Happy National Poetry Month! Read on as our staff members share inspiring poems and poets. Looking for even more poetry? Check out “Wild Hundreds: Contemporary Poetry,” a library booklist highlighting recent publications, including Joy Harjo’s Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, Warsan Shire’s Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey, and Lee Sharkey’s Walking Backwards.
Free Verse, by Sarah Dooley. Free Verse is triumph over tragedy, through poetry. A lovely little read that surprises the reader with a collection of Sasha’s attempts at different poetry forms stashed right in the middle of the book. Enjoy this book, then try your hand at new form. Golden Shovel anyone?
I really enjoyed Zombie Haiku – Good Poetry for Your….Brains, by Ryan Mecum.
In serious times, this one is always good for a laugh or three: written the way Haiku would be if you were bitten by a zombie. Written the way Haiku would be if you were a zombie-in-progress. Finally, written the way Haiku would be written as a zombie. Light yet disgusting. Horrifying and hilarious. So creative & disturbing. 5-7-5 all the way!
“Little old ladies
speed away in their wheelchairs,
frightened meals on wheels.”
“You are so lucky
that I cannot remember
how to use doorknobs.”
Another item from the dark side: the novel-in-free-verse Crank by Ellen Hopkins.
Free verse, free speech. Ellen Hopkins portrays the process of drug addiction. Why it happens, when it happens, how it feels (to all parties involved). In my opinion, every teen should read this as assigned reading in school – every parent should also read it. It’s eye-opening and expresses emotion to readers who may not understand the “whys” of addiction. Very raw, very real.
A few quotations from Crank:
“Smile. Nod. Say
before he finds
out what an incredible
geek you are.”
“Empty and closed, hovering in some frozen netherworld neither sun nor rain could thaw.”
On the lighter side, there’s always Shel Silverstein! Falling Up!
I’ve read this over and over for decades, along with the rest of Silverstein’s volumes of poetry. He has the imagination of a young child – silly and way beyond the reigns of adulthood. He also states things as they are! So obvious but ignored by the grown world. My son loves his poetry and I love my son’s expressions as we read together.
“Why can’t you see I’m a kid, said the kid.
Why try to make me like you?
Why are you hurt when I don’t cuddle?
Why do you sigh when I splash through a puddle?
Why do you scream when I do what I did?
I’m a kid.”
My Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara is tattered and has about a million dog-eared pages and pieces of paper sticking out of it. Whenever I “feel like reading poetry,” this is the book I hunker down with, because I am a New York School fangirl. It’s like talking to an old friend.
Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong
Night Sky is an earnest invitation to witness Vuong’s most personal experiences: his sexuality, his absent father, and the kind of grief that is passed down through generations. These poems have a softness to them that permits moments of peace and even celebration to peak through, but ultimately his objective is clear: he reminds us that perhaps the only thing more painful than an exit wound is a bullet that stays in the body.
I Must Be Living Twice: New and Selected Poems by Eileen Myles
Myles’s signature style almost makes poetry look effortless. With usually just a few words per line, it’s not hard to imagine her scrawling a passing thought on a napkin and publishing it as is. But the simple fact that I’ve never encountered poetry that makes me feel quite the same way suggests that there’s nothing easy about it. Many of her earlier collections are rare or out of print, so it’s truly a treat to have her best finally compiled in one volume.
One of my favorite poets is Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, a Mexican nun and scholar from the 1600’s. Sor Juana, considered one of the great poets of the Spanish Golden Age, wrote beautiful poetry about love, feminism, and religion. A Sor Juana Anthology includes some of her finest works poems, both in Spanish and translated to English. The poem titled “In which she visits a moral censure on a rose, and in it, on fellow humans” is one of my favorites, in particular the opening stanzas:
“Rose, celestial flower finely bred,
you offer in your scented subtlety
crimson instruction in everything that’s fair,
snow-white sermons to all beauty.
Semblance of our human shapeliness,
portent of proud breeding’s doom,
in whose being Nature chose to link,
a joyous cradle and a joyless tomb.”
Here’s a treasure in our folio collection that I stumbled across a few weeks ago in the stacks: Hokusai: One Hundred Poets.
A description of the book from Library Journal: “One Hundred Poets is a teaching anthology of Japanese poetry, completed in 1235 yet still as popular today as in [the artist] Hokusai’s time (1760-1849). Hokusai planned a print to accompany each poem but completed only 27 prints, although designs for 64 more still exist. Eighty-nine of these are reproduced here, along with the Japanese and English texts of the poems and Morse’s insightful commentary on the poet, the poem, and the picture.”
Eileen M’s Picks
Mother Goose. Dr Seuss. Joyce Kilmer. “The Highwayman.” Even Beowulf, it grieves me to say. For better or worse, these are stones paving the road to my relationship with poetry. My journey has brought me to some conclusions about it all, to wit:
- Potential poetry is everywhere, happening all around: An osprey glances sidelong toward my earthbound Subaru from her perch atop a vintage roadside nest. A sun-burnt, frost-touched face hovering above a sign reading “Anything helps” casts a similar corner-slung look as I, shamed, pass. An earthy scent rising when a spading fork stirs a winter’s worth of half-baked compost and a thought cascade of biology, abundance and the right tool for the right job. On and on and on.
- A poet is part explorer, part alchemist: One who gently grips a single time-slice, feeling for an opening into something that is at once unique and universal; and does so with a verbal economy impossible to imagine for a more-words-will-tell-the-story-better sort like me.
- A poem, when it finds us ready, is pure gold. It is birthed when a poet brushes up against the world with words that render it into simplicity that can make your heart break in gratitude, sorrow, clarity, joy.
I like poetry that helps me feel and see deeply or differently, but doesn’t require a degree in hermeneutics. For me, a good poem points gently to a scene, a feeling, a color I think I already know in a way that nudges me further. As Popeye might say (since it is National Poetry month), “Iamb what iamb.” I am no scholar. My take on poetry may differ from the next guy’s, but this is my blog post, so listen up:
I think you should run as fast as your feet can carry you to the closest shelf of Ted Kooser’s books. Maybe pick up Winter Morning Walks: One Hundred Postcards to Jim Harrison, a collection of brief weather reports and poems written as Mr Kooser recovered from cancer treatment and struggled to find his way back to writing, each daily effort shared on a postcard with Jim Harrison, his friend and fellow poet.
Ted Kooser’s writing is unpretentious, which is to say that Regular Folks, a club in which I proudly hold lifetime membership, can feel just fine about not knowing their assonance from their elbows, if you know what I mean. Bring your workaday self to any of his collections. Settle into his beautifully crafted observations and, like me, you may see that there is nothing more touching or more beautiful than the mundane.
So, a favorite poem… How about this one for making the ordinary otherworldly? I am in awe.
Cloudy, Dark and Windy.
Walking by flashlight
at six in the morning, my circle of light on the gravel
swinging side to side,
coyote, raccoon, field mouse, sparrow,
each watching from darkness
this man with the moon on a leash.”