By Serena / Everett Public Library staff
April is National Poetry month and the library’s Reading Challenge this month is to read a book of poetry. I have heard some people say they are not looking forward to this challenge and that they probably won’t be reading a book of poetry. I understand this resistance because a lot of people (myself included) have bad memories of being required to read poets who weren’t accessible to them during high school or college. They were required to memorize the first twenty lines of Chaucer’s “General Prologue” from “The Canterbury Tales” or read “Paradise Lost.”
Nothing is necessarily wrong with Chaucer or Milton, but today I am highlighting contemporary poets who may not be familiar to everyone. My hope in writing this post is that someone who avoids poetry will consider trying to read a poem — or maybe even a book of them. I have a deep appreciation for poetry, and it has come to me through writing it but also through reading poets that I resonate with on a personal and intellectual level. A wide spectrum of poets influenced me, but two in particular were Anne Sexton and Sharon Olds. I remember just falling into their work, feeling like I had found someone who understood me.
Some of the poets listed below recently had their start on social media, while others have been writing poetry in the more conventional sense for quite some time. Poetry can be intimidating when you start reading it, but just remember there is not one right way to interpret a poem. Your experiences and who you are will determine your interpretation. If you need some tips about how to get started reading a poem, check out this insightful document from the Great Books Foundation.
“The Sun and Her Flowers” by Rupi Kaur
The long-awaited second book of poetry by Rupi Kaur is comprised of five parts and includes her illustrations, as well. The parts are called wilting, falling, rooting, rising and blooming. These poems chronicle heartbreak but also the strength and growth that occurs after the pain has been traversed.
“Sailing Alone Around the Room” by Billy Collins
Billy Collins is a renowned American poet who is a Guggenheim fellow and served as the U.S. poet laureate from 2001 to 2003. His poems are about easily accessible subjects such as getting out of bed in the morning or quitting smoking. Sometimes they are funny and sometimes they take on a more serious, reflective tone. He uncovers complex topics through remarkably mundane things and observations.
“I Wrote This for You” by Pleasefindthis (Iain S. Thomas)
Pleasefindthis is the pseudonym that Iain S. Thomas uses as a poet. He began sharing his poetry and photographs on his blog before they were published as books. “I Wrote This for You” is a collection of his work that spans 2007 to 2017. The first page of his book reads:
I wrote this for you and only you. The universe is desperately trying to move you into the only spot that truly belongs to you, in the whole entire thing, a space that only you can stand in. I believe it is up to you to decide every single day whether you are moving towards or away from that spot. I am trying to draw a map.
His work will pull you in and let you know you are less alone in the world.
“How to be Alone” by Tanya Davis
Maybe you want to be alone but just need a few instructions. If you are extremely hesitant about reading poetry, then this may be the book for you. “How to Be Alone” is comprised of one illustrated poem written by Tanya Davis and illustrated by Andrea Dorfman. Davis is a poet, musician and performer, and if you enjoy reading this poem, check out her video on YouTube. Davis reminds me how poetry can be presented in so many different ways — it doesn’t just have to be a verse on a page.
“Life on Mars: Poems by Tracy K. Smith”
Tracy K. Smith is the current U.S. poet laureate, and “Life on Mars” won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. The poems in this collection are longer and will require more time reading and pondering them than some of the other poetry mentioned in this post. Some of the poems are infused with themes from science fiction, and they truly take on a vastness that might be compared to traveling through space.
“Wildly Into the Dark: Typewriter Poems and the Rattlings of a Curious Mind” by Tyler Knott Gregson
Gregson’s most recent book is comprised of both his poetry and photography. Many of the poems in this book are photographs of his poems that have been typed on a typewriter, and this definitely influenced the way I read these poems. Gregson captured the tone of his work well in the introduction to his collection:
Perhaps for me, art, and the creation of it, has been reduced over the years to the pursuit of accurately and honestly reflecting both sides of that reality: the shine of noon and the pitch of midnight.
“The Princess Saves Herself in This One” by Amanda Lovelace
If you are a fan of Rupi Kaur’s work, Amanda Lovelace will pique your interest, as well. As a child, she loved reading fairy tales, so the title of this collection makes sense. The first three parts of the book are autobiographical and are called the princess, the damsel and the queen. The fourth part is called “you” and it addresses the reader in the hope that they will write their own ending. Lovelace explores themes of love and loss and ultimately resilience.