I suppose it is more than mere coincidence that April is both “the cruelest month” and National Poetry Month. In a world of blingy information inviting you to jump from apps to texts to Facebook, Snapchat, cat videos and yes, blog posts, the pleasure of letting your mind rest on a page contemplating a poem can’t be underestimated.
Not sure you know how to approach poem? There are lots of good ways in. Start with some popular poets. There’s a reason why Billy Collins and Mary Oliver actually sell: Their combination of craft, accessibility, emotion and intelligence make for enduring and rewarding reading.
Another way is to just jump in and immerse yourself in some of the greatest voices of our times. The Caedmon Poetry Collection is both a stunning historical artifact and an introduction to the greatest poems of the 20th century—read by the poets themselves. I grant that I’m a dork but it’s kind of thrilling to hear Auden, Yeats, Dylan Thomas, Anne Sexton, Neruda, Pound, Wallace Stevens, Margaret Atwood and T.S. Eliot (you’ll hear all about that cruelest month) reading in their own voices.
Or you could start with a guide. David Orr’s 2011 Beautiful & Pointless remains one of my favorite introductions. Simple and intimate, marked by wonderful examples, it shows as much as tells the reader the wonders to be found in poetry.
Add to that list of useful guides a new book from Robert Hass, a former U.S. Poet Laureate and winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. A Little Book on Form gives readers a vocabulary for understanding how the formal constraints and compression of poetry also create the possibility for expression our deepest and most intense feelings. Booklist notes that Hass, who is also a much-lauded essayist, “writes prose every bit as zestful, penetrating, and sure-footed as his poetry.”
Happy Poetry Month!
With specificity, clarity, and inspired insight…Hass’s reading is extensive, as shown by references to and quotations of dozens of poets, ranging in period from Caesar’s Rome to the Renaissance and 21st-century America. He includes the greats—Bashõ, Dickinson, Rudaki, Shakespeare—and a wealth of lesser-known talents. Hass discusses how poetic form synthesizes many subjects, including math, music, religion, and sexuality. Throughout, he justifies and asserts the place of order in poetic form, which is often accused of being chaotic and abstruse…. [An] emotionally and intellectually nurturing work of analysis, suited for academia and ambitious leisure readers.”
— Publishers Weekly
A Little Book on Form: An Exploration into the Formal Imagination of Poetry (9780062332424) by Robert Hass. $29.99 hardcover. 4/4/17 on sale.
Caedmon Poetry Collection: A Century of Poets Reading Their Work (9780062206404) $14.99 audio CD. Available now.
Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry (9780061673467) by David Orr. $14.99 trade paper original. Available now.