Being Human is the third book in the Staying Alive poetry trilogy. Staying Alive and its sequel Being Alive have introduced many thousands of new readers to contemporary poetry. Being Human is a companion volume to those two books - a world poetry anthology offering an even broader, international selection of 'real poems for unreal times'.
The range of poetry here complements that of the first two anthologies: hundreds of thoughtful and passionate poems about living in the modern world; more of the greatest poems of the 20th century; and, also many recent poems of rare imaginative power from the first decade of the 21st century.
But this book is also rare in reflecting the concerns of readers from all walks of life. Such has been the appeal of Staying Alive and Being Alive that many people have written not only to express their appreciation of these books, but also to share poems which have been important in their own lives. Being Human has benefited from this highly unusual publisher's mailbag, including many talismanic personal survival poems suggested by our readers.
"The anthologies' remarkable success is due in large part to the fact that [Neil] Astley has turned out to be one of the most sensitive and thoughtful curators in the business. He employs the old anthology trick of slicing his books into loosely themed segments ('Living in hope', 'Body and soul') but then refines it, arranging the poems in each segment in order to bring out their interconnections and braiding them into urgent, intriguing conversations... That act of noticing is what poetry ought to do, and what many of the superb poems in this anthology achieve. Let's hear it for modern verse."
Sarah Crown, The Guardian
"At a time when many poetry editors still publish a narrow field of poetry, with an imbalance of white male poets and a preference for the quiet, understated, repressed voice, Astley's poetry list is inclusive, gender balanced and international. It shouldn't be surprising, therefore, that this ambitious anthology, featuring nearly 400 poems, lives up to the title, Being Human, with a staggering array of voices and nationalities. It's the third in a trilogy of anthologies edited by Astley, preceded by Staying Alive in 2002 and Being Alive in 2004. Both books travelled far and wide enough to garner praise from the likes of Meryl Streep and Mia Farrow. Being Human focuses on the human condition and the passing of time, a broad thematic concern divided into sections with titles such as The Stuff of Life, About Time, Fight to the Death, Body and Soul. In each section poems are positioned to be in conversation with each other, often to remarkable effect... This is not one of those controversial 'best of' anthologies but one that expands our definition of greatness to encompass a multitude of styles, voices, ethnicities and cultures. Astley aims to introduce poetry to new readers and new poets to seasoned readers. It's difficult to imagine all but the most hardened philistines not being touched and inspired by this wonderful assembly of poems."
Bernardine Evaristo, The Times
"This is one of a series of three inspiring volumes packed with English poems and translations from all over the world. I have one of them beside me always."
Stephanie Cole in The Daily Express
"[The latest in] Neil Astley's indispensable, endlessly surprising trilogy of big bold anthologies... The titles sum it up rather well: Staying Alive, Being Alive, Being Human. Doesn't leave much out really. The newest and last of these contains all the manifold virtues of the earlier two: another startlingly varied, unexpected and entirely accessible collection of contemporary poems - 500 per volume, no small undertaking - exploring the stuff of life, what Louis MacNeice called 'this mad weir of tigerish waters / A prism of delight and pain'... an intoxicating cultural mix."
"It's a fail-safe collection of just the kind of writing that can stop you in your tracks."
Dazed & Confused
"The breadth of offerings is breathtaking... Throughout, the poems are arranged as if in conversation, themes picked up, playing with or against each other as in a jazz improvisation."
"Being Human is stimulating, inspiring, intelligent, the perfect companion on a journey, literal and otherwise."
Peggy Hughes, Scotland on Sunday
"There are poems here you may not read for years, but then one day, in some particular mood, you'll open its pages and your eyes will fall on a line which speaks to you in whatever place you happen to find yourself..."
"I love Staying Alive and keep going back to it. Being Alive is just as vivid… But this new book feels even more alive – I think it has a heartbeat."
"These poems distil the human heart as nothing else… Staying Alive celebrates the point of poetry. It’s invigorating and makes me proud of being human."
"Truly startling and powerful poems."
"Staying Alive is a blessing of a book… Has there ever been such a passionate anthology? These are poems that hunt you down with the solace of their recognition."
"Staying Alive is a book which leaves those who have read or heard a poem from it feeling less alone and more alive."
"This collection certainly continues the excellent work of its predecessors, bringing new work and poets to audiences, and drawing new readers to poetry, and at a mere £12 for 500 poems, no-one will be deterred from taking a risk. Being Human is stimulating, inspiring, intelligent, witty and life-affirming, the perfect companion on a journey, literal and otherwise."
"Poems to make the heart sing... Being Human, which runs to more than 500 pages, offers a glut of poetry from across the globe and, in so doing, renders redundant the 'difficult' tag which so dogs the art. Above all it is a celebration of our capacity to embrace whatever’s thrown at us…"
Alan Taylor, Glasgow Herald
Neil Astley founded Bloodaxe Books in 1978, and was given a D.Litt by Newcastle University in recognition of his pioneering work. As well as Staying Alive (2002), Being Alive (2004) and Being Human, he has edited over 1000 poetry books and anthologies; published two poetry collections, Darwin Survivor (1988) and Biting My Tongue (1997); and two novels, The End of My Tether (shortlisted for the 2002 Whitbread First Novel Award), and The Sheep Who Changed the World (Flambard, 2005).