Poetry is enjoying a resurgence of late, something no doubt encouraged by Allie Esiri. On a quest to make poetry accessible to all, Allie co-created two apps, iF Poems and The Love Book – a brilliant collection of short literary extracts, poems and love letters that you could carry around in your pocket and read on the tube, or better still have read to you by the voices of Helena Bonham Carter, Emma Watson, Tom Hiddleston, Damian Lewis and more. I was addicted. Then came two bestselling poetry anthologies, A Poem for Every Night of the Year (Independent Bookshop Week Award 2017) and A Poem for Every Day of the Year. Plus Allie regularly curates events and speaks at literature festivals like Hay, Bath and Cheltenham – we’re already looking forward to her delve into women’s poetry at the National Theatre this November. Here we catch up with the Londoner about autumn and the benefits of learning poems by rote:
West London. I like to escape at weekends and to travel, but really I like to live near friends and a coffee shop.
When did you get into poetry, and how?
I loved to read short things a child. I had a poetry anthology that I’d read and re-read. The poems spoke to me. I guess I do what I do now in the hope that more people have a chance to fall in love with poetry.
Which poem reminds you of London?
Wordsworth’s ‘Upon Westminster Bridge’. He was travelling from the Lake District with his sister Dorothy, who said of the scene: “Yet the sun shone so brightly with such a pure light that there was even something like the purity of one of nature’s own grand Spectacles.”
Do you believe there’s any benefit to learning a poem by rote?
I’ve seen people grow two inches when reciting a poem. I see it boosting confidence. I advise intravenous poetry: poems can be a medicine for the soul, they can make you laugh, help you express the inexpressible, be a boost of mental energy for the day ahead or be as calming as a camomile tea.
What’s your favourite London bookshop? Daunt’s.
What’s at the top of your reading list? “Conversations with Friends” by Sally Rooney, “1599” by James Shapiro, “Ain’t I a Woman” edited by Ilona Linthwaite.
What do you like about London in the autumn? Conkers; stationery shops; theatres not being hot.
What’s next? A boxset of CDs of A Poem for Every Day of the Year, with poems read unbelievably brilliantly by Helena Bonham Carter and Simon Russell Beale is available for pre-order now, and comes out on November 1, in time for Christmas. amazon.co.uk
Allie Esiri will be at The National Theatre on 16 November hosting Women Poets Through the Ages. Allie and guest actors including Joanna Lumley (and others to be announced shortly) will lead the audience on a highly entertaining and powerful journey through women’s poetry.