The editors' selection ranges from Wyatt, Ralegh and Shakespeare in the 16th century, to Donne, Milton and Marvell in the 17th, to Swift, Pope and Johnson in the 18th. It embraces the Romantic visions of Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley and Keats, as well as the later, darker outlook of Browning, Tennyson and Hardy, and seeks enlightenment in the shadowlands of Emily Dickinson, Wilde and Yeats.
As well as journeying with the reader through some of the greatest poems in the English language, The Heavy Bear encounters many modern poets, not least Delmore Schwartz, whose sense of conflict between self and society gave birth to this anthology's title-poem, 'The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me'. Others include some of the major figures in Irish poetry Brendan Kennelly knew personally as well as wrote about, including Patrick Kavanagh, Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Derek Mahon and Eavan Boland.
The poems keep each other company in this highly original compilation, questioning each other in a continuing thematic, imagistic debate which the editors seek to explore in their responses, trying at all times to define their sense and vision of poetry as disturbing, questioning, enlightening companionship for the reader.
Both editors are renowned communicators of poetry: Brendan Kennelly (1936-2021) as one of Ireland's best-loved poets, as Professor of Modern Literature at Trinity College Dublin, and as a popular cultural commentator on Irish television; Neil Astley as founder and editor of Bloodaxe Books and editor of the Staying Alive anthology series.