Here we offer students advice on what to consider when it comes to compiling a great poetry anthology.


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Anthologise: Points for Students to Consider

Before you start….

1.  Getting a group together to compile a poetry anthology
The competition allows for any size of group from a couple of friends working together to a whole class or even school anthology. Large groups will need careful organisation by teachers. Individual students are eligible but will need to be supported by a teacher.

A useful way of working is to form what we’ll call a reading group of students interested in compiling a poetry anthology. You should begin by reading the competition rules and regulations carefully to make sure that everyone understands what is required. The next thing is to have a really good brainstorm (see ideas below) where you make the important decisions about what kind of anthology you want to produce. You also need to work out a schedule of meetings (perhaps once a week?) working back from the deadline date so that you have time to do all that is necessary without being too rushed.

2. First of all, you need to decide what kind of an anthology  you want to compile as this will influence and guide your choice of poems. It might be:

  • a general anthology in which case you start by looking for any and every good poem you can find;
  • a thematic anthology in which case you collect as rich a variety of poems that you can find on the subject area.   Here are some examples:
    Changes,  In the Family, The Word on the Street, Life Lines, Friends and Family, Global Warming, Peace of Mind, Windows on the World...or lift a quote or line from a poem for your title:  ‘Tread softly’, ‘A certain slant of light’...or even a song lyric:  ‘Fix you’, ‘Sometimes it lasts in Love’....... 
  • an anthology featuring a particular form or style or category (e.g. haiku, narrative, Caribbean poetry, sonnets, short poems….)

3. Next, you need to decide on the age group of your audience as again this will influence your choice of poems. 

  • your own age group? 
  • younger readers? 
  • generalist?

4.  Finding the poems
If you take the competition seriously, you are going to spend a lot of time in libraries in the next few months as they will be your key resource for finding poems. 

  • Start with the poetry section of your school library and find out what is available. 
  • Visit your local library and do the same with their poetry section.
    To find out where your nearest public library is:
    Remember you can request the purchase of volumes that a public library does not own. Not too many!
  • For those of you who live in London, the best place to go is The Saison Poetry Library at London’s Southbank Centre:
    It’s a great resource for finding just the right poem for your anthology. They can help you find poems on any subject, poems in different forms, or by the poet’s nationality. You can email the library at [email protected], or phone 020 7921 0943 with any enquiries. You can also visit the library, individually or as a group, Tuesday to Sunday, 11-8pm. Do contact the library if you wish to arrange a class visit, and you will have over 200,000 volumes of poetry at your disposal from which to select the very best poems for your anthology.
    The library also runs The poems on this site have all been featured in magazines. Will you give any of them their first place in a published book?  
  • Scotland has the Scottish Poetry Library based in Edinburgh:
    Like the Poetry Library on the South Bank, the SPL can help you find poems on any subject, poems in different forms, or by the poet’s nationality. The emphasis is on modern poetry written in Scotland, in Scots, Gaelic and English, but historic Scottish poetry – and contemporary works from almost every part of the world – feature too. You can email the SPL at [email protected], or phone 0131 557 2876 with any enquiries. You can visit the SPL individually or as a group; it’s open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday 10-5; on Thursdays 10-7 and on Saturdays 10-4 – you’ll find it towards the foot of the Royal Mile, not far from the Parliament. You might like to look at ‘Best Scottish Poems’ on the website for the annual selection of 20 Scottish poems by different editors, chosen from books and magazines:


  • Literature Wales:
    Promotes Literature in Wales; contains two searchable databases (one for writers and one for publishers), has a page with some of Gillian Clarke’s poems (English language - and (Welsh language -  The Taliesin website also has a number of Welsh language poems at  The National Library of Wales website has a Digital Mirror section ( which contains a few manuscripts with Medieval Welsh poems included e.g. Hendregadredd
    The National Library of Wales website also hosts 50+ Welsh journals online, all which can be browsed for free ( You can also search for poetry on The People’s Collection website at - a great number of old poems are available in their archives
    Info on Wales’ lending libraries is available at    
  • Sheer Poetry:
     An innovative and constantly changing UK poetry site where you will find resources on poetry by the poets themselves. Sheer Poetry has sections for secondary teachers and students, and for university level and the general poetry reader. Here you will find poems, articles, workshops, interviews and essays, question sessions and more, about and by Carol Ann Duffy, Gillian Clarke, Seamus Heaney, Simon Armitage, and others.  
  • Begin by looking at anthologies (some are suggested below) to see what kind of poems have been selected, their variety, how they have been put together etc.   
  • Find out which anthologies you admire and which you don’t – and think about why. Discuss these matters with your co-anthologists.   
  • Examine the parts of anthologies you have probably never looked at closely before: the cover; the acknowledgements; the contents; the list of poems and poets; the introduction or foreword if relevant…  
  • Once you have identified poets whose work you like and think is suitable for your anthology, find out what collections they have written by looking on Amazon or Google on the internet.  
  • Check out the Poetry Book Society’s bookshop website for a comprehensive list of books at discounted prices: and their main website   
  • The Poetry Society’s website is a good resource:  and their links page will help with further research: 
    Have a look at their Young Poets Network:
    Here you will find all sorts of interesting items on poetry writing, reading and performing.  
  • Apples and Snakes:
    Apples and Snakes is England's leading organisation for performance poetry and spoken word.  Their website has information about poets and poetry, education resources and features a different poet every month.  
  • Publishers often feature their poets and poems on their websites.
    Have a look at Peepal Tree Press:
    who publish Caribbean, Black British and South Asian poetry and their website features poems and poets with a poem of the week.
    Bloodaxe Books have a page where you can watch and hear poets reading their work: and a link to their poets reading on YouTube:
  • YouTube – is the place to discover and watch poets in performance:
  • The Poetry Archive
    The Poetry Archive is a great place to research and learn about poetry and is the world's premier online collection of recordings of poets reading their work. You can enjoy listening to the voices of contemporary English-language poets and of poets from the past, absolutely free of charge. You can also read the text of their poems.  The Poetry Archive is growing all the time so it is worthwhile to visit the site on a regular basis to enjoy their latest recordings. You can also purchase CDs of all Archive titles from the Poetry Bookshop Online .  
  • The British Library
    The British Library has extensive collections of poetry in many of the languages of the world and from all periods up to the present time. Poems in books, periodicals, manuscripts, newspapers and sound recordings make up perhaps the greatest collection of its kind.  
  • For more information on poets of the past and poems visit:
  • Get hold of as many single poet collections as you can and share out the reading with your group. As well as libraries, it’s worth looking in second hand bookshops, charity shops and on market stalls.  
  • You are not reading the poems as slowly and thoughtfully as you would do if you were reading for pleasure or to study in class - you are reading them more quickly at first to get a sense of which might be suitable for the anthology (remember you will have to discard a lot of good poems along the way).

5.  Reading anthologies
Reading excellent anthologies that knowledgeable editors have compiled can give you inspiration. When you examine an anthology, consider what you think were the key factors influencing the choice of poetry before you read the editor’s introduction, if there is one. Here are a few that we recommend:

 Charles Causley The Sun Dancing (you might think a book of religious verse  for children would be rather dull and worthy, but this isn’t. See also his  wonderful anthologies of magic and the sea for Puffin.)

 Wendy Cope has compiled some anthologies as lively as her own collections.  See for example Is That the New Moon? [1989, poems by women] Funny side  101 humorous poems (Faber) and for children The Orchard Book of Funny  Poems [1993].

 Carol Ann Duffy - as well as being a brilliant poet, our Laureate is also an  outstanding anthologist – volumes include I Wouldn’t Thank You for a  Valentine [1992, love], Overheard on a Saltmarsh [2004, poets’ favourite  poems] and Stopping for Death [1996, death].

 Seamus Heaney & Ted Hughes (eds) The Rattle Bag (a great favourite in  schools, is an exciting international volume, full of surprises).  See also  Heaney & Hughes’ (eds)  The School Bag.

 Geoffrey Summerfield compiled Voices and Junior Voices back in the 1970s but  they still look innovative today. 

 Other good anthologies worth dipping into include

Emergency Kit, ed. Jo Shapcott and Matthew Sweeney (Bloodaxe)

Staying Alive, Being Alive, Being Human ed. Neil Astley (Bloodaxe)

From the Republic of Conscience – an anthology for Amnesty International. The title poem is, of course, that of Seamus Heaney’s poem in his collection, The Haw Lantern.
Women's Work edited by Eva Salzman and Amy Wack (Seren)

Red: Contemporary Black British Poetry, edited by Kwame Dawes (Peepal  Tree Press)

Here to Eternity: An Anthology of Poetry, edited by Andrew Motion (Faber)

Poems on the Underground  edited by Gerard Benson, Judith Chernaik, Cicely Herbert (Phoenix)

The Ring of Words edited by Roger McGough (Faber)

101 Sonnets edited by Don Paterson (Faber DATE)

Michael Rosen's A-Z: The best children's poetry from Agard to Zephaniah  (Puffin 2009)

Dancing in The Street edited by Adrian Mitchell (Anthology for teenagers, Orchard 1999)

New Caribbean Poetry edited by Kei Miller (Carcanet Press 2007)

The Penguin Book of Poetry from Britain and Ireland Since 1945, edited by Simon Armitage and Robert Crawford (Penguin 1998)

The New Poetry, edited by Michael Hulse, Davis Kennnedy & David Morley (Bloodaxe1993)

The Firebox, edited by Sean O’Brien (Picador 1998)

Sixty Women Poets, edited by Linda France (Bloodaxe 1993)

It Takes One to Know One, edited by Gervase Phinn (Penguin 2001)

Did you know... 

• during both world wars, it was common for soldiers to carry a poetry anthology in their pockets
• the majority of people turn to poetry when planning a wedding or a funeral
• lines of poetry and sometimes whole poems are often the last things that remain in the memory 
Talk to each other about what makes a good anthology (and a bad one!) after your research.

6.   Good anthologising practice 

  • the best anthologists always read a lot and they select mainly from single poet collections – this is known as going back to original sources
  • the worst anthologists do the lazy thing of mainly picking poems from other people’s anthologies – never a good idea!
  • Don’t forget that as well as reading poems from the page, you should be reading them aloud to test them for their place in your anthology.         Philip Pullman makes a crucial point about how poetry should be enjoyed: namely that it must live not only in the mind and the heart, but in the mouth. It has to be spoken. "The experience of reading poetry aloud when you don't fully understand it," he writes, is "like suddenly discovering that you can play the organ. Rolling swells and peals of sound are at your command."  

7.  Coverage i.e. factors to think about in helping you decide which poems to  select and which to reject for your anthology

  • variety – make your range as wide and rich as possible, so try to avoid including more than one poem by any poet
  • form – cover as many poetic forms as you can but only if the poems are good – raps, lyrics, sonnets, ballads,  haiku, tanka, free verse, shape poems, found poems, dialect poems, songs…
  • gender – many anthologies have a poor representation of women poets even though there are so many great women poets out there. Make sure you don’t fall into that trap!
  • culture – we live in a multi-ethnic society so make sure your choice of poetry reflects it (have you looked at the work of John Agard, Valerie Bloom, Imtiaz  Dharker, Jackie Kay, Daljit Nagra, Jean ‘Binta Breeze’, Kwame Dawes, Benjamin Zephaniah to name but a few?). What about the work of other Scottish, Welsh, Irish poets?  
  • internationality – there’s a whole world of poetry out there from the ‘four corners’ of the globe.
  • regionality – you might like to compile an anthology based on poetry from the region where you live. The Mersey Beat (Liverpool, of course) for example, made a big impact when it was published and continues to be popular. It’s good to engage with your own locality and its history.
  • language – don’t automatically assume that all your poems will be in standard English – consider including dialect poetry (eg. Robert Burns Scottish dialect, Grace Nichols nation language), poems in translation, perhaps occasionally a poem in a different language.
  • past and present – it’s usually a good thing to have plenty of contemporary poetry in an anthology but don’t forget the great poetry of the past that has lasted the test of time. (But if you do go for Wordsworth, for example, see if you can find a poem that is less well known than ‘The Daffodils’! Indeed, if you go for Romantic poets, maybe choose someone less well known than Keats, Byron, WW, Coleridge, Shelley; there are wonderful poems by John Clare that are little anthologised or how about Charlotte Smith, Jane Taylor, Dorothy Wordsworth?)
  • novelty value – it’s good to have a surprise element in an anthology, perhaps finding a poem that other poetry editors wouldn’t think of using? At any rate, don’t just go for the tried and tested. 
  • songs/lyrics -  many songs have wonderful lyrics that are poetry. Think about Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, the Beatles, Florence and the Machine, Stereophonics, Bon Iver…. 
  • anon – some of the poems have anonymous authors as you’ll see once you start researching in anthologies. These poems are often funny, wise, and have lasted the test of time. 
  • the oral tradition – the same is true of poems which come from an oral rather than written source and have been around for a very long time, honed by years of being passed on from mother to child over many generations. These poems include nursery rhymes (some of which deserve an x certificate!), playground rhymes, number rhymes, ditties, jokes etc. They are suitable for inclusion in your anthology if they use language musically. For example, here’s an African saying ‘If you can walk/you can dance/If you can talk/ You can sing.’  and an English rhyme ‘Hey diddle dinkety, poppety, pet,/ The merchants of London they wear scarlet.  

8.  Deciding how to order the poems is very important. 
It can be:

  • random  - can be a bit hit or miss, but you can get some striking juxtapositions
  • loose narrative - can make old poems new and stand tall next to their neighbouring poems, orchestrating emotion and thought
  • alphabetical (as in The Rattle Bag)
  • thematic ordering where each poem speaks to the ones next to it, making connections, agreeing and disagreeing (as in the anthology Staying Alive)  

9. Weeding

  • you have to be ruthless
  • only the best will do
  • each poem has to earn its place in your anthology
  • you are bound to have to exclude poems you love
  • Start by re-reading the poems, try them out in different orders.  You can do this on a computer but it’s often easier to have photocopied sheets of paper you can swap around.  Some people have been known to hang their poems on a washing line and walk around the line adding, removing, re-pegging in different places.
  • Listen for the voice of the anthology in your order.  Does it have changes in tone, emphasis, emotion; does the order flow, do the poems speak to each other or jostle each other.  It can be very helpful to make this final decision through discussions in your group and with friends and family.
  • The Title – is very important.  It is the first thing that is seen and read on the cover of your anthology.  It should be arresting and make you want to open the book.  You may find the title from a theme if you have chosen one; it may be a line from a poem or a song; or a word or phrase which sums up the voice of your anthology.
  • Foreword – this is the introduction to your anthology (500 words max).  It should explain the thinking behind the group of chosen poems and invite the reader  to explore the anthology.


Technical tips and information

If you have encountered poetic terms you do not understand, try googling them or go to The Poetry Archive site, they have a useful glossary of poetic terms using poems as examples.

One of the most time-consuming aspects of editing an anthology is sorting out the permissions. Every potential poem you wish to include in your anthology is either out of copyright (the poet has been dead for 70 years or more) or in copyright (you have to pay to reproduce the poem). Although only the winning anthology will actually have to pay real fees, every entry must go through the process of estimating the permission costs of the anthology and, indeed, keep it within the £2,000 budget (see below). You should always have a few out of copyright poems in reserve, just in case your permissions exceed your budget.

If poems are out of copyright, you can reproduce them without getting permission and without paying a fee. If they are in copyright, permission will be needed to reproduce them, and this will usually mean paying a fee to the author or the organisation acting on their behalf.

The winning anthology will have a budget of £2,000 towards permissions.   In the happy event that you are the winner, Picador, the publisher, will arrange your permissions for you, but will expect to see your costing.

Permissions and how to budget for them

What are copyright permissions?
The poems you will be choosing for your anthology will be either out of copyright or in copyright. If they are out of copyright, you can reproduce them without needing permission and so without paying a fee. If they are in copyright, permission will be needed to reproduce them, and this will usually mean paying a fee to the author or the organisation acting on their behalf.

How do we know whether they are out of copyright or in copyright?
In the United Kingdom, copyright ends seventy years after the year in which the author died (for works with two or more authors, it’s the last author to die that counts). The winning anthology will be published in 2013, so any poem whose author died before 1943 is out of copyright here. Any other poem or translation, whether previously published or not, is in copyright and permission will be needed to reproduce it.

How many poems should we choose?
The anthology will be a B-format paperback of 64pp. B-format is 197mm high and 130mm wide, the standard size for Picador paperbacks. You should allow ten pages for the front matter (the title page, foreword by Carol Ann Duffy, contents etc.) and two pages at the end for the permissions, leaving fifty-two pages for poems, at about thirty lines per page. Put together this means you should choose about forty-five to fifty poems – you don’t have to fill every page.

How much will it cost?
Poems that are out of copyright can be reproduced without charge.
For this anthology, the fees for poems that are in copyright are likely to be from £50 to £125 each, but typically £75–80. Long poems usually cost more than short ones, and familiar ones more than less well-known ones, but the most important factor is the importance of the poet: a poet of world renown might cost two or three times the typical rate. Occasionally the print and eBook rights will be held by different organisations and you may have pay two fees. Picador will pay the fees on your behalf.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to say precisely how much you much you will be charged. The Publishers’ Association guide at says fees are “entirely a commercial decision for the publisher involved – for competition reasons, apart from anything else, trade associations like the PA cannot have recommended rates”, and the Copyright Licensing Agency’s guide at says “There are no industry-fixed fees (they are at the discretion of the party granting the permission)”; it’s possible that the special nature of this anthology means that fees will be greatly reduced.


Check your spelling and that the poems in your anthology are faithful to the original in terms of spelling, punctuation, spacing, line length and position on the page. Never centre a poem on the page or change the shape of a poem; where poems begin and end is very important.  Make sure at least 2 or 3 pairs of eyes have proofed the whole anthology. There will always be typos and mistakes you have missed.

Terms and conditions and Entry form
Make sure you have carefully read the terms and conditions and provided the information we ask for.

Go forth and anthologise!
Best of luck. We hope you enjoy the process, encounter wonderful poetry and feel pleased with the finished product. The judges look forward to reading your anthology.