> Skip to content

An entertaining journey into how the deaths of great poets have shaped our culture's distorted sense of poetry

From Dylan Thomas’s eighteen straight whiskies to Sylvia Plath’s desperate suicide in the gas oven of her Primrose Hill kitchen; from Chatterton’s Pre-Raphaelite demise to Keats’ death warrant in a smudge of arterial blood, the deaths of poets have often cast a backward shadow on their work.

The post-Romantic lore of the dissolute drunken poet has fatally skewed the image of poets in our culture. Novelists can be stable, savvy, politically adept and in control, but poets should be melancholic, doomed and self-destructive. Is this just an illusion , or is there some essential truth behind it? What is the price of poetry?

In this book, two contemporary poets embark on a series of journeys to the death places of poets of the past, in part as pilgrims, but also as investigators, interrogating the myth.

Reviews

A rollicking mixture of literary biography, commentary, travelogue and anecdotage, much of it deeply amusing.

Claire Harman, Evening Standard

So much material of such innate interest is presented with just the right balance of panache, wit, insight and elegy… A good, clever, kindly and enjoyable book it is, like eavesdropping on two smarter friends when they are sparking off each other… Farley and Roberts are always entertaining and illuminating, gentle guides and quixotic questers.

Stuart Kelly, Scotland on Sunday

Deaths of the Poets is packed with anecdotes and macabre frisons; its forays through some of poetry’s more sensational edge-lands make for a compelling read.

Nicholas Roe, Literary Review

A terrifically entertaining book: thoughtful, funny, informative, with an eye for good quotes and anecdotes, and wide-ranging in both the distance it travels and the material on which it draws.

Blake Morrison, Guardian

The authors are agreeable, well-informed and slyly humorous company.

Dan Brotzel, UK Press Syndication

Deaths of the Poets is a gripping, witty read, but also asks serious questions about the way the post-Romantic myth of the doomed poet skews the way we interpret their work.

Kathryn Hughes, Mail on Sunday

It is a thoughtful book, structured as a series of pilgrimages to the places where poets have died.

Lara Feigel, Irish Independent

Poets Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts make a comic routine out of their own relative longevity… An absorbing, if melancholy trip.

Suzi Feay, Financial Times

On their pilgrimage, Michael and Paul honour their poetic heroes, but also investigate and interrogate the myth, sending themselves up in the process. The result is a book… that is enlightening and provocative, eye-wateringly funny and powerfully moving.

About Manchester

The book is a fascinating if slightly ghoulish examination of poets’ deathbeds, and sometimes their last words, such as Philip Larkin’s bleak remark, “I am going to the inevitable”… Deaths of the Poets is highly readable, informative and resonating with a literary hinterland.

Francis Philips, Catholic Herald

It’s an undertaking that explores the often linked ideas of poetry and mortality, but with a questing humour.

Carl Wilkinson, Financial Times

A witty and erudite journey into the characters of doomed poets using location as a steer.

Melvyn Bragg, Observer

Read More

Formats & editions

  • Deaths of the Poets
    Michael Symmons Roberts, Paul Farley

    Paperback

    9780099581321

    February 15, 2018

    Vintage

    432 pages

    RRP $22.99

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Amazon
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • The Nile
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop
    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

Also by Michael Symmons Roberts