Edgar Allan Poe once said, “Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words.” I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Poe. I love poetry! I love that entire stories can be told in so few words; I love the elusiveness of some poems, how the meaning always seems within our reach, yet never fully in our grasp, like a slippery fish wriggling away. (See what I just did there? That’s called a simile, a form of figurative language and something else that I love about poetry: boring, everyday things like tables or cars and intangible emotions like love and despair can be compared to rainbow fish, volcanoes, or hummingbirds. The options are endless). Poets are lovers of language, connoisseurs of words. Poetry is the place where uncommon words, words we rarely have opportunity to see or say aloud, can be free to live: coracle, henceforth, undulating, scintillate.
Because I love poetry so much and because I want everyone else to love poetry, I’ve decided to make this entry about National Poetry Month into two parts. First, we’re going to talk about Poetry Appreciation. This is important because unfortunately, poetry is a genre that doesn’t always get the appreciation it deserves. I get it; like I said, the meanings of some poems can be fuzzy at best. Poetry gets accused of being boring, pompous, and outdated. Some assume that all poems are written by Shakespeare, Keats, Byron, and so on, when in fact, poetry continues to be a vibrant, evolving, diverse, modern genre. In July 2013, Harper’s published an essay by Mark Edmundson, “Poetry Slam: Or the Decline of American Verse,” bemoaning the lackluster state of contemporary poetry, in particular its obscurity and general lack of relevance.** American poet Seth Abramson fired back, rattling off a list of reasons why contemporary American poetry is so good: According to him, Creative Writing is the fastest growing field of study in the United States, poetry is being presented in many new and diverse methods (“slam” poetry, multimedia poetry, and visual poetry), there are more outlets than ever for poets to publish their work (social media and numerous journals and magazines), and the greater degree of equality in our country, compared to say six or seven decades ago, means that poetry is now giving voice to segments of our society that were systematically ignored.
I mention this little war of the words not to draw a line in the sand, aligning myself with one side or the other, as there seem to be valid arguments from both men, but rather to demonstrate the vitality of this art form. Doesn’t the fact that people are arguing over the significance of poetry in today’s world indicate that poetry is in fact still relevant, to some degree?
April is the month we celebrate poetry, and how fitting that April is also when the sun begins to shine brightly again and flowers color our lawns and dot the horizons. If poetry is really the “rhythmical creation of beauty in words,” how can you not be inspired by the natural beauty around us? Celebrate this “rhythmical beauty” by taking a leap and reading some poetry. It doesn’t have to be an epic, like Beowulf or The Iliad, though it’s fine if epics are more your style. It could be some William Carlos Williams or a collection of Sharon Olds. You could read Ariel by Sylvia Plath and then watch Gwyneth Paltrow’s rendition of the troubled writer. Read up on the jazzy cadences of Harlem Renaissance poets like Langston Hughes. The Poetry Foundation and Poets.org, as well as Poetry Magazine (which the LPL carries), will introduce you to poets of immense talent. There are even apps you can download to your phone or tablet that will give you a Poem of the Day! Of course, the library is also a great source for poetry collections, new and old. Come to the LPL on April 13th for a poetry reading, where you will hear from Mario Susko, Nassau County Poet Laureate, and Maria Victoria Hughes, a Levittown resident and published poet. Anyone who says they don’t like poetry has not found the right poem or the right poet to capture their attention.
To start you off, I would like to share a few of my favorite poems. Not all can be found “officially” online, which means that you will just have to stop by the library and take a look at the collections in which they are included…and maybe find some others to fall in love with.
Little Miracle—Molly Peacock (found in Cornucopia)
Brilliance—Mark Doty (found in My Alexandria)
Station—Sharon Olds (found in Strike Sparks: Selected Poems, 1980-2002)
The Breather—Billy Collins (originally appeared in July/August 2008 issue of Poetry Magazine)
Blessing the Boats—Lucille Clifton (found in Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000)
Next time, I’ll give you some pointers on how to free your mind and let the creativity flow so that you too can become a poet.
Happy Poem Hunting,
**This article is not available online, although the July 2013 issue of Harper’s, in which “Poetry Slam: Or the Decline of American Verse” appears, is available for in-house use in the Media Department.