Cover image for A poem a day
A poem a day
McCosker, Karen, 1948-
Uniform Title:
Poem for the day.
American edition.
Publication Information:
South Royalton, Vt. : Steerforth Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
vii, 484 pages ; 23 cm
General Note:
"First published in Great Britain under the title Poem for the day"--T.p. verso.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PR1175 .P595 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PR1175 .P595 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Once upon a time men and women of sense and sensibility knew by heart dozens of poems - Shakespeare's sonnets, stirring patriotic verse, odes to churchyards and elegies for the departed, the music of Swinburne or Poe or Yeats. Poems are meant to be voiced and A Poem a Day includes 366 poems old and new - one for each day of the year - worth learning by heart. Only two criteria were demanded of each poem for inclusion in this collection - it had to be short enough to learn in a day, and good enough to stand among the great poetry of the English language, from Chaucer to Sylvia Plath.

A Poem a Day is a book for the bedside. It contains many of the most familiar poems in the language and others that will come as a surprise. Most are complete and most are short, easily contained in a single page. But a few are substantial works, like Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" and Rudyard Kipling's "Gunga Din." Some have been read by every high school student (Andrew Marvel, "To His Coy Mistress") while others will be new to most readers (Thomas Hardy, "The Voice"). But all share the compression and charged meaning which are the soul of poetry.

In its British version the book went through seven printings in a year and was a bestseller. Now Karen McCosker has added a new foreword and fifty new poems for an American audience willing to make poetry a part of life.

Author Notes

Karen McCosker is a poet who lives in Maine and teaches at the University of Maine at Presque Isle.

Nicholas Albery is the founder of the Institute for Social Inventions and lives in London.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Both these anthologies aim at reviving the lost art of memorizing and reciting poems. Practical prosodist Hollander (his Rhyme's Reason [rev., 1989] is to poetic manners what Strunk and White's Elements of Style is to those of prose) offers "a hundred-and-some" poems that include plenty of old chestnuts--but those most palatable to contemporary tastes: no "Paul Revere's Ride" or "White Man's Burden" in this book!--and several worthy chestnuts-to-be, such as Paul Laurence Dunbar's "When Malindy Sings," Robert Hayden's deeply moving "Those Winter Sundays," and Stevie Smith's "Not Waving but Drowning." The selections are short, mostly rhymed and metrically regular, and, Hollander says, "carefully chosen for the pleasure and profit" of "younger readers." Fine, as long as younger is understood to denote an age range of roughly 5 to 90. Many of the same poems appear in coeditor McCosker's American adaptation of Albery's successful English daily reader. Yet among more than thrice as many poems altogether as in Hollander's gathering, they are overwhelmed, at least numerically. Qualitatively is another matter; the nonrepeaters are as good and include some tasty chestnuts--Byron's "Destruction of Sennacherib," for example--Hollander did not select. McCosker's tidy introduction deliciously relays her personal experiences of the pleasures of knowing poetry by, and also with, heart. --Ray Olson

Library Journal Review

McCosker, editor of the best-selling original British edition, and Albery, an American poet who changed 50 of the poems for this American version, have selected 366 poems‘one for each day of the year‘chosen for their brevity and, in the view of the editors, because they are examples of poetry "great" enough to be worth memorizing. In her foreword McCosker tells us, "To memorize a poem is much more than a mental exercise. Indeed, it is the only way to truly know a poem." A charming idea; however, the selection is almost entirely archaic: Shakespeare, Kipling, Pope, Blake, Whitman, Millay, even Chaucer. Contemporary poetry in general is poorly represented. Most of these poems rhyme tightly and use language of a distantly bygone era. And unless your circulation policy allows a patron to check a book out for a year, this volume cannot serve its purpose. Not recommended for libraries.‘Judy Clarence, California State Univ. Lib., Hayward (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One     New every morning Every day is a fresh beginning, Listen my soul to the glad refrain, And, spite of old sorrows And older sinning, Troubles forecasted And possible pain, Take heart with the day and begin again. Susan Coolidge (29 January 1835 - 9 April 1905) This poem has been used in a UK hospice to bring comfort to patients. Susan Coolidge (the pseudonym of Sarah Chauncey Woolsey) was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in January 1835. She composed three volumes of verse, wrote the Katy books and other unsentimental stories in a natural style for girls, and edited the letters of Jane Austen and Fanny Burney.     Bloody men Bloody men are like bloody buses -- You wait for about a year And as soon as one approaches your stop Two or three others appear. You look at them flashing their indicators, Offering you a ride. You're trying to read the destinations, You haven't much time to decide. If you make a mistake, there is no turning back. Jump off, and you'll stand there and gaze While the cars and the taxis and lorries go by And the minutes, the hours, the days. Wendy Cope (21 July 1945 -) Wendy Cope notes: "When I wrote this, in 1957, I must already have been a bit shortsighted. Nowadays, if I'm wearing glasses, I have no difficulty in reading the destination on buses."     Infant joy `I have no name: `I am but two days old.' What shall I call thee? `I happy am, `Joy is my name.' Sweet joy befall thee! Pretty joy! Sweet joy but two days old, Sweet joy I call thee: Thou dost smile, I sing the while, Sweet joy befall thee! William Blake (28 November 1757 - 12 August 1827) There are children in Shakespeare and there were nursery rhymers aplenty, but Blake was the first poet to speak to and for small children in their own right, in their condition of innocence.     Sympathy I know what the caged bird feels, alas! When the sun is bright on the upland slopes; When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass, And the river flows like a stream of glass; When the first bird sings and the first bud opes, And the faint perfume from its chalice steals -- I know what the caged bird feels! I know why the caged bird beats his wing Till its blood is red on the cruel bars; For he must fly back to his perch and cling When he fain would be on the bough a-swing; And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars And they pulse again with a keener sting -- I know why he beats his wing! I know why the caged bird sings, ah me, When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore, -- When he beats his bars and he would be free; It is not a carol of joy or glee, But a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core, But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings -- I know why the caged bird sings! Paul Laurence Dunbar (27 June 1872 - 9 February 1906) The importance of Dunbar's success to the black writers who would follow him was so significant that one wrote, "A Negro poet had not won recognition in the United States in the century and a quarter since the family of John Wheatly of Boston emancipated their slave girl, Phillis, in recognition of her Poems ... (1773)."     Poet-tree i fear that i shall never make a poem slippier than a snake or oozing with as fine a juice as runs in girls or even spruce no i wont make not now nor later pnomes as luverlee as pertaters trees is made by fauns or satyrs but only taters make pertaters & trees is grown by sun from sod & so are the sods who need a god but poettrees lack any clue they just need me & maybe you Earle Birney (13 May 1904 -) This poem is a parody of the six-stanza poem `Trees' by Joyce Kilmer, published in 1914, which starts "I think that I shall never see / A poem lovely as a tree" and which ends "Poems are made by fools like me, / But only God can make a tree." Earle Birney grew up in Calgary and on a farm in British Columbia. In the 1930s he had to leave the States because of his involvement in Trotskyist causes. He served in the Canadian Army from 1942 to 1945, and was an active writer until a severe heart attack in 1980. His poetry collections include Pnomes , and Jukollages and Other Stanzas , his memoirs are entitled Child Addict in Alberta , and he edited Twentieth Century Canadian Poetry . from Twelfth night sweet-and-twenty O mistress mine, where are you roaming? O, stay and hear! your true love's coming, That can sing both high and low: Trip no further, pretty sweeting; Journeys end in lovers meeting, Every wise man's son doth know. What is love? 'tis not hereafter; Present mirth hath present laughter; What's to come is still unsure: In delay there lies no plenty; Then come kiss me, sweet-and-twenty! Youth's a stuff will not endure. William Shakespeare (23 April 1564 - 23 April 1616) On this day in 1601 Twelfth Night was entered on the Stationers Register. This song is sung by the clown Feste in Twelfth Night , to two of the comic characters, Andrew Aguecheek and Sir Toby Belch. Feste offers a love song, or a song of good life. Sir Toby replies, "A love song, a love song," and Andrew agrees, saying, "Ay, ay. I care not for good life." Also on 6 January in 1586, John Shakespeare, Williams father, was deprived of his alderman's gown, as a consequence of his long absence from Stratford-on-Avon council meetings.     Sonnet 115 All we were going strong last night this time, the mots were flying & the frozen daiquiris were downing, supine on the floor lay Lise listening to Schubert grievous & sublime, my head was frantic with a following rime: it was a good evening, an evening to please, I kissed her in the kitchen -- ecstasies -- among so much good we tamped down the crime. The weather's changing. This morning was cold, as I made for the grove, without expectation, some hundred Sonnets in my pocket, old, to read her if she came. Presently the sun yellowed the pines & my lady came not in blue jeans & a sweater. I sat down & wrote. John Berryman (25 October 1914 - 7 January 1972) When Berryman was still a child, his father died of gunshot wounds, probably by suicide. Berryman won a scholarship to Cambridge University. At Princeton University, where he was a Creative Writing Fellow from 1943 to 1944, he completed many of the poems later published as Berryman's Sonnets . In Dream Songs (1969) he wrote: "I'm cross with God who has wrecked this generation ... he gorged on Sylvia Plath. That was a first rate haul. He left alive fools I could number with a kitchen knife" His novel Recovery admitted his struggle with alcoholism. He married three times.     Moonlight It will not hurt me when I am old, A running tide where moonlight burned Will not sting me like silver snakes; The years will make me sad and cold, It is the happy heart that breaks. The heart asks more than life can give, When that is learned, then all is learned; The waves break fold on jewelled fold, But beauty itself is fugitive, It will not hurt me when I am old. Sara Teasdale (8 August 1884 - 29 January 1933) Strange Victory , Teasdale's final volume of poetry, containing just twenty-two short poems, is arguably her best. In retrospect, the title seems not without its irony since this literary achievement could not sustain the poet as her health declined and she faced the fear of spending her last days as an invalid dependent on others. Teasdale died from taking an overdose of barbiturates. Accidents of birth The approach of a man's life out of the past is history, and the approach of time out of the future is mystery. Their meeting is the present, and it is consciousness, the only time life is alive. The endless wonder of this meeting is what causes the mind, in its inward liberty of a frozen morning, to turn back and question and remember. The world is full of places. Why is it that I am here? (The Long-Legged House , Wendell Berry) Spared by a car- or airplane-crash or cured of malignancy, people look around with new eyes at a newly praiseworthy world, blinking eyes like these. For I've been brought back again from the fine silt, the mud where our atoms lie down for long naps. And I've also been pardoned miraculously for years by the lava of chance which runs down the world's gullies, silting us back. Here I am, brought back, set up, not yet happened away. But it's not this random life only, throwing its sensual astonishments upside down on the bloody membranes behind my eyeballs, not just me being here again, old needer, looking for someone to need, but you, up from the clay yourself, as luck would have it, and inching over the same little segment of earthball, in the same little eon, to meet in a room, alive in our skins, and the whole galaxy gaping there and the centuries whining like gnats -- you, to teach me to see it, to see it with you, and to offer somebody uncomprehending, impudent thanks. William Meredith (9 January 1919 -) William Meredith was born in New York City. He served as a naval aviator in World War II. His first poetry collection, Love Letter from an Impossible Land , was published in 1944. He has served as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets as well as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. 1. I see the terrifying spaces of the universe that enclose me, and I find myself attached to a corner of this vast expanse, without knowing why I am more in this place than in another, nor why this little time that is given me to live is assigned me at this point more than another out of all the eternity that has preceded me and out of all that will follow me ( Thoughts on Religion , Pascal). Copyright (c) 1994 The Natural Death Centre. All rights reserved.