John Carey is one of our greatest champions of literature, sharing his passionate learning and reading over a long and distinguished career. In his latest book, A Little History of Poetry, he asks what is poetry? If music is sound organized in a particular way, poetry is then a way of organizing language. It is language made special so that it will be remembered and valued. It does not always work—over the centuries countless thousands of poems have been forgotten. This little history is about some that have not.
John Carey tells the stories behind the world’s greatest poems, from the oldest surviving one written nearly four thousand years ago to those being written today. Carey looks at poets whose works shape our views of the world, such as Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Whitman, and Yeats. He also looks at more recent poets, like Derek Walcott, Marianne Moore, and Maya Angelou, who have started to question what makes a poem “great” in the first place. This little history shines a light on the richness and variation of the world’s poems—and the elusive quality that makes them all the more enticing.