By Deb A.
For Salman Rushdie, it's W.H. Auden's "In Memory of W.B. Yeats". For Daniel Radcliffe, it's "Long Distance II" by Tony Harrison. These are just a sample of the poems, collected over years by Anthony and Ben Holden, that bring one hundred (successful, creative, distinguished) men to tears.
The jarring premise of the anthology is neatly encapsulated in its title, Poems That Make Grown Men Cry: the implication being that a poem that can make even a man – tough as nails and hardened through generations of staring, unmoved, into the distance – get misty-eyed must be some poem indeed. Women are already so prone to tears that a tome titled Poems That Make Grown Women Cry would presumably be far too heavy for the fairer sex to carry home from the bookstore anyway.
Unsurprisingly, the anthology contains some incredibly moving works by famously talented poets (mostly from the 20th century); the content of the book is not the problem. Instead, it's the brazen implication that being visibly moved by art is most remarkable when the tears slide past a five o'clock shadow rather than a glossy lip.
There is a sequel with female contributors in the works, but this seems more like a concession to those who questioned the gender stereotypes at play, rather than part of the plan all along. After all, the idea for the collection arose when Anthony Holden noticed that some of his male friends were deeply moved by certain poems. Whether a successful, creative, distinguished woman blubbering over a sonnet would have piqued his interest –or anyone else's, for that matter – is a matter of speculation.
Nonetheless, the sequel will surely be an equally poignant collection. What a pity, though, that the gender divide is the starting point. Poems That Make Eminent Men and Women Cry might have addressed a much broader readership.
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