alan Jackson, Jeff Nuttall, William Wantling
13. Charles Bukowski, Philip Lamantia, Harold Norse
14. Alan Brownjohn, Michael Hamburger, Charles Tomlinson
15. Alan Bold, Edward Brathwaite, Edwin Morgan
16. Jack Beeching, Harry Guest, Matthew Mead
17. W. S. Graham, Kathleen Raine, David Gascoyne
18. A. Alvarez, Roy Fuller, Anthony Thwaite
19. John Ashbery, Lee Harwood, Tom Raworth
20. John Heath-Stubbs, F. T. Prince, Stephen Spender
21. George Mackay Brown, Norman MacCaig, Iain Crichton Smith
22. John Fuller, Peter Levi, Adrian Mitchell
23. Geoffrey Grigson, Edwin Muir, Adrian Stokes
24. Kenward Elmslie, Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler
25. Gavin Ewart, Zulfikar Ghose, B. S. Johnson
26. Dannie Abse, D.J. Enright, Michael Longley
27. John Ormond, Emyr Humphreys, John Tripp

Titles in italics are editions I’ve yet to acquire! 😀

19 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. A New Reading Project! (Gulp!) | Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings
    Aug 16, 2015 @ 11:36:43

  2. iammelusine
    Aug 16, 2015 @ 15:21:49

    Thank you for the poet list from the first series … saves me having to go and look them up. It was interesting to note how few female notes are there. And I will have to keep an eye open for #10 for myself just to see which of Roger McGough’s poems they included (as I love … most … of his stuff) and what the other Mersey poets are like.


    • kaggsysbookishramblings
      Aug 16, 2015 @ 15:59:43

      Good point – the lack of women is quite striking, isn’t it? I can send you a picture of the contents page if you like! 🙂


      • iammelusine
        Aug 18, 2015 @ 04:23:59

        Yes please and thank you.

      • kaggsysbookishramblings
        Aug 18, 2015 @ 08:05:02

        Will do!

  3. Cathy746books
    Aug 16, 2015 @ 17:30:12

    Roger McGough is one of my favourite poets. What a fab project. Can’t wait to read all about it!


    • kaggsysbookishramblings
      Aug 16, 2015 @ 18:48:09

      I’m looking forward to it very much myself!


  4. Christine Harding
    Aug 16, 2015 @ 17:54:27

    Good for you! I look forward to seeing your thoughts on the poems. I may even read along with you, if you don’t mind – I’ve still got my original New Poetry and those lovely Penguin Modern Poets, which opened up a whole new world for me.


    • kaggsysbookishramblings
      Aug 16, 2015 @ 18:47:52

      Please do! I’ve embarked on vol 1 of the Modern Poets though it will probably take me a while to get reviewing!


  5. poppypeacockpens
    Aug 16, 2015 @ 21:57:02

    That’s a heck of a challenge…

    How will you read them? One poem at a time, in sequence or in bigger chunks? Intrigued so will be following how you get on😊


    • kaggsysbookishramblings
      Aug 16, 2015 @ 22:22:20

      Definitely sequentially. One book at a time, starting a the first page and reading through to the end. Somehow that appeals more than randomness, though I shan’t set limits or amounts of poems to be read at a time – just what feels right when I’m reading them alongside other non-poetry! There’s a lot of poems there but I’m looking forward two them!


  6. Natalie
    Aug 17, 2016 @ 03:32:47

    I love this project and have read all of your reviews. Elizabeth Jennings grew into a mightily impressive poet. You have many superb treats in front of you. Thank you!


    • kaggsysbookishramblings
      Aug 17, 2016 @ 05:59:33

      Thanks Natalie! I think Jennings was a writer I read back in my school days but with memory it’s hard to tell… But I am looking forward to the next volume!


  7. Jason Preater
    Dec 31, 2016 @ 08:56:01

    Goodness me, I haven’t thought about the Penguin Poets since the eighties- picking them up in secondhand bookshops. I never got to some of them. No 16- I don’t recognise any of the names. Who is Harry Guest? Who is Matthew Mead? What a great idea!


    • kaggsysbookishramblings
      Dec 31, 2016 @ 09:00:09

      That’s what’s so intriguing about exploring them now – many (most?) of the poets are unknown to me and so it’s a real voyage of discovery. Strangely enough, I own a book by Harry Guest (a Welsh born poet who spent time in Japan). The book “The Cutting Room” features poems he wrote while in Japan in the late 1960s and my Middle Child picked it up for me as a gift one year. I enjoyed his work so getting to volume 16 eventually should be interesting!


      • Jason Preater
        Dec 31, 2016 @ 09:03:24

        Thanks for the head up on Guest. I’ll see if I can find that book on Abe.

      • kaggsysbookishramblings
        Dec 31, 2016 @ 09:05:08

        Excellent – good luck!

  8. Liz Dexter
    Sep 06, 2020 @ 10:18:34

    Can you highlight which ones you’ve got and which ones you need (for all 3 projects) so people can look out for them for you?


    • kaggsysbookishramblings
      Sep 06, 2020 @ 10:26:37

      That’s not a bad idea…. I might have a go at that later (though it would only be the Great Ideas and the Poetry, as I am lucky enough to have the whole box set of Moderns!)


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