By Allan Cross, Reference Department
Poetry isn’t the simplest thing to appreciate. At a passing glance, it may not have the same immediacy of film, music, and visual art. When placed alongside other forms of literature, a book of poems can struggle to match our latest bestsellers in accessibility. For all these reasons, some of us might dismiss poetry as a medium for high-minded wordsmiths, rather than a readership of less heady taste. But exceptional poetry has endured for millennia, and verse as a creative avenue stretches onward still. Why, then, do so many others read and derive worth from it today?
The convenient answer nowadays might be to quote Dead Poets Society. Mr. Keating, an English teacher played by the late Robin Williams, inspires his students (and unceasing scores of audiences) with his speech about why people read and write poetry. One of the film’s great strengths lies, of course, in its poetry readings. These, combined with well-chosen samples, bring forth the emotional meaning that fuels successful verse. The film serves as a great access point to poetry, emphasizing the importance of reading it aloud. When we readers encounter a given poem, we can better involve ourselves by audibly speaking the work. By doing so, we should enhance the piece with our individual voices, each one conducive in its own distinct way.
Testing this in light of three widely known poems seems a good place to begin. The trio we have selected consists of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” Rudyard Kipling’s “If–,” and Shel Silverstein’s verse children’s book The Giving Tree.
In the third stanza of “The Road Not Taken,” Frost writes:
And both that morning equally lay/
In leaves no step had trodden black./
Oh, I kept the first for another day!/
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,/
I doubted if I should ever come back.
Andrew Spacey, a commentator for Owlcation, points out that Frost’s work reflects on the many choices we make in life, and how we tend to regret those decisions after committing to them. It is also commonly read as a statement in support of individualism, and the promotion of opinions that contrast with majority views.
Below is an excerpt from Kipling’s “If—”:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;/
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;/
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/
And treat those two imposters just the same;/
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken/
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools/
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,/
And stoop and build them up with worn out tools:
The theme of Kipling’s work, which regards the importance of thought, but not to the point where it impedes action, seems like a stirring antidote to Frost. It acknowledges the significance and moral need for regret, but urges the reader not to allow past mistakes to obstruct the path to future growth.
The Giving Tree addresses similar concerns, as shown in some of its final lines:
“I am sorry,” sighed the tree./
I wish that I could give you something…/
But I have nothing left./
I am just an old stump./
I am sorry….”/
I don’t need very much now,” said the boy./
“just a quiet place to sit and rest.”/
I am very tired.”
Rivka Galchen, in her 2014 review for The New York Times, argues that there is an unavoidable dilemma in The Giving Tree, it being whether we read it as a statement on thoughtless acquisition or unreserved giving. The two characters, the boy and the tree, do what is most fundamental to their natures. It’s up to the reader to then decide how to feel about the situation, including the conclusion about whether it turns out morally right.
The takeaway from all of this, in spite of all the people who attempt to influence our points-of-view, is that we allow ourselves to read and study works on our unique terms. As mentioned earlier, it may prove worthwhile to read these pieces and others to ourselves (at the risk of seeming foolish), in order to bring out their inherent humanity. We should remember that reading can be, in its way, a roomy type of interpretation. There’s a mysterious element of poetry, one we cannot entirely rationalize and so must trail behind. Rather than strain for full understanding, this is the process we might instead come to accept.
- Weir, Peter, director. Dead Poets Society. Touchstone Home Entertainment, 1989.
- Wikimedia Commons
By Howard Shirley, Teen Department
It’s National Poetry Month.
There. You have a year.
That’s when it started.
The American Academy of Poets.
That’s who started it.
Not much else factual to say.
But poems aren’t about facts.
Poems are about themselves.
They say whatever they say.
You hear whatever you hear.
That’s a poem.
They’re not about rhyme (though they can be)
They’re not about time (though they can be)
They’re not about meter (rigid or free)
Or fanciful words like “lugubrious.”
Which no one uses any other day.
Or any other way.
Poems are just whatever you want to say.
The way you want to say it.
Your poem is yours.
It can be no one else’s.
It’s National Poetry Month.
So go write a poem.
I just did.
— Howard Shirley
Now it’s your turn! If you are a teenage resident of Williamson County, age 12-18, you are invited to submit your own poems to our Teen Poetry Contest. You may submit up to three poems. Poems are welcome in any form on any subject—the choice is yours (as it should be). A poem may be any length and any style—haiku, sonnet, ballad, limerick, free verse; however your muse takes you. All poems must be your original creations.
All poems must be typed on plain white paper in an ordinary font. Poems with multiple pages should be stapled together. All poems must include the poet’s name, age, school and grade, and contact information (e-mail or phone) at the top of the first page.
We are accepting poems through April 30. You may turn your poem in at any Williamson County Public Library branch, or upstairs in the Teen Room of the Main Branch in Franklin. Contest winners will be announced in May during our Teen Poetry Slam as part of our Summer Reading Kick-off event.
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
You’ve all heard of Limericks, I’m sure
Whether racy or actually pure
They’re funny old rhymes
From good old times
And the good ones are rarely demure
They all start in jolly old Britain
Whose poems were occasionally written
In lyrical styles
To bring forth some smiles
And the poets were instantly smitten
The name, it comes from good green Erin
The Maigue Poets used to declare in
the city, Limerick.
Those bards got a kick
from the poetry style used there in.
The transition to bawdier verse
(Or something ocassionally worse).
The decade was roaring
and not a bit boring,
still, reactions were quite terse.
There once was a man, name of Lear
Who wrote them, though not very clear
His meanings were nonsense
With ridiculous contents
And his fame stretches from then to here
Some people delight to change form
From the meter and scheme as a norm
They sometimes depart
On whole, a la cart
But can do so in in whatever manner they choose and still leave it mildly humorous
So let us praise the limerick this way
On this, the Limerick’s Day
They bring joy and delight
And the length is just right
Except like now when I’m carried away!
As one last PS I must add
A very hard time I have had
To not use Nantucket
Or mention a bucket
But I know that would really be bad.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Most people encounter poems as a child first and poetry books for kids are fun and often silly. Kids love being read to and many poems are made to be read aloud. It’s when we grow up and forced to study specific poems and poetry that we lose interest. That’s why April has become “poetry month,” to encourage everyone to find their enjoyment of poetry again. And poetry really is for everyone. Or rather, there is at least one poem out there for each person that will touch them in some way. You just have to find it.
In order to help people find their enjoyment of poetry again, I hope to introduce you to a few good or unusual poetry books. Of course, if you just want to browse through our poetry books, in our Nonfiction section, which includes poetry, our library organize by the Dewey Decimal System, where American poetry is usually found in the 811s and British poetry is usually found in the 821s.
To refesh your memory about fun children’s poems, have a look at these:
- Falling up: poems and drawings by Shel Silverstein (J 811.6 SIL )
- A bad case of the giggles: kids’ favorite funny poems (J 811.08089282 BAD)
- Where the sidewalk ends by Shel Silverstein (J 811.54 SIL)
- A light in the attic by Shel Silverstein (J 811.54 SIL)
- I’ve lost my hippopotamus by Jack Prelutsky (J 811.54 PRE)
- My dog ate my homework! a collection of funny poems (J 811.54 LAN)
- Stopping by woods on a snowy evening by Robert Frost (J 811.52 FRO)
- Dirt on my shirt: selected poems (J E Fox)
- For laughing out loud: an anthology of poems to tickle your funny bone (J 808.81 FOR)
- Pizza, pigs, and poetry: how to write a poem (J 811.54 PRE)
Want to get back to poetry or rediscovery your love for it? Try these books:
- How to read a poem: and fall in love with poetry (808.1 HIR)
- How to haiku: a writer’s guide to haiku and related forms (808.1 ROS)
- Essential pleasures: a new anthology of poems to read aloud (808.81 ESS)
Most all adults have read Beowulf, one of the oldest extant English poems. Seamus Heaney won awards and rave reviews for his new translation of this epic poem (829.3 BEO). If Beowulf is too long, maybe you should try this book of Old English (Anglo-Saxon) poems with a mouthful title, Ten Old English Poems Put into Modern English Alliterative Verse (821.1 MAL).
If you really want to get adventurous, try listening to the Iliad or The Odyssey. It’s easier to listen to, somehow. Perhaps because it was recited for centuries!? And maybe try The Aeneid for the same reason. Virgil wanted to write a great Roman epic and he definitely succeeded.
- The Iliad by Homer (883.01 HOM)
- The Odyssey by Homer (883 HOM)
- The Aeneid by Virgil (873.01 VIR)
For something completely different, try reading haiku, or maybe writing them. They are short and usually describe a nature scene. There is a definite pattern for haiku: the first line has five syllables, the second line had seven syllables and the third line has five syllables. The best things about haiku are they are short and they don’t have to rhyme!
- Haiku landscapes: in sun, wind, rain and snow (808.1 ADD)
- Haiku love (895.6104108 HAI)
- Haiku: an anthology of Japanese poems (895.6104108 HAI)
And for a different kind of haiku, try these:
- Haiku for the single girl (811.6 GRI)
- Redneck haiku: Bubba-sized with more than 150 new haiku! (811.6 WIT)
If you are feeling patriotic or want to celebrate patriotic holidays, this is the book for you:
- A patriot’s handbook : songs, poems, stories, and speeches celebrating the land we love / selected and introduced by Caroline Kennedy (810.8 KEN)
For poems written from another culture’s point of view, check out these books. Hah, check out these books!!! A little library humor for you.
- The Southern poetry anthology, Volume VI, Tennessee (811.50809768 SOU)
- Angles of ascent: a Norton anthology of contemporary African American poetry (811.09 ANG)
- Voices of the rainbow: contemporary poetry by Native Americans (811.54080897 VOI)
- S O S: poems 1961-2013 by Amiri Baraka (811.54 BAR)
- Reflections: poems of dreams and betrayals by Adebayo Oyebade (811 OYE)
- No enemies, no hatred: selected essays and poems by Liu Xiaobo (895.1452 LIU)
For those trying to say something romantic, nothing is as good as a poem. Here are a few books to get inspiration from (or to copy and give your beloved, showing how much you care.)
- Rumi : the book of love : poems of ecstasy and longing, translations and commentary by Coleman Barks (891.5511 RUM)
- The essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks (891.5511 RUM)
- Art & love: an illustrated anthology of love poetry (808.81 ART)
- Ten poems to open your heart by Roger Housden (811.6 HOU)
- Sonnets from the Portuguese and other love poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (821.8 BRO)
- Twenty love poems and a song of despair by Pablo Neruda (861 NER)
- Love poems and sonnets of William Shakespeare (822.33 SHA)
- If there is something to desire: one hundred poems by Vera Pavlova; translated from the Russian by Steven Seymour (891.715 PAV)
For those who want to explore military themes, and get a real feeling of battle and the letdown of safety after, here are some from older wars and present conflicts.
- “Words for the hour”: a new anthology of American Civil War poetry (811.0080358 WOR)
- Some desperate glory: the First World War the poets knew by Max Egremont (821.912 EGR)
- Poets of World War I: Rupert Brooke & Siegfried Sassoon (YA 821 POE)
- Visions of war, dreams of peace: writings of women in the Vietnam War (811.54080358 VIS)
- Lines in long array: a Civil War commemoration: poems and photographs, past and present (811.008 LIN)
- Here, bullet by Brian Turner (811.6 TUR)
In case you think poetry is just a “girl thing”, here are a few books for men:
- Poems that make grown men cry: 100 men on the words that move them (821.008 POE)
- The Bar-D roundup a compilation of classic and contemporary poetry from CowboyPoetry.com (CD 811.54 08 BAR)
- Lessons from a desperado poet: how to find your way when you don’t have a map, how to win the game (811.54 BLA)
- Poetry for guys– who thought they hated poetry (811.008 POE)
A few offerings of humorous poems for grown-ups
- O, what a luxury: verses lyrical, vulgar, pathetic & profound by Garrison Keillor (811.6 KEI)
- Ogden Nash’s zoo (811.52 NAS)
- How did I get to be 40: & other atrocities and other poems by Judith Viorst (811.54 VIO)
- I’m too young to be seventy: and other delusions by Judith Viorst (811 VIO)
Other poetry books to consider that are recent and don’t really fit a category:
- It’s probably nothing, or, How I learned to stop worrying and love my implants by Micki Myers (811.6 MYE)
- Words for empty and words for full by Bob Hicok (811.54 HIC)
- Horoscopes for the dead: poems by Billy Collins (811.54 COL)
- Mr. Collins was a US Poet Laureate – a big deal!
- Firecracker red by Stellasue Lee (808.810082 LEE)
- Ms. Lee is a local poet
This book is in a category all by itself – and funny!
- I could pee on this: and other poems by cats by Francesco Marciuliano (811.6 MAR)
After Black History Month and Women’s History Month were created and were successful in gaining notice, the Academy of American Poets proposed the creation of National Poetry Month. They actually asked publishers, librarians, poets, teachers and all literary organizations to send representatives to meet and discuss instituting a poetry month.
And so, in 1995, the first National Poetry Month was established. In 2001, the Academy members voted on a poet for a postage stamp. Langston Hughes was the winner; he was the most popular with over 10,000 votes. Later, in 2006, the Academy started Poem in Your Pocket; they posted a new poem everyday on their website for a month. That was so successful; they now post a poem every day. They also will email a poem a day to those who sign up for it.
So why are people so passionate about poetry? Why did they want a whole month to talk about and promote poetry?
How else can you create an image in your mind with words? Image trying to write a paragraph about these poems and the pictures they convey. Sometimes poems say more in images that a paragraph can say.
The fog comes in on little cat feet.
It sits looking over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
by Carl Sandburg
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
by William Carolos Williams
I broke your heart.
I tread on shards.
by Vera Pavlova
Shake and shake
The catsup bottle.
First a little–
And then a lott’l.
by Richard Armour
the moon so pure
a wandering monk carries it
across the sand
by Basho (Japanese Haiku master)
Poems make you see pictures or feel something; they can also help you get your feelings out. Not all poems have to rhyme. They don’t have to go on and on. If you like structure, try a haiku. Haiku should be seventeen syllables, in three lines of five, seven and five. It is traditionally written about nature. Google haiku and get inspired.
This year, during April 2015, we hope you pay attention to what you see and feel and just perhaps you might try to find a poem that matches you r feelings. Or perhaps write one just for yourself. It’s easier than you think. Think about subscribing to poem-a-day from http://www.poets.org.
You could participate in Put a Poem in Your Pocket, on Thursday, April 30. All you need to do is find a poem you like and share it with others: you could add it to your email footer for one day or you could send to school with your child or teen. You could post it at work, on the bulletin board or on email or tweet about a favorite poet, or poem.
Just one day. Surely we can all handle that!