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The Poem in Your Pocket

April is national poetry month, and since the folks who sponsor it make it ridiculously easy to read more poetry, I’ve signed up for their poem-a-day e-mail. I will also participate in the Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 14th (just prior to Tax Return in the Mail day) in which people are encouraged to carry their favorite poem with them.

I’m still deciding what mine will be. Mathew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” holds a special place in my heart, but I’ve also always been partial to Dylan Thomas’ gorgeous “Fern Hill.” Sadly, with the exception of those poems placed before me in the New Yorker or Harper’s, I’m embarrassed to admit that I rarely read poetry, at least of the grown-up variety. My preschooler loves Shel Silverstein, Dr. Seuss, A.A. Milne, and Lewis Caroll, the sillier and more tongue twist-y the poem, the better. It’s clear that rhyming, meter, assonance, consonance and sheer pleasure in wordplay in general come pretty naturally to kids. But at some point or another, even for the very bookish, the habit of poetry seems to fall by the wayside. Despite being surrounded by literary types, I know few people who read poetry for pleasure, fewer still who read contemporary poets, and fewer still who actually buy books of poetry. It’s no secret that the novel has eclipsed the poem as a literary form, and I have my own theories about why this is, but why do you suppose poetry has suffered such loss of “market share?” I’d also be pleased if you’d share the name (or a link to) your favorite poem.

9 Responses to The Poem in Your Pocket

  1. Jessica… I like mine! Goes to the heart of What Matters Most! Easy, simple and to the point!!

    “LOVE CONQUERS ALL”

    WHEN THE WORLD SURROUNDS US WITH ITS AWESOME MIGHT…
    AND WE FEEL THAT WE ARE LOST IN THE NIGHT,
    JUST REMEMBER THE PROMISE THAT COMES FROM THE LIGHT…

    “LOVE CONQUERS ALL”

    WHEN YOU FEEL AS THOUGH YOU CAN’T SEE THE LIGHT,
    FOR THE EFFORT YOU GIVE TO FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT…
    AND YOU PUSH YOUSELF TO DO WHAT IS RIGHT,
    JUST REMEMBER THE PROMISE THAT COMES FROM THE LIGHT…

    “LOVE CONQUERS ALL”

    IF YOU FEEL YOU’VE DONE ALL YOU CAN…
    BE REASSURED, TO KNOW YOU CAN;
    FOR FAITH, HOPE AND LOVE IS THE ANSWER TO IT ALL,
    BECAUSE YOU MUST BELIEVE…

    “LOVE CONQUERS ALL”

    Kevin “James” Richardson

  2. Jolene G. says:

    Hi, Jessica,

    One of my favorite poems is “Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town” by e. e. cummings, http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/anyone-lived-in-a-pretty-how-town/. I love his free style of writing and painting words on a page.

    In the past year, I’ve worked with 3 authors (Jane Kurtz, Avi, and Patricia Polacco), who’ve had a similar message: shut off the TV. Get outside and experience life. Listen to stories, but don’t let the television put the pictures attached to those stories in your head.

    I wonder if our “plugging in” as a culture might be connected in some ways to the decline of poetry. Poetry is such a sensorial, creative form of writing. . .maybe more and more of us aren’t sure how to wrap our minds around it. What do you think?

  3. Tammy says:

    Poetry can sometimes be a bit difficult to read. Maybe that’s one of the reason’s why it’s not as popular as it once was. I’m not a big fan of poetry but I do love, Her Voice by Oscar Wilde
    http://www.poetry-online.org/wilde_her_voice.htm

  4. kellye says:

    I didn’t know there was a Poem in Your Pocket day. I recently sent “Keep a Poem in Your Pocket” by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers (link to poem: http://www.ci.nyc.ny.us/html/misc/html/poem/poem1b.html) to my young niece using a tiny letter, and it was a huge hit. (More about tiny letters here: http://www.leafcutterdesigns.com/shop/wsps/about.html).

    I think you’re right that people tend to read less poetry than other genres, and I’m not sure why. I don’t have one favorite, but I enjoy Billy Collins, Ron Koertge, and Mary Oliver. I also really love the book Americans’ Favorite Poems edited by Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz. It’s fascinating that so many Americans took the time and effort to mail in their favorites and say why they were. OOOh, I’m looking through it now and seeing Gwendolyn Brooks (We Real Cool), Langston Hughes, W.H. Auden (I’m not ashamed to admit that I first heard Funeral Blues in the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral. Love! Here’s a link to that part of the movie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_a-eXIoyYA)…so many….

    Thanks for reminding me.

  5. Lisa Ahn says:

    I’m lucky enough to have a very brilliant poet as a critique partner. She posts on her blog and has links to her published work as well.

    http://patriciacaspers.blogspot.com/

    As for why poetry has fallen behind fiction — maybe because it’s harder to get lost in it. Poetry usually asks something in return. That’s just my guess. . . .

  6. Market share? In the same sentence as poetry? Oh, the deliciousness of it all – well, I have a bowl of kolache dough rising near my computer, so that probably accounts for the deliciousness.

    I think it bowls, I mean, boils down to the conflation of “contemporary” and “academic” – in Laura Miller’s latest piece on Salon, she interviews a poetry critic, and refers to the “professional poet” – really, shouldn’t that be pro-fessorial poet? I’ve had the experience at poetry readings, the first question out of someone’s mouth is – where do you teach? Really, if you don’t teach, it’s a hideous question. I guess it’s like at a cocktail party, and a woman is asked “what do you do?,” and she answers “I’m a stay-at-home mom”…the questioner cringes…stay-at-home poet as academic failure (but let’s contact Emily D. with a Ouija board, and ask her opinion).

    I feel academic poets have no concern with audience, beyond their colleagues and students, and maybe a thin layer of well-educated and proud-of-it readers beyond that. And if reading contemporary poetry feels like “work,” well, it should! I mean, you don’t call the work you do outside the classroom school-play, you call it schoolwork. You don’t call it home-play, you call it homework. And reading poetry in the classroom is work (that’s why they call them poetry workshops, right?), so when you read it outside of the classroom, well, that should be work too. It’s only proper.

    I can remember, long ago, being in my cute little apartment, painted purple and orange and aqua (I like a lot of color) – going to read some contemporary poetry! A few years out from my MFA (in poetry) – and I had to admit to myself – although the poet in question was “brilliant” – so talented! Etc…I did not enjoy reading her poetry. First of all, too many too-long poems, one clotted mass of imagery; all very serious; dysthymic verging on depressed; but brilliant! Experimental! Postmodern! Ironic! All the things “contemporary” poetry should be! And I didn’t give a crap, in my purple and orange and aqua apartment! I’d like some joy thank you, concise, clear, hopeful joy. Sorry.

    I’m having a hard time getting to the point. I remember Tom Disch making an argument for a multiplicity of poetic genres – I’m thinking of The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth and Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow, two verse novels I enjoyed…I think with academic poets so dominating the “poetry establishment,” there’s been a really painful contraction, stylistically and genre-wise, over the decades…I mean, you can go back to poetry from the 80s, and all of a sudden the word “rosette” starts appearing all over the place…I mean…rosette? When’s the last time you used “rosette” in a conversation, or even thought about rosettes? Who knows what the current words-of-the-decade are now…

    I guess in a nutshell, poetry’s loss of market share (along the lines of Dana Gioia’s reasoning), is their utter indifference to doing any market research, to find out what a PAYING audience wants in a book of poetry (i.e., unit of sale)…beyond the academic enclave. And against accusations of selling out, as one of the Beach Boys so memorably put it…you can’t sell out…unless you’ve got something to sell.

  7. I have many favorite poems – Mary Oliver’s “Skunk Cabbage”:

    http://www.poetrymountain.com/authors/maryoliver.html

    Also, Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Menses” – very modern for its time period! (No pun intended)

    Elizabeth Bishop’s “Pink Dog.” Also Sylvia Plath’s poem, I believe “Kindness,” which ends “the blood jet is poetry/there is no stopping it.”

    Langston Hughes’s “Mother to Son.” http://www.tnellen.com/cybereng/matoson.html

    Okay, I’ll stop now.

  8. Phoenix says:

    I’ve loved reading poetry since I was in my early teens, and even write it from time to time, although I usually cringe when looking back on my efforts.

    Picking a favorite for me is hard, but I do have a soft spot for the Norwegian poem by Arnulf Øverland, Du Må Ikke Sove (the title translates to You Mustn’t Sleep). I don’t think there exists an English translation, which is sad, because this is the most powerful war poem I’ve ever read.

    Other favorites include The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy, A Supermarket in California by Allen Ginsberg, To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell, and probably a hundred others that I can’t remember off the top of my head.

  9. Hi Jessica,
    Strange to live in a country where there’s a Poetry Month. I’m glad to read your post, glad you care to ask the question, glad there are people like you working to see that we don’t end up a country with a Book Month.

    Here’s a timely & beautiful poem by Milosz:

    PREPARATION

    Still one more year of preparation.
    Tomorrow at the latest I’ll start working on a great book
    In which my century will appear as it really was.
    The sun will rise over the righteous and the wicked.
    Springs and autumns will unerringly return,
    In a wet thicket a thrush will build his nest lined with clay
    And foxes will learn their foxy natures.

    And that will be the subject, with addenda. Thus: armies
    Running across frozen plains, shouting a curse
    In a many-voiced chorus; the cannon of a tank
    Growing immense at the corner of a street; the ride at dusk
    Into a camp with watchtowers and barbed wire.

    No, it won’t happen tomorrow. In five or ten years.
    I still think too much about the mothers
    And ask what is man born of woman.
    He curls himself up and protects his head
    While he is kicked by heavy boots; on fire and running,
    He burns with a bright flame; a bulldozer sweeps him into a clay pit.
    Her child. Embracing a teddy bear. Conceived in ecstasy.

    I haven’t learned yet to speak as I should, calmly.

    – Czeslaw Milosz

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