I recently had a perfect moment. How often do we get to say that? As I was riding my bike down linear park surrounded by my family, with the sun on my face, I wished I could capture the moment, to acknowledge the wonder of it. I think that’s what poetry does – it takes the “moments” of life, whether every-day or marked occasion, and ponders them. Poetry helps us to step away from the busyness of our lives and consider the essence of “what it’s all about.”
April is National Poetry Month and there is poetry in the air. Some of us were forced to read poetry in school (although we secretly loved it) but then wandered away. If you’ve lost touch with your poetic side, there are some fun web sites that enable you to explore with abandon. The Poetry Foundation has a vast collection of poetry, both classic and new. My favorite part is their video series Poetry Everywhere, which features poems read out-loud, most by the poets themselves. The Academy of American Poets lists the most popular poets and poems, and will even email a Poem-A-Day to you. I especially love the Poems for Every Occasion page which has you covered for everything from a break-up to a summer’s day.
If you’re ready to dive in a little deeper, we can help you out at the library with some collections of favorite poems. Garrison Keillor, a promoter of poetry on his shows “A Prairie Home Companion” and “Writer’s Almanac,” has created collections of his favorites, all titles beginning with Good Poems. Filled with classics as well as contemporary poems, these collections are meant for ordinary people to enjoy. Caroline Kennedy was raised by a great lover of poetry and her first collection The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis honored that early influence. She has gone on to create two collections for children, Poems to Learn by Heart and A Family of Poems and also a collection for women called She Walks in Beauty. She talks about her reasons for compiling these poems: “When you’re going through something, whether it’s a wonderful thing like having a child or a sad thing like losing somebody, you often feel like ‘Oh My God, I’m so overwhelmed; I’m dealing with this huge thing on my own.’ In fact, poetry’s a nice reminder that, no, everybody goes through it. These are universal experiences.”
From there, poetry has a wealth of material to explore. You can start with local poets like Jonathan Holden, Elizabeth Dodd, or Ann Carter or revisit the classics with Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and Langston Hughes. You might enjoy some of the poet laureates such as Nebraskan Ted Kooser, Rita Dove, or Billy Collins. At Manhattan Public Library, we have a poetry display up for the month of April, but after that you can delve into poetry at call number 811.
The final question is how to best enjoy poetry. You can quietly contemplate the words on the page, but reading it aloud adds greatly to the understanding and pleasure of reading poetry. Find a quiet room or a rooftop (depending on your personality) and savor the words. As we allow poetry to filter into our everyday lives, we see that opportunities exist everywhere that are just screaming for a poem to be read: family events, gathering of friends, worship services. I wonder what a poetry flash mob might look like. I have had several great poetry moments, but my favorite was at a Halloween party when a friend read part 3 of The Bells by Edgar Allen Poe. It was creepy and haunting and kept us enraptured with wide eyes. However you experience poetry, recognize it for the beautiful pause in life that it is. As William Hazlitt said, “Poetry is all that is worth remembering in life.”