I used to read a lot of poetry in my teens, and I’m married to a poet. The male in my house isn’t typical. But I was fascinated to learn that poetry makes other men weep too.
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry: 100 Men on the Words That Move Them is a new book co-edited by Anthony and Ben Holden, a London-based father and son duo. The book was published by Simon & Schuster in partnership with Amnesty International.
Why a book highlighting only male contributors? The answer to that is obvious to me, as men typically are thought of as not reading poetry these days, nor are they “permitted” to cry when moved, at least not publicly.
As the introduction explains: “I asked every male literary friend I saw to name a poem he couldn’t read or recite with breaking up.” Apparently many agreed and shared a poem that deeply moved them.
Each of the 100 poems is introduced by a paragraph or two about why it was chosen, and is followed by a biographical note of the artist who was moved by it. Numbered among the contributors are some of my favorite authors (Ian McEwan, Colum McCann, Nicholson Baker, William Boyd, Stephen Fry, Howard Jacobson) as well as some highly seductive actors (Hugh Bonneville, Kenneth Branagh, Jeremy Irons, Colin Firth).
Contributors, including authors, poets, playwrights, screenwriters, actors, musicians, directors and others, named their favorite stirring poetry from the 16th century to the 21st. Several poets’ work was chosen by more than one contributor: Housman, Hardy, Philip Larkin, W. H. Auden.
Readers, too, will doubtlessly at least tear up at many of the poems.
Crying expresses our very inability to articulate emotion, after all, and so what could be more human, honest, or pure than that?
Being a female who recalls my adolescent throat-catchings upon reading certain poems, and having eventually married a poet, certain of whose poems never fail to make me blink back tears, I was looking forward to seeing which poems the editors and contributors chose to include.
There were some surprises, though I should have guessed, of course: so much death. Graves, dying soldiers, emptiness after fullness, grief, loss of love, loss of a child, the way time passes too quickly. A few very short, some longer, many in rhyme. Some are by believers in something after the end, many are clearly not. I wouldn’t want to read the whole book at once. I don’t think many people will be able to.
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry is appropriate—no, prescribed—for an any-occasion gift for aspiring or accomplished poets or for anyone who loves words and has a heart. Even, or especially, men.