Love Is Strong as Death: Poems chosen by Paul Kelly

‘Many people I know say they feel poetry is difficult.’

I borrowed a copy.  I quickly realised that borrowing this book was not an option for me: I needed my own copy.  I bought a copy. I’ve skimmed through, I’ve read and reread.  And I will continue to read and reread.

An eclectic collection of poetry: love and death, language and sex.  There are poems I know – not by heart, because that is never a skill I’ve acquired.  I recognise phrases and look for the whole.  Or I remember who wrote a set of words, a poem that has become an anthem for a particular emotion.

See, I’m not even talking about this book and why I like it so much, simply about where poetry can take me.  And, like his songs, the poems Paul Kelly has chosen make me think.

Some poems are ancient:  the first five chapters from the Song of Solomon (the title ‘love is strong as death’ from the eighth chapter). And Catullus, Sophocles and Homer.

I saw some other old friends including Thomas Hardy, Emily Dickinson, William Blake, Kenneth Slessor, Banjo Paterson, Dylan Thomas and Judith Wright.

I skimmed Shakespeare, and met and fell in love with Maxine Beneba Clarke‘s ‘Brown’.

There are poems I remember from school, over half a century ago, and ones I’ve met since.  New friends and old friends: poems to comfort, poems to explore.

This is a personal selection, organised in alphabetical order by title.  Because, in Paul Kelly’s words:

 ‘Listing the poems alphabetically by title allows them to jostle one another in a democratic manner – the transcendent with the earthy, the loquacious with the sparse, the hymnic with the polemic.’

This is a book to own, to treasure, to buy as a gift for others.  It’s both a comfort and an inspiration.  And, just maybe, I might learn all of the words to some of these poems by heart.  Perhaps. 

‘And let poetry by your friend.  It can take you to the end.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith