Well, if I was really the fine literary mind I believe myself to be I probably would have thought to say something about poetry before now. Why? because its April, national poetry appreciation month. I can’t say I have a whole month’s worth of things to say about poetry, but at least one entry to recognize this month might be kind, on my part, so here we go.
I suspected that this month was a relatively new construct from the start. Just about anyone that read a bunch of dead white guys in English class might notice that poetry used to be the most highly lauded and respected form of written expression. Really, you look at ancient Greek poems, the Odyssey and the Iliad and etc. and poetry’s respectability as a medium of expression predates widespread use of the written word. That’s right. People used to compose memorize poems as long as the freaking Odyssey, all without SparkNotes! Heck, it wasn’t til the nineteenth century, with folks like Dickens, that the novel and by extension prose in general definitively took over as the dominant, most respected form of literature.
Of course, I’d be an idiot to suggest there haven’t been famous poets or great poets since the novel and prose took over peoples bookshelves. I’m saying poetry became highly marginalized, especially compared to its former glory, as opposed to extinct. You might recall I’m a fan of Mary Oliver’s poetry, from my previous posts. She’s getting quite advanced in years but is very much still alive. I suppose the same could be said about poetry in general, on a much wider scale. Older than togas and the Parthenon,and sure it’s living a much quieter life now than before, but poetry is definitely still alive.
So poetry turned into almost an endangered species by the time 1996 rolled around and the American Poetry Foundation decided to set aside a month in recognition of this medium. That means this movement is younger than me. There’s not a whole lot of movements younger than me that didn’t start out as a hashtag or a viral video campaign. How do you celebrate this month then, without a hashtag or embarrassing challenge you have to film yourself doing? Well, reading poetry is a good start. Start with Shel Silverstein or Dr. Seuss if you genuinely can’t think of anyone else to read. Don’t worry though, you’ll find plenty of people ready to make suggestions about what to read during this fine month. Maybe you have a loving librarian mother that forwards you a poem every other day to bog down your in box in celebration of April. That would be lovely, really. If not, don’t worry. I’ll try to help.
1. My Personal Favorites: Yeah, I read poetry. If you feel like trusting me, I’d recommend people like Billy Collins, Mary Oliver, (of course,) Patricia Lockwood, Anne Carson, Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, John Keats, and some Shakespeare, just for good Measure for Measure, (yes, a terrible Shakespeare pun that’ll be lost on a bunch of potential readers and groaned at by people who do get it, because I haven’t alienated enough of you already.)
2. Check Goodreads: You know I love Goodreads. It’s a great place to look for reading recommendations, especially if you have an account. They do the sort of specialized recommendation Netflix does for its users. If you’re not on GR, they still have lists of popular books of any genre, including poetry, for anyone to look up.
3. Ask the People Who Started it: Like I said, National Poetry month was started fairly recently, by the Academy of American Poets. They’re constantly trying to make sure people, especially students, have access to poetry and the chance to read new and unfamiliar poems. This particular part of their site allows you to browse through a bunch of poems they compiled.
Really, looking for good poetry is just like looking for any other type of good reading, except perhaps that fewer people might be able to name the latest poetry collection worth reading. Just go into a bookstore, library, etc. and head over to the poetry section to try something new, or, in a way, something very wonderfully old that’s waiting for some friends.