by John Pecoraro, Assistant Director
When was the last time you read a poem, and why? If it was in grade school, and you had to memorize it and recite it to the class, you’re not alone. I think many of us of a certain age considered poems a kind of torture inflicted on us by our well-meaning teachers. It’s time to give poetry a second chance, and April, as National Poetry Month, is the perfect time to do it.
Poems, unlike novels and even some short stories, can be read in one sitting. Many poems can even be read in a few seconds. Take this gem by Emily Dickinson, for example:
“To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,–
One clover, and a bee,
The revery alone will do
If bees are few.”
In our ever busy, got-to-make-that-deadline world, poems are made to order for the rushed through life. Writers of good poetry have the gift of saying a lot with little. It’s not merely the length of poems that make them great, but the sentiment, the emotion, the feeling that they generate in the reader. Who can forget the first time they read these memorable words by Dylan Thomas?
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
If you’re new to reading poetry, here are a few suggestions on where to begin. “Best Loved Poems of the American People,” is an old standard. There have been over a million and a half copies of this book printed since its original publication in 1936. The book contains over 575 poems, divided by subject and indexed by authors and first lines. Here you’ll find classics by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Rudyard Kipling, James Whitcomb Riley, and many more.
If you are interested in a comprehensive collection, try “World Poetry: An Anthology of Verse from Antiquity to Our Time.” Weighing in at over 1300 pages and including more than 1600 poems from dozens of languages and cultures, this book is sure to have a poem for all tastes.
For a daily dose of poetry, look no further than “A Year in Poetry.” This treasury includes classic and modern verses for every day of the year.
Of course there are collections by all the poets you might remember from school: Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Not to mention William Blake, Robert Burns, and William Wordsworth. And, of course, Shakespeare.
This year’s Poem in Your Pocket Day falls on April 30. Everyone is encouraged to carry a favorite poem on that day, and take every opportunity to share it with others. Or you can share a poem at the Kansas Humanities Council’s “Poetry Potluck.” Go to http://kansashumanities.org/2015/03/poetry-potluck for more information.
Whether your tastes run to poetry that is lyrical or epic, short or long, iambic pentameter, sonnets, haiku or free verse, celebrate National Poetry Month by delving into one of the many collections of poetry available at MPL.