“Poetry Month?” you may be asking. “Isn’t that in April?” And you would be correct. That is when schoolchildren are subjected to Tennyson or rewarded with Shel Silverstein until the books are put away to collect dust for the remaining 11 months of the year. To that I say, pish posh! Let us read poetry year-round.
But also, the person before me brought back the library volume of the Mary Oliver collection Devotions midway through May, so I was starting behind.
I didn’t let myself get to irritated about it, since I had plenty of other books going and as long as the book DID come back, I would be pleased. When I checked it out, I understood: this tome is a doorstopper. HUGE anthology of all of her Ohio-born insight and beauty.
Now, if you know me, you may be surprised to hear that I actually enjoy poetry. I am too. As previously mentioned, I tend to judge things and later, with more exposure to them, change my mind. Poetry doesn’t land on my to-read list, and I have been known to think it is a far more philosophical (read: annoyingly dense) and flowery and not my cup of tea. Of course I still love To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time by Robert Herrick (gather ye rosebuds while ye may), but I’m a huge reader and I don’t hardly read contemporary poetry, so that likely means plenty of others REALLY don’t. I’ve come to learn that a big part of librarian-ing is advocacy, so, let me advocate the reading of poems. With what I’ve read in order to write this post, I see I have to work more poems into my book diet. Comment with suggestions of where to look next!
Another nugget that makes my “three-months-late” post more timely is that I found out recently that poetry is getting a bigger following nationwide!
So, consider this a trigger warning: there are poems below. I don’t want to go too deep into analyzing because I think the work speaks for itself, but here are some highlights from my poetry dig.
I went first to Mary Oliver, because she is from Ohio and the brain behind the only poem I openly confessed to enjoying in college. (I know, we didn’t have to read much poetry in college. Seriously, tell me what poets to read next.)
It didn’t behave
like anything you had
ever imagined. The wind
tore at the trees, the rain
fell for days slant and hard.
The back of the hand
to everything. I watched
the trees bow and their leaves fall
and crawl back into the earth.
As though, that was that.
This was one hurricane
I lived through, the other one
was of a different sort, and
lasted longer. Then
I felt my own leaves giving up and
falling. The back of the hand to
everything. But listen now to what happened
to the actual trees;
toward the end of that summer they
pushed new leaves from their stubbed limbs.
It was the wrong season, yes,
but they couldn’t stop. They
looked like telephone poles and didn’t
care. And after the leaves came
blossoms. For some things
there are no wrong seasons.
Which is what I dream of for me.
The appeal here for me is the sense of devastation over which there is no control, and how, somehow, the natural world rejuvenates and heals itself.
The second collection I read is Water & Salt by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha. The title was included in a Book Riot list of Arab authors to read, so I recommended it to my library, they approved my request and a couple weeks later I was holding it! (Did y’all know you could ask libraries to buy the books you want? Requirements: having a library card there / picking a new-ish title that is still in print –otherwise, you can interlibrary loan!)
Library plug over. Back to the poetry. I really liked this collection, in which Tuffaha talks about her homeland of Palestine. Much of it is about war, public opinion and news coverage of her country. Generally not my favorite things to read about, but I thoroughly appreciated the content in poem form. They cut to the point.
They call us now,
before they drop the bombs.
The phone rings
and someone who knows my first name
calls and says in perfect Arabic
“This is David.”
And in my stupor of sonic booms and glass-shattering symphonies
still smashing around in my head
I think, Do I know any Davids in Gaza?
They call us now to say
You have 58 seconds from the end of this message.
Your house is next.
They think of it as some kind of
It doesn’t matter that
there is nowhere to run to.
It means nothing that the borders are closed
and your papers are worthless
and mark you only for a life sentence
in this prison by the sea
and the alleyways are narrow
and there are more human lives
packed one against the other
more than any other place on earth
We aren’t trying to kill you.
It doesn’t matter that
you can’t call us back to tell us
the people we claim to want aren’t in your house
that there’s no one here
except you and your children
who were cheering for Argentina
sharing the last loaf of bread for this week
counting candles left in case the power goes out.
You live in the wrong place
and now is your chance to run
It doesn’t matter
that 58 seconds isn’t long enough
to find your wedding album
or your son’s favorite blanket
or your daughter’s almost completed college application
or your shoes
or to gather everyone in the house.
It doesn’t matter what you had planned.
It doesn’t matter who you are.
Prove you’re human.
Prove you stand on two legs.
When looking for poetry, it is usually a good idea to check with our current Poet Laureate to see how they’re doing. From a lovely friend’s timely poetry month post, and then another lovely friend’s instagram post:
THE EVERLASTING SELF by Tracy K. Smith
Comes in from a downpour
Shaking water in every direction —
A collaborative condition:
Gathered, shed, spread, then
Forgotten, reabsorbed. Like love
From a lifetime ago, and mud
A dog has tracked across the floor.
I’m a big fan of the theme of self right now, and this image is so visual.
The poem that made me fall in love with Mary’s poems:
The Summer Day by Mary Oliver
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the world?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?