Staying Alive is an international anthology of 500 life-affirming poems fired by belief in the human and the spiritual at a time when much in the world feels unreal, inhuman and hollow. These are poems of great personal force connecting our aspirations with our humanity, helping us stay alive to the world and stay true to ourselves.
Many people turn to poetry only at unreal times, whether for consolation in loss or affirmation in love, or when facing other extremes and anxieties. Staying Alive includes many of the great modern love poems and elegies, but it also shows the power of poetry in celebrating the ordinary miracle, taking you on a journey around many of the different aspects of everyday life explored in poems.
A strong poem is not just for crisis. Such a poem is there for all times, helping us face or embrace daily change and disruption. It will also speak to us when nothing seems to be happening, when the poem's importance is in helping us stay alive to the world and stay true to ourselves.
Staying Alive has reached a wider readership than any other anthology of contemporary poetry. It is a landmark in the history of literary publishing. The first in a series, Staying Alive was followed by a sequel, Being Alive (2004), a companion anthology, Being Human (2011), and by a fourth volume, Staying Human: new poems for Staying Alive (2020). These anthologies have been welcomed not only by poets but by a wide range of well-known people respected for their work in fields other than poetry – all avid readers of poetry. They want to recommend these books above all other anthologies of contemporary poetry.
‘…this generous, compendious transatlantic volume is still the one [anthology] I most often recommend.’ – Kate Clanchy, The Week, 29 September 2020 (Best books feature), recommending Staying Alive
‘This celebrated collection …seems appropriate to the moment, an international anthology of 500 poems wrestling with the vicissitudes of human existence. It is not some feelgood froth of life-enhancing affirmations. These poems are carved out of daily struggles, embrace darkness as well as light, and have the metal taste of blood in their mouths. But in their vividness and empathy, they serve as reminders that we are not alone.’ - Neil McCormick, The Telegraph, best books to read during lockdown (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. The title says it all. I have long waited for just this kind of setting down of poems - and the way they work together is wonderful - all come together to talk at the same table. 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
‘Staying Alive is a magnificent anthology. The last time I was so excited, engaged and enthralled by a collection of poems was when I first encountered The Rattle Bag. I can’t think of any other anthology that casts its net so widely, or one that has introduced me to so many vivid and memorable poems’ – Philip Pullman
‘Usually if you say a book is “inspirational” that means it’s New Agey and soft at the center. This astonishingly rich anthology, by contrast, shows that what is edgy, authentic and provocative can also awaken the spirit and make its readers quick with consciousness. In these pages I discovered many new writers, and I’ve decided I’m now in love with our troublesome epoch if it can produce poems of such genius’ – Edmund White
‘A vibrant, brilliantly diverse anthology of poems to delight the mind, heart and soul. A book for people who know they love poetry, and for people who think they don’t’ – Helen Dunmore
'Staying Alive is a wonderful testament to Neil Astley's liftetime in poetry, and to the range and courage of his taste. It's also, of course, a testament to poetry itself: to its powers to engross and move us, to its ability to challenge and brace us, and to its exultation. Everyone who cares about poetry should own this book.' - Andrew Motion
‘When you choose your book for Desert Island Discs, this should be it. Staying Alive proves that poetry is the most sustaining and life-affirming of literary forms. A triumph’ – Helena Kennedy QC
‘This is a book to make you fall in love with poetry…Go out and buy it for everyone you love’ – Christina Patterson, Independent
‘A revelation…An anthology like this should make poetry reviewers feel not just enthusiastic but evangelical. Buy it. Leave it around the house. Give it to friends. It could keep them alive’ – John Carey, Sunday Times
‘Anyone who has the faintest glimmer of interest in modern poetry must buy it. If I were master of the universe or held the lottery’s purse strings, there would be a copy of it in every school, public library and hotel bedroom in the land. On page after page I found myself laughing, crying, wondering, rejoicing, reliving, wishing, envying. It is a book full of hope and high art which restores your faith in poetry’ – Alan Taylor, Sunday Herald
‘The book is without equal as a handbook for students and readers’ – Sian Hughes, Times Educational Supplement
‘The best anthology I’ve read or am likely to read…devastating’ – Michael Colgan, Irish Times (Books of the Year)
‘I don’t often read poetry, so Staying Alive was a revelation’ – Ian Rankin, Sunday Telegraph (Books of the Year)
‘A book that travels everywhere with me… It is full of beautiful writing that can blow your mind’ – Beth Orton, The Times.
‘I love Staying Alive and keep going back to it. Being Alive is just as vivid… But this new book feels even more alive – I think it has a heartbeat’ – Meryl Streep [on Being Alive]
Ireland: Click here to order from Books Upstairs in Dublin
USA: Click here to order from Indiebound or Bookshop.org