It’s tricky for me to pick just one poetry hero. I think as a writer, one is influenced by everything (and everyone) you read, see, and hear. So, to make it easier for myself, I’ve decided to split my heroes into two categories: alive and dead. The dead ones are easy – their poetry is there, fixed and unchanging, and helpfully collected into anthologies and mighty volumes of complete works. For me, I think it’s fairly obvious from my work that the two biggest influences on my writing are Byron and Shelley.


Shelley grabs me by the heart, and squeezes until I feel like crying. His anarchist, atheist, radical reforming ways are tempered by a poetic style that is suffused with a love of beauty for its own sake, and a belief in the inherent goodness of mankind that would not see him out of place hanging out in Haight-Ashbury with Ginsberg and The Grateful Dead. Byron is a slightly different prospect – there’s a swagger to his verse; he’s not ashamed of his voluminous learning and unapologetic for his forthright opinions. But this again is tempered; at times, he’s just plain laugh-out-loud funny, and, in an age where levity is often viewed as somehow ‘unworthy’ of poetry, his simple desire “to be a moment merry” is as laudable as it is refreshing.


Living poetry heroes are more problematic for me, not least because most of them are close friends (whom I don’t wish to embarrass), or even Shake The Dust judges (and I don’t want to be seen as currying favour), so my choice is somewhere out of left field. I’m going to plump for a man not best known for his poetry – the well-respected TV presenter Stephen Fry. For those who haven’t read it, I can’t recommend his book The Ode Less Travelled enough. It’s a ‘How To’ guide to poetry that I have found invaluable in my teaching work with Shake The Dust. It’s a book that is filled with a love and passion for our artform, but examined and explained without pretension or condescension, in an attempt to demystify poetry and strip it of all its perceived pomposity. Plus Stephen’s pretty clever and funny too!