Poems That Make Grown Men Cry by Anthony and Ben Holden (and My Own Choice)

Stephen Fry's choice for Poems That Make Grown Men Cry
Stephen Fry is just one public figure to contribute in Poems That Make Grown Men Cry by Anthony and Ben Holden.

I was thrilled to hear about Poems That Make Grown Men Cry by Anthony and Ben Holden a few weeks ago in The Guardian. The book is essentially what it says on the tin: an anthology consisting of stories from ‘100 men on the words that move them’.

After selecting “Adlestrop” by Edward Thomas (surely my favourite poet) for the book, Simon Winchester removed any doubts I had about buying the hardback (one of those expensive ones), and I went ahead and ordered it.

Partnering with Amnesty International, the Holdens (father and son) have done well to get such prominent figures on board with the book. Nick Cave, Stephen Fry, Colin Firth, Ian McEwan and Daniel Radcliffe are just a few of the men involved, and the book provides such a wonderful insight into the lives of each contributor.

I felt quite nosy flicking through the book. Finding out which poems make such familiar figures cry (or become close to it) is almost unsettling. It’s certainly not what you’re used to finding out in newspapers or interviews, but it’s fascinating to hear such personal revelations.

Some contributors have lost children, others, as the inlay states, are moved to tears by the way a poet captures, in Alexander Pope’s words, “what oft was thought, but ne’er so well express’d”.

What about the ladies?

Poems That Make Grown Men Cry by Anthony and Ben Holden
Is there a poem that makes you cry?

You may be shaking your head at how women are ignored in this anthology. However, I don’t really see it that way. Twelve female poets are chosen by the 100 men (fair enough, it could be more), and Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer provides the afterword.

Also, the acknowledgements have much to say on the question. After acknowledging that the book may be accused of sexism, Amnesty International states that:

  1. The book directly addresses the assumption that women are more emotional (or weaker) than men
  2. The emotional honesty of these 100 men (ones we tend to think of as successful and influential) is a healthy contrast to the behaviour that most societies expect of men.
The anthology is put together by a father and son, resulting in something that does have a brotherly and perhaps masculine feel to it, but it’s certainly readable for all.
And there’s nothing stopping us all from thinking about the poems that provoke the greatest emotional response in ourselves. Here’s my own answer to the question…

The poem that makes a grown woman cry:

Although I often had to study it at school, “Blackberry Picking” by Seamus Heaney is still a favourite poem of mine. It speaks to me of my childhood; of growing up in the English countryside with my family still together in the house that we built. To me it’s about childhood innocence and the bliss of it, but soon getting to the age where you realise it can’t last. It’s an emotional poem for me, but one I think of fondly, particularly upon reaching the following lines:

You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
sent us out with milk-cans, pea-tins, jam-pots
where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.

You can read “Blackberry Picking” here, or hear it read on YouTube by Seamus Heaney himself, who sadly died in August of last year.
Are there any poems that make you cry?

A note to reader: reading Poems That Make Grown Men Cry has given me ideas for an excessive amount of articles, so do expect more on poetry and our emotional response coming up.

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It's good to meet you! I started Tolstoy Therapy back in 2012 to share my healing journey through anxiety and PTSD with books. I also climb mountains, go on solo adventures, and write over at livewildly.co.

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