How Poetry Happens
A poem often is nothing but a stone that makes you pick it up along the shore. Beautiful, at least to you. Something you keep on a shelf, nightstand or sill. While not useful in itself, strangely it makes other things more so. Things that must work, work better. Whatever no longer does, you let go. A poem says what you wanted to say but didn’t know that you did. It holds thoughts together at a certain angle so you might keep them. A poem may be as mysterious as it is plain. Nothing is beyond it. Some day your poem might skip fourteen times on a pond, or slay a giant in your sleep. Poems are the friends you didn’t know you had, who remain near, true. If they don’t do this, they’re not poems. Not for you. Their loss, a signal. Out there somewhere a poem issearching for you. And doesn’t know how to quit.
If You Think You Hate Poetry…
In my years of bookselling I have had conversations with even the most avid readers who have yet to discover the unique comfort, humor and insight that poetry brings. The “old stuff” remembered from Lit 101 may feel stilted and irrelevant, while much of the new verse emerging from “the academy” can feel impenetrable, and then there’s the trite “greeting card” style often popular on social media. Yet real poetry meets some basic human need as perhaps nothing else can. Remember the William Carlos Williams line: “It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”
We all need that book on the nightstand to turn to, even if it is just to open a William Stafford collection for a single line like: “Justice will take us millions of intricate moves.” Or a gorgeous line from the 9th Century female poet Yu Xuanji: “Sadness comes back and comes back, as fragrant and lush as the grass.”
Because we believe there’s so much poetry that won’t leave you behind, we’ll keep posting our Monday morning poems on Instagram as well as here in our newsletter. We include poems that we hope will be meaningful to you and also some that are genuinely humorous. For a little preview (and chuckle), here’s The Academic Sigh, by Russell Edson.
Another great way to stumble upon the right poem at the right time is through dipping into anthologies. One of our favorites is Risking Everything, edited by Roger Housden. How many times I’ve turned to poetry from this collection, like Maria Howe’s “My Dead Friends” for the lines: “They stand in unison, shaking their heads and smiling—whatever leads to joy, they always answer, to more life and less worry.”
There is more information about these poets and others listed below.
In this month designated to celebrate poetry, we hope our readers will find poems for every day and month to help sustain their lives.
Deeper Dive Into Poetry
Many of William Stafford’s books are worthy companions. Graywolf came out with an excellent new and selected poems The Way It Is. The Darkness Around Us Is Deep is a smaller collection but very good as well. In the meantime, to get a better feel for Stafford, you can check out this single poem online: For My Young Friends Who Are Afraid.
A quick overview of some wonderful volumes of engaging poetry that still have a sense of humor:
For a substantial anthology for women try Cries of the Spirit edited by Marilyn Sewell where you’ll discover a broad variety of poets from Audre Lorde to Mary Oliver. A brand new collection focuses on the pleasures and challenges of growing older called Coming to Age, edited by Hoberman and Hopely. For these and many other cherished titles, please visit our online shop at: Poetry Is Not A Luxury.
Poems To Share With A Child
For those of you who never had the privilege of meeting Miss Stretchberry and her class of 3rd graders you are in for a treat with Love That Dog by Sharon Creech. This little book only takes a short while to read to yourself or share with a child, but as we talk about poetry this month there couldn’t be a finer recommendation than this humorously tender account of a boy who thinks he hates poetry but finds out there are hidden treasures in the words he chooses. Great for all ages.
Another great book to share with kids is The Random House Book of Poetry for Children, edited by children’s poet Jack Prelutsky. This illustrated anthology showcases almost 600 short poems from classic and contemporary poets and is a perfect compilation to have on the shelf for a bedtime read-aloud or a quiet rainy day.