The Heavy Bear Who Goes with Me is the ultimate reader’s companion to poetry: a selection of 100 classic poems from ﬁve centuries with lively “companion” commentaries to go with and illuminate each poem. The heavy bear can be many things which go with the bearer: another self or alter ego, the burden of poetry or art, what weighs us down and makes us do what we don’t really want to do as well as what pulls us back to our selves, the animal side which makes us bearable or human.
The editors’ selection ranges from Wyatt, Ralegh and Shakespeare in the 16th century, to Donne, Milton and Marvell in the 17th, to Swift, Pope and Johnson in the 18th. It embraces the Romantic visions of Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley and Keats, as well as the later, darker outlook of Browning, Tennyson and Hardy, and seeks enlightenment in the shadowlands of Emily Dickinson, Wilde and Yeats.
As well as journeying with the reader through some of the greatest poems in the English language, The Heavy Bear encounters many modern poets, not least Delmore Schwartz, whose sense of conﬂict between self and society gave birth to this anthology’s title-poem, ‘The Heavy Bear Who Goes with Me’. Others include some of the major figures in Irish poetry Brendan Kennelly knew personally as well as wrote about, including Patrick Kavanagh, Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Derek Mahon and Eavan Boland.
The poems keep each other company in this highly original compilation, questioning each other in a continuing thematic, imagistic debate which the editors seek to explore in their responses, trying at all times to deﬁne their sense and vision of poetry as disturbing, questioning, enlightening companionship for the reader.
Both editors are renowned communicators of poetry: the late Brendan Kennelly as one of Ireland’s best-loved poets, as Professor of Modern Literature at Trinity College Dublin, and as a popular cultural commentator on Irish television; Neil Astley as founder and editor of Bloodaxe Books and editor of the Staying Alive anthology series. This long awaited anthology was published on 17th April 2022, which would have been Brendan Kennelly's 86th birthday.
'We have chosen the title of Delmore Schwartz's poem as the anthology’s title, The Heavy Bear Who Goes with Me, for several reasons. Poems are written because of various kinds of "withness"; the sense of mortality, failure in love, the challenge of history, the nature of consciousness, dreams, loneliness, prejudice, inexplicable hatreds, the urge to make sense of confusion, the seething need to protest against forms of injustice, to talk to somebody about things only partly grasped or understood, or not grasped or understood at all but hurtful and pressing, violating sleep, miscolouring daylight’s encounters and images, the sense of suffering an appetite that can never really be fed… Every poem is an act of faith in that imaginative momentum; every poem longs to connect with that energy whether it be pressingly immediate or blatently ignored. This is the connecting power that enables Schwartz, for example, to bring the heavy bear lumbering into our lives. Our dialogue with the gross, barging presence follows that moment of admission. Our hope, as editors, is that we have provided an anthology of poems marked by dialogue and connection, although these poems may be, usually are, born of the awareness of mortality, failure, inadequacy, loss, absurd or gross caricatures or perversions of what we take to be reality. Why not have it out, once and for all, with the heavy bear who goes with us?' – Brendan Kennelly
‘In a very real sense this anthology, the feel and soul of it, has everything of Kennelly’s warmth, bigness of heart and generosity of spirit... An exemplary anthology has been created here, a teaching instrument, but also a Rescue Remedy for every wilting soul in the world of poetry.... In completing the task first begun with his old Irish friend, Neil Astley has given us one of the most inspiring teaching instruments that writing teachers could ever hope to have as they stand before a class, wondering how to begin. Well, they can begin here.’ – Thomas McCarthy, Dublin Review of Books, on The Heavy Bear Who Goes with Me
‘The title The Heavy Bear Who Goes with Me comes from a Delmore Schwartz poem… The editors use the title as a way for Brendan Kennelly to “talk about the poems he loves”. In a warm and affectionate preface, Astley writes that he and Kennelly “wanted this anthology to embody our conviction that poetry is a force for change”... And if, as Kennelly notes in the introduction, poetry is "a kind of pitiless education", he writes less pitilessly about these chosen poems and more with a mischievous kind of generosity.' – Paul Perry, Sunday Independent
‘The Heavy Bear Who Goes with Me – 100 classic poems chosen by Neil Astley and Brendan Kennelly – is all about the conversation…The conversation between Kennelly and Astley, which began in 1996, spawned a special collaboration, showcasing Kennelly’s signature passionate stance.’ – Martina Evans, The Irish Times
'This is my friend Brendan’s final gift to us. Together with his friend and publisher Neil Astley, he has given us an anthology “powered by curiosity” (and a) sense of enquiry”. The commentaries to each poem resonate when the man from Kerry is in control. A reminder to me of what a wonderful communicator he was.' - Hayden Murphy (Books of the Year, 2022)
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