Which poem got you into poetry?
Can you trace your love of poetry back to one poem? Here are the poems that first captured the imaginations of our staff.

Looking to explore the rich and varied world of poetry? In celebration of World Poetry Day 2020 (21 March), NCW staff share the poems that kindled (and rekindled) their love of poetry…

John Donne – Holy Sonnet X: Death Be Not Proud

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.


“I was a cheery child and had a fondness for gloomy hymns and carols, so this poem really spoke to me. I still love rhyme, I still love poetry that works hard intellectually, emotionally and linguistically – and I think a lot of that can be traced to this metaphysical devotional that carries an argument as well as a banging rhyme scheme and a lot of emotion.” – Chris Gribble, Chief Executive

Seamus Heaney – Digging

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.


“There are so many vivid sounds, smells and sensations in this poem! Had me searching for both a spade and a pen!” – Evan White, Communications Placement

Watsky – Tiny Glowing Screens Pt.2

If we could see the stars
If we could see the context of the universe in which we exist
And we could see how small each one of us is
Against the vastness of what we don’t know
No one would ever audition for a McDonalds commercial again
And then where would we be?

“Hearing Watsky’s Tiny Glowing Screens was the first time I really appreciated that poetry didn’t have to be on the page to be both impactful and beautiful.” – Vicki Maitland, Programme Assistant

Mark Doty – Brilliance

She says, A bowl of goldfish?
He says he doesn’t want to start

with anything and then describes
the kind he’d maybe like,
how their tails would fan

to a gold flaring.


“There are a lot of poems that have struck a chord with me over the years and made me feel like I am rediscovering poetry again and again but Mark Doty’s ‘Brilliance’ sticks out from the rest. His gentle use of dialogue and simple language to create this strange anticipation of grief made me realise the emotional potential of the everyday word.” – Róisín Batty, Communications Assistant

Zena Edwards – In Other Words

Let words live, and let living bring the words to life.


“I came back to poetry as a teenager via music and song writing, and Zena Edwards was a really important artist for me. Combining spoken word with song, Zena showed me that the words were just as important as the music. Her love of language shines through in all her tracks, and perhaps especially ‘In Other Words’.” – Florence Reynolds, Programme Officer

Lewis Carroll – Jabberwocky

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Read more >> 

“I love the anarchic language, the sense in nonsense. This poem taught me that it’s OK to break the rules.” – Hannah Garrard, Programme Manager, Learning and Participation

Seamus Heaney – Death of a Naturalist

But best of all was the warm thick slobber
Of frogspawn that grew like clotted water
In the shade of the banks.


“When a very special English teacher put Seamus Heaney’s Death of a Naturalist in-front of me I turned from a child who feared words (as words equalled failure to me – as I am Dyslexic but didn’t know at the time), into a child who was hungry for more – his poems are delicious!” – Meg Rumbelow Hemsley, Development Manager

Michael Rosen – Fast Food

“Eating me is cruel. Eating me is murder. You can’t catch me, I’m the speedy hamburger.”

Listen to the full poem below:

“I expect like lots of people I first encountered poetry through Michael Rosen. I remember his poem Chocolate Cake almost as a physical feeling – the anticipation of the mum finding the chocolate cake has been eaten in the night. But my favourite poem of his is Fast Food about a mighty rebellious hamburger who jumps out of a pan and catches a plane to Jamaica.” – Alice Kent, Communications Director

Edward Lear – The Courtship of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo

I can merely be your friend!


“I probably first encountered Edward Lear’s ‘The Courtship of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo’ when I was little, when I loved it only for its for its rhyme and clip, its fowls and jug without a handle. It’s only with slightly older eyes and ears that it made me realise that poems could contain multitudes: unrequited love! Self-imposed exile! Complete despair! ‘I can merely be your friend!’! Six words that always suck the wind from my sails. To me, despite its obvious eccentricities, it’s completely heart-breaking and unbearably poignant.” – Peggy Hughes, Programme Director

Alfred, Lord Tennyson – Ulysses

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.


“I’ve always appreciated how Tennyson fully acknowledges the challenges and difficulties inherent in life, and in growing older, while simultaneously making a clear declaration about the importance of continuing. We might not have the same energy that we did when we were young, but that shouldn’t stop us from thinking big. Those final six lines are useful motivation whenever life feels overwhelming.” – Simon Jones, Digital Marketing Manager

Emily Dickinson – If you were coming in the fall

If I could see you in a year,
I’d wind the months in balls,
And put them each in separate drawers,
Until their time befalls.


“I have loved Emily Dickinson for as long as I can remember for her understatement and obliquity, that sense of the inner life which shines despite (or perhaps because of) her epilepsy, the difficulties of her family life and the turbulent times she lived in. As shown by her poem, If you were coming in the fall…, she’s adept at weaponising domestic imagery to talk about emotions, in this case the acute pain of waiting for the lover who never comes.” – Sarah Bower, Programme Manager

What’s your pick? Let us know on Twitter. Then why not write a poem of your own?

You may also like...

Nine Tips to Cure Writer’s Block

Eliza Robertson and Lucy van Smit help us break writers block with exercises and practices


22nd January 2020

Long Read
Tips and Advice

Poetry Isn’t Lost In Translation, It Is Translation

Somrita Ganguly and Arunava Sinha share their experience of working together on the Emerging Translator Mentorship programme


31st August 2018

Literary Translation

Case study: Luke Wright

From student poetry group to award-winning Fringe show


1st January 2017

Case Study