As another tribute to National Poetry month, I’m offering up ideas of places to start in order to “taste” poetry. I hope you’re moved to grab one and give it a try. And in full disclosure, let me admit to pirating a few choices from the lovely list compiled by Nancy Pearl and given out in her interview with NPR earlier this week.
1. E.E. Cummings – My earliest recollection of real poetry is Cummings and his famous untitled piece that begins, “anyone lived in a pretty how town with up so floating many bells down“. As you can tell, Cummings paid little attention to syntax or punctuation and in this particular piece he notes the passage of time with lines like “stars, rain, sun, moon“. These are fun to read and some can definitely be shared in an intimate setting.
2. Paul Guest – This writer’s poetry is stark and unforgettable. In Guest’s My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge all of the poems are tainted with bitterness and contain a deep sadness. The poetry details a life set apart as the author reflects on a single event in his life – a childhood bicycle accident which left him a quadriplegic. The poetry is powerful and memorable. Read them alone.
3. Ted Kooser – I’ve mentioned him before but Ted Kooser’s ability to translate everyday occurrences and common items into verse that when strung together, has a remarkable eloquence and never leaves me guessing. His familiar tone is like slipping on my favorite wool clogs. Check out Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry written with fellow poet and longtime friend, Jim Harrison. These are meant to be shared around the table before or after the evening meal.
4. Richard Hugo – Hugo was one of the popular Northwest poets. His direct style of writing makes me feel as if his poetry was intended for me to read it. In her interview, Pearl suggested his collection, Making Certain it Goes On. Maybe one of his secrets is revealed in his statement, “Never write a poem about anything that ought to have a poem written about it.” Read Hugo poems while traveling.
5. Shel Silverstein – Not poetry but The Giving Tree has been a favorite of mine since a very young age. Now, with children, we’ve delved deeply into Silverstein poetry collections such as Falling Up and Where the Sidewalk Ends. Silverstein had an amazing ability to make silly stories about things that kids wonder about. Read his poetry at bedtime with a kid or two or three.
6. Song of Solomon – I hadn’t thought to include this but recently heard a radio program where a scholar talked about the significance of this book of the Old Testament. It is clearly poetry and one that speaks to the intimacy of deep romantic love. If you haven’t read it, do but do it with your beloved.
7. William Stafford – This is another Northwest poet who also wrote in words that all of us use every single day. I believe he is also the father of poet Kim Stafford. Try The Way It Is – New and Selected Poems. Read William Stafford poetry outdoors.
8. Naomi Shihab Nye – Nye is the daughter of a Palestinian father and an American mother and much of her poetry traces those roots. However complex her background, she writes about everyday occurrences like the barking dog that lives next door or the olives on a porcelain plate. When she is not writing her own poetry, she explores her talent at creating anthologies. Try her first book Different Ways to Pray. Read it anytime.
9. Edward Lear – Recently there have been a few classic poems that have been illustrated and published as children’s picture books. The Owl and the Pussycat is one such book. It is best read aloud with a child on your lap.
10. Maya Angelou – Her list of accomplishments, talents and publications is long. Maya Angelou is a memoirist, a civil rights activist, an actress, screenwriter, an educator and a poet. She has received three Grammy awards and is often remembered for the poem that President Clinton requested she compose to read at his 1993 inauguration. Dr. Angelou’s reading of her poem “On the Pulse of the Morning” was broadcast live around the world.