After talking with our beloved Free for All chief writer and coordinator, it’s clear to me that, like many average readers, we Free for All bloggers are suffering from a serious case metrophobia: fear of poetry. I get the impression that many readers want to read poetry, but when I mention that I read poetry on occasion, they usually respond with something like, “Wow, you read that stuff? Good for you. It doesn’t make any sense to me,” or “Poetry is interesting, but I don’t know how to talk about it.”
The trouble is, poetry makes many people apprehensive. You hear the word “poetry,” and suddenly you’re 16 years old, and Poetry is that cute guy you want to ask out, but are just too afraid to approach. Poetry is the hipster in the corner with its own format, language and social cues, and it’s just not worth the effort of trying to fit in knowing you’ll only make a fool of yourself anyway. You see where I’m going here. Poetry makes metrophobes feel awkward, clumsy and unsure of themselves, enough so that they avoid it altogether.
Today, I’m here to tell you one thing: Get over it.
I’m not going to tell you that poetry will change your life because it probably won’t. But it will make you appreciate things in new ways. Like a painting or a photograph, a poem asks you to take a character, a moment, a feeling or an image, and look at it very closely from angles you might not expect. A poem often has an “aha” moment that will speak to you, or two juxtaposed images that will shock or surprise you. Poems pack an emotional punch, made all the more impressive by their word economy, and you will find yourself thinking about a good one for days, months or years after the first time you read it. Good poems can make you laugh, make you cry. They can comfort and soothe you. Sometimes a good poem is just there for you when you need it, to remind you of something important you didn’t realize you forgot.
So what I’m asking you to do today is to go on a date with poetry. And if you don’t get along with your first poet, try another one. Just like novels, books of poetry vary widely in style, theme and format. When you find the right poet, you’ll know, and you’ll thank me for setting you up on this blind date.
If you’ve been living life as a metrophobe, it’s time for some immersion therapy. To get you started, the following books are available in the library’s collection, and just waiting for you to check them out.
Felicity by Mary Oliver
In her latest book, Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver explores themes of nature, faith, love, and being present to the wonder of life. For those looking for a book of poetry that is both approachable and gracious, this is it. In this particularly beautiful verse from “The World I Live In,” Oliver uses elegant and seemingly simple language to talk about faith:
You wouldn’t believe what once or
twice I have seen. I’ll just
tell you this:
only if there are angels in your head will you
ever, possibly, see one.
And in the collection’s final poem, “A Voice from I Don’t Know Where,” she neatly ties together the whole of the book in a show of gratitude for the complexities and joys of life:
It must surely, then, be very happy down there
in your heart.
“Yes,” I said. “It is.”
If you’re just getting started with poetry, Mary Oliver is a wonderful place to begin. Her words will make you “very happy down there / in your heart.”
The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems
Even if you’re not a poetry reader, you’ve probably heard of New England poet Robert Frost. As part of a recent library discussion series, we discussed selections from this book which Professor Theoharis described like this: “Robert Frost’s poems are famous and loved for their wisdom and beauty. Natural scenes, events, and people who live and work in the countryside of New England provide the topics on which the poems wax wise and lovely. Although the tendency to read Frost sentimentally can probably not be checked, there is a darkness and comedy in his poems that often goes without comment.”
Transformations by Anne Sexton
If you enjoy fairy tale revisions, chances are you’ll love Anne Sexton’s darkly poetic takes on Grimm’s fairy tales. Dubbed by the Paris Review as a “caustic sequence of poems,” Transformations is one of the first books of poetry that ever captured my attention. As ever in Sexton’s poetry, these verses convey a discontent with 1950’s family life, and contrasting the oldness of the tales with similes from modern life, Sexton describes Snow White’s “eyes as wide as Orphan Annie” and a Cinderella who “slept on the sooty hearth each night / and walked around looking like Al Jolson.” These poems may not end with a “happily ever after,” but you’ll be glad you read them just the same.