Coming to university – be it as a fresher or returning after a summer off – can be daunting. If you’re feeling any anxiety, pressure, happiness or anywhere in between, it’s important to find some form of comfort among the sea of unpacked boxes flooding your bedroom floor; for me it’s a good book and a glass of vino.
Poems to Live Your Life By is a collection of poems arranged by Chris Riddell given to me by a dear friend upon leaving for Newcastle University to study English Literature. Riddell studied illustration at Brighton University and went on to settle down in the seaside city, where he now lives with his wife and three children. He is widely known for his illustration and works as a cartoonist. His caricature work, mainly of politicians, is featured in the Observer and has established him as a sort of political–artistic narrative voice for readers of the paper.
“For the times where one feels the pang of loneliness on those cold Newcastle evenings, “Youth” offers a comforting pillow of nostalgia and sentiment”
Poems to Live Your Life By is an intriguing read, taking the reader through a range of poems to suit any mood. When one is feeling nostalgic and fancies a more melancholic tone of poetry, a dip into the “Musings” chapter would be ideal. Here Riddell has gathered poems from the likes of William Shakespeare through to Robert Frost. Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” has always been a personal favourite of mine, focusing on the reality of choosing life paths – a feeling I’m sure most, if not all, students can relate to. The poem explores the idea of individual thought, and having enough confidence and the self-belief to follow your own way in life and not the one that may be so obviously apparent at the start of your journey. For the times where one feels the pang of loneliness on those cold Newcastle evenings, “Youth” offers a comforting pillow of nostalgia and sentiment. The chapter includes the work of current poet laureate Simon Armitage and includes a poem written by Riddell himself. “The Great Escape” is written in the first person and portrays the poet recalling his childhood, as an adult, from his garden studio. The poem is written in free verse and hits upon some of Riddell’s very personal childhood memories regarding his schooldays, focusing mainly on the sadness and abandonment he felt when left at school by his mother and his childlike need to escape the institution. The poem is bittersweet, and to me reflects a lot of the emotions I felt having being dropped off at university by my mother in my first year.
Riddell accompanies the poems with his intricate and thoughtful drawings. In some of the pages, the illustrations are carefully curated to match the literary contents of the poem, depicting beautifully crafted illustrations of the scene the writer is portraying. However, some pages are less specific, or reliant upon the literary contents of the works,instead depicting what appears in Riddell’s imagination upon reading the poems.
Being from Brighton myself, and having actually grown up with his son, the book holds a special place in my heart. Artistic eccentricities are prevalent and even indulged throughout this lovely little hardback. This is one for the dreamer. Be it a cosy night in your halls bedroom, a creative holiday read or one for the long Megabus journey back to university, I would highly recommend Poems to Live Your Life By.
Last modified: 11th October 2019