Recommending A Little History of Poetry by John Carey (Yale University Press, 2020)

Beginning with the 4000-year-old Epic of Gilgamesh, preserved on clay tablets in cuneiform script, and concluding with a chapter on “Poets Who Cross Boundaries,” which includes Heaney, Walcott, Angelou, Oliver and Murray, John Carey’s A Little History of Poetry is a concise, fact-filled overview of the world’s greatest poets and some of their greatest poems.

Carey kept me engaged throughout with his lively narrative style which is liberally punctuated with intriguing biographical detail and backstory. This book is helpful to anyone who would like a reader-friendly introduction to world poetry or to someone like myself who is familiar with most of the poets presented here, having studied many of them a half century ago, and would like a refresher course.

That said, Carey offers far more than a refresher course. He homes in on the relationship of poets to their colleagues as well as the relationship of poetic movements to a larger literary/historical context, offering new insights and perspectives on world-renown poets and their poems. Highly recommended.

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Leah Stenson