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Everybody Hurts Sometimes: Poems That Make Grown Men and Women Cry



Why read sad books?


Personally, I think it’s the same reason we’re drawn to sad or angry music in difficult times in our lives. Or the reason we love art that is melancholy, and don’t always gravitate to pictures of bright flowers and happy faces. It reminds us that people have been in our situation before. Others have grieved, have encountered tragedy. Others have felt defeated by adversity, not perpetually inspired to overcome it. Others have witnessed and acknowledged pain, and have shared it for us to recognise in ourselves.


These two anthologies, “Poems That Make Grown Men Cry”, and its recent twin, “Poems That Make Grown Women Cry”, were put together by father-and-son Anthony and Ben Holden. Their goal was to remind the adult world that an emotional response to poetry (and art in general) is not unseemly or juvenile. With the “Grown Men” book in particular, they hoped to contribute to a conversation about our concepts of masculinity in the modern world, and whether we deem it acceptable for a man to show and appreciate emotion – a realm that is traditionally “feminine”. The resulting collection was a bestseller. These anthologies can be appreciated read straight through, or by hopping from poem to poem in no particular order. Book clubs looking for something a little different may find a wealth of discussion here.


For both anthologies, the editors solicited submissions from men and women considered outstanding in their chosen field – actors, singers, journalists, architects, etc. – and paired their choice of poem with their personal explanation of why it moved them. Submissions range from Nick Cave to Ben Okri, from Carlos Reyes-Manzo to Tom Hiddleston. The second collection includes submissions from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Judi Dench, Hyeonseo Lee, Ursula k. Le Guin, and Elif Shafak, to name just a few.


Not every poem will move you to tears – in fact, some may not move you at all. But you are sure to encounter something unexpected, a new work or a perspective previously unknown to you. And there are old poetic friends here, with whom you can retread old paths. You may find something that once stung can no longer hurt you. Or you may discover that your life now includes emotional experiences you never could have predicted.


New to me (from the “men’s” collection, although the preface of each book makes it clear that these collections are not literally intended to be gender exclusive) was J.J. Abrams’ choice “The Lanyard”, by Billy Collins, which made a total mess of me and has stuck with me ever since. And Kenneth Branagh’s choice – an excerpt from Henrik Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt” – I’d read so long ago that it affected me in a completely different way than I remembered.


If you’d like to learn more about the process that went into compiling these anthologies (and about some of the outcry against the first book’s title) before you request one of the library’s copies, you will find these introductory articles from the Guardian illuminating:


So if you find yourself wanting some company with your misery – or if you just want to delve into a great variety of powerful poetry all in one place – give these a try. And keep those tissues nearby, just in case.



Despite my degree in literature, I've always found poetry daunting. I've decided to take it on, and the world of it is so vast and unfamiliar, I've been unsure where to begin. These seem about right. I haven't been moved to tears by a tale in a while (A Fine Balance made me bawl like a baby), and am looking forward to each and every tear, whether of sadness, or something more complicated.