Poetry Review: Emergency Kit – Poems For Strange Times


Emergency Kit: Poems for Strange Times
Faber and Faber (paperback), 2004, first published in 1996
306 Pages

Publisher’s Website (Book Page)

Amazon (UK)



Emergency Kit is an anthology with many differences. It is, to begin with, a book which gives prominence to poems rather than to the poets who wrote them. It is truly international, bringing together poems not just from these islands but from many parts of the English-speaking world. It is the first book to identify a strain in the poetry of the last half-century which is characteristic of the ‘strange times’ we live in – an age when, as the editor’s note, scientific discovery itself has encouraged us to ‘make free with the boundaries of realism’. It values imagination, surprise, vivid expression, the outlandish and the playful above ideology and sententiousness. It is, in short, living proof that poetry in the English language continues to thrive and to matter.


Hamnavoe Market by George Mackay Brown

They drove to the market with ringing pockets.

Folster found a girl
Who put lipstick wounds on his face and throat,
Small and diagonal, like red doves.


Emergency Kit is good collection of poems. The poets and poems featured are diverse. Some great poets are included such as Seamus Heaney, Anne Sexton, Liz Lochhead (one of my favourite poets), Robert Graves, Fleur Adcock and Elizabeth Bishop to name but a few. There are some excellent poems in this collection and my personal favourites are Hamnavoe Market by George Mackay Brown, My Rival’s House by Liz Lochhead, Mr and Mrs Scotland are Dead by Kathleen Jamie, Ecstasy by Sharon Olds and The Applicant by Sylvia Plath. I enjoyed this collection but it’s not quite as good as Staying Alive from Bloodaxe Books. The main issue I had with this collection is that the poems are all lumped together. Staying Alive organises the poems into groups (i.e. Body and Soul, Roads, Dead or Alive). I thought the structure of Emergency Kit needed a bit of a work. Emergency Kit is a diverse, enjoyable collection.




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