In Celebration of National Poetry Month

I loved poetry long before there was a National Poetry Month, though I so remember the year, 1996, that it was established. My daughters were little, and Shel Silverstein, Dr. Seuss, and books like A Child's Garden of Verses filled our evenings. When my sister and I were about their ages, my father used to read us from The Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg instead of bedtime stories. He liked to point out that Sandburg was a first-generation Swede like my revered maternal grandfather, which made his poetry that much more special.

In addition to doing my own writing, I spent 20 years facilitating a poetry club for amazing teenage writers when I was a librarian at Tucson High School. Each year we produced a literary magazine, held poetry slams, and participated in wonderful events like the National Endowment of the Arts-funded Poetry Out Loud. Some of my favorite go-to anthologies from that era are part of the PCPL collection: Poems to Read, Poetry 180, and I Feel A Little Jumpy Around You.

Poems to Read, edited by former poet laureate Robert Pinsky, was born out of his National Favorite Poem Project. Many of the poems are complimented by poignant personal comments from the people who recommended them – like 19-year-old Mishiima Alan from Terra Haute, Indiana, who said of W.H. Auden’s poem, As I Walked Out One Evening: 

"To me it captures all the aspects of young love with the crazy foolishness that goes with it."

And Norma Patrick-Collier, 37, a librarian in Humboldt, Tennessee, who wrote of Countee Cullen’s poem, Incident:

"This particular poem seemed to mark a change in my consciousness. I first read it as a teen, and the joy, beauty, then senselessness and resignation captured an end of my innocence. This poem, crafted so simply, let me know also of the hurts of others, and that I was not alone."

Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry was inspired by another former poet laureate, Billy Collins, whose Poem-A-Day Project with the Library of Congress has inspired teachers across the country. It, and its companion second volume (not currently in our collection), were the only books I took with me on a 6-month sabbatical years ago, and I return to them over and over again for inspiration. I wish I had written lines like those from Valentine by Carol Ann Duffy:

"I give you an onion

Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,

possessive and faithful."

  Or Li Young Lee’s Words for Worry:

"Worry boils the water

for tea in the middle of the night."

Finally, I would recommend another oldie-but-goodie, I Feel A Little Jumpy Around You: A Book of Her Poems & His Poems Collected in Pairs, edited by Naomi Shihab Nye and Paul Janeczco. E.K. Miller’s poem, My Father’s Garden, sits across Alberto Ríos’ La Sequia, comparing and contrasting childhood memories of complicated men and what it was like for a family to depend on its harvest. Ríos writes,


peaches are drying up all around

like my grandfather, without a sound,"

which is echoed by Miller’s,

"He paced the length of it all day.

two rows of sweet corn, two of beans,

five rows of tomatoes, yellowed in the sun.

The scarce wind ruffled sheets out on the line,

its dry fingers soft as his grandmother’s,

her light breath before she died."

Like the bumper sticker on my car reads, Poetry is necessary.


Enjoy these recommendations? See Amy's post from last April for more!