The Human Factor is the sequel to the Staying Alive trilogy of anthologies which have introduced many thousands of new readers to contemporary poetry, a fourth Bloodaxe world poetry anthology offering poetry lovers an even broader, international selection of 'real poems for unreal times'.
The range of poetry here complements that of the first three anthologies: hundreds of thoughtful and passionate poems about living in the modern world; poems that touch the heart, stir the mind and fire the spirit; poems about being human, about love and loss, fear and longing, hurt and wonder. There's also a focus on the human side of living in the 21st century, with many poems written over the past two decades relating to areas such as migration, oppression, alienation and the individual's struggle to hold on, stay connected and find meaning in a corporate world of people management, social disintegration and political disaffection in which violence can erupt without warning both globally and on the streets of our towns and cities.
But this book is also rare in reflecting the concerns of readers from all walks of life. Such has been the appeal of Staying Alive, Being Alive and Being Human that many people have written not only to express their appreciation of these books, but also to share poems which have been important in their own lives. The Human Factor draws both on this highly unusual publisher's mailbag, including many talismanic personal survival poems suggested by readers, as well as on poems which have “gone viral” after being shared on social media – today’s equivalent of the poem from the wallet or noticeboard passed around – because they speak to our times with such great immediacy.
Comments on Staying Alive:
‘These poems distil the human heart as nothing else… Staying Alive celebrates the point of poetry. It’s invigorating and makes me proud of being human’ – Jane Campion
‘Truly startling and powerful poems’ – Mia Farrow
‘Staying Alive is a blessing of a book…Has there ever been such a passionate anthology? These are poems that hunt you down with the solace of their recognition’ – Anne Michaels
‘Staying Alive is a book which leaves those who have read or heard a poem from it feeling less alone and more alive’ – John Berger
Comments on Being Alive:
‘I love Staying Alive and keep going back to it. Being Alive is just as vivid, strongly present and equally beautifully organised. But this new book feels even more alive – I think it has a heartbeat, or maybe that’s my own thrum humming along with the music of these poets. Sitting alone in a room with these poems is to be assured that you are not alone, you are not crazy (or if you are, you’re not the only one who thinks this way!) I run home to this book to argue with it, find solace in it, to locate myself in the world again’ – Meryl Streep
‘These poems remind us of what we have felt yet never fully articulated, what we have dreamt yet never believed entirely possible. Perhaps most importantly, the poems in here tell us there is nothing more powerful than language when its agenda is to reveal rather than to conceal or distort’ – Kamila Shamsie
'Hopefully, books like this will put poetry back into the mainstream' – Van Morrison
Comments on Being Human:
'Astley is wonderful at selecting poems with the kind of talismanic lines that really speak to people... Not only are the poems clustered by broad theme, with a lively introduction to each section by Astley, but within those groupings they speak to each other, in substance or across time…This collection certainly continues the excellent work of its predecessors, bringing new work and poets to audiences, and drawing new readers to poetry, and at a mere £12 for 500 poems, no one will be deterred from taking a risk. Being Human is stimulating, inspiring, intelligent, witty and life-affirming, the perfect companion on a journey, literal and otherwise' – Peggy Hughes, Scotland on Sunday
'This is not one of those controversial "best of" anthologies but one that expands our definition of greatness to encompass a multiplicity of styles, voices and cultures. Astley aims to introduce poetry to new readers and new poets to seasoned readers. It is difficult to imagine all but the most hardened philistines not being touched and inspired by this wonderful assembly of poems' – Bernardine Evaristo, The Times
'A book that makes the heart sing, which shows that the best of today's poetry…is a joy to behold, "charged", as Ezra Pound said, "with meaning to the utmost degree". Being Human, which runs to more than 500 pages, offers a glut of poetry from across the globe and, in so doing, renders redundant the "difficult" tag which so dogs the art. Above all it is a celebration of our capacity to embrace whatever's thrown at us… But subjects do not make poems, poets do. Astley's taste is catholic and inclusive and drawn to those who write with lyrical clarity and a keen eye… Being Human is not easy to summarise. It is a poetic Babel, a library in one volume' – Alan Taylor, The Herald (Scotland)
'Where Staying Alive and Being Alive were filled with poems that felt exigent, essential (even, in the case of Mary Oliver's subsequently much-quoted "Wild Geese", talismanic), the atmosphere of Being Human, as its title suggests, is more contemplative. Time – its passage and our relationship to it – is the overarching subject, and the section that tackles it specifically, "About time", sits at the heart of the book. Trains and rivers wind their way through the poems, memory is interrogated, and the moments of suspension in which, as Louis MacNeice has it, "Time was away and somewhere else", are rejoiced in… That act of noticing is what poetry ought to do, and what many of the superb poems in this anthology achieve. Let's hear it for modern verse' – Sarah Crown, The Guardian
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'Neil Astley's indispensable, endlessly surprising trilogy… The newest and last of these contains all the manifold virtues of the earlier two: another startlingly varied, unexpected and entirely accessible collection of contemporary poems - 500 per volume, no small undertaking - exploring the stuff of life, what Louis MacNeice called "this mad weir of tigerish waters/A prism of delight and pain"' – Catherine Lockerbie, The Scotsman