Thursday, June 3, 2010

poetry speaks who i am

I don't read poetry. And to tell you the truth, it intimidates me. I know that's an odd opening for a book review, but lately I've been thinking it's time to give poetry another chance. It's time to forget about those horrible middle school/high school English classes and take a fresh look.... maybe even learn to appreciate it.

The perfect opportunity presented itself when I won poetry speaks who i am, a collection of 100 poems aimed at teens, edited by Elise Paschen from Bellezza at Dolce Bellezza. It includes everything from classics by Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, Maya Angelou, and John Keats, to fresh young contemporary voices that speak to experiences from baseball to bra shopping, from mowing the lawn to eating a bowl of oatmeal. Best of all, it includes a 47 track audio CD of poets reading their own work.

From Powells Books:
"The power of spoken poetry is at the heart of Poetry Speaks. Poetry is a vocal art, an art meant to be read aloud. Listening to a poem read aloud can be a transforming experience. Poetry Speaks not only introduces the finest work from some of the greatest poets who ever lived, it reintroduces the oral tradition of poetry, of poetry performed."
Why hadn't I thought to experience poetry in this way? What a joy it was to listen to authors read their work. Their tone and inflection added much, and gave me the courage to read the classics in the collection for myself.

A personal revelation followed:
I don't have to like, or understand, every single poem. Every poem will not speak to me.

From there, it was very a short stretch to:
Just because I do not like every poem, it does not mean that I don't like poetry.

This sounds so elementary. Why have I not looked at it this way before? Of course it would be ridiculous to say I don't like novels because of a few I didn't like or understand, yet that is exactly what I've been doing with poetry for decades!

So now, my question... Where do I go from here? Is there a particular poet or anthology you would recommend? Or perhaps one of those "how to" read/understand poetry books? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Finally, I'll leave you with one of the poems that "spoke" to me. It's about the kitchen table -

Perhaps the World Ends Here
by Joy Harjo

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we
must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table.
So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the
corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it
means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms
around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-
down selves and as we put ourselves back together once
again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella
in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a
place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to
celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared
our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We
pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table,
while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last
sweet bite.


  1. Hhmmm, my parent's have an anthology called the Nation's Favourite Poems introduced by Griff Rhys Jones - it was a Christmas present from somebody years ago and might be quite a good place to start as there are so many different poets featured - that way you could see which ones you were drawn to and which ones not so much. I really like John Donne, but that may just be me!

    Lovely to read your post


  2. I found the same thing: listening to the poets read their work greatly enhanced my appreciation of the poems. Sadly, I'm not a natural poem lover; I have to work at it a bit. Anyway, I'm so glad that the book delighted you as it did me.

    p.s. The Japanese Literature Challenge 4 has begun again. I'd love it if you felt like joining in for another go. ;)

  3. How about the book Poems on the Underground - there's a really wide range there or the anthology The Rattle Bag edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes? Thinking about a specific poet how about starting with our Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy? I look forward to reading more of your chosen poems. I loved the poem you shared here.

  4. Well, I am an English teacher (although not by trade) and poetry greatly intimidates me.

    I will say that I had two experiences over the last few years to help me with poetry. One was a class that I took in which the instructor told us that the aim is not to "get" it - but to "feel" it -- somehow that helped me. There is not one right answer, as feelings are not right nor wrong.

    The other experience was the opportunity to hear Billy Collins read aloud his own poetry. It was life-changing.

    Great post, JoAnn -- and now I need to go check out this book :)

  5. This one sounds very interesting. I really liked the poem that you posted. I want to like poetry but I seem to gravitate towards Shel Silverstein!!! LOL! now that's poetry I can understand!

  6. I can completely relate to everything you've said about poetry. I have my degree in English, and yet for years I found poetry vaguely intimidating.

    It was Wendy Cope's poem 'After the Lunch' (still one of my favorite poems) that showed me poetry could in fact be accessible and relevant and convinced me to try again!

  7. Hannah - Thank you for the suggestion! I have found some reasonably priced used copies on amazon and have added it to my list. Hope to place a 'poetry order' soon.

    Bellezza - I so enjoyed this CD and book! It has me very excited about giving poetry another chance. I'm definitely in for JLC4! Will do a post in the next few days.

    Joan HUnter Dunn - Hadn't heard of Poems on the Underground, but what a fascinating idea! Have just added The Rattle Bag to my wish list, and will place a poetry order soon. I'm glad you liked the poem, too.

    Molly - That's a great way to look at it to..."feeling it" rather than "getting it". Poetry is so well-suited to the audio format. Hope you can find the book!

    Staci - I love Shel Silverstein! We have all his books and I can remember reading them to the girls when they were younger.

    Kristina - I wonder if so many feel intimidated because of the way poetry was initially presented to us in school... not at all pleasant, lol! I will look up Cope's poem.

  8. Though I've yet to read it myself, I've heard great things about The Ode Less Travelled - it's supposedly one of those books that will really increase your appreciation for poetry.

    As for favourite poets, Mary Oliver and Anne Sexton are both incredibly accessible but not any less meaningful for it.

  9. I LOVE this poem. Isn't it just so true. These are the poems I like - poems I GET! Mary Oliver is a good example of a good poetry ambassador. I think the best poems express things we non-poets don't always take the time to notice, both the natural word and our interior emotions.

  10. I just read the poem over on Lakeside Musings. I loved it and it really spoke to me. I find myself at the same spot as you. I've been turned off by most poetry in the past but I want to like it. I'm going to give this book a chance and perhaps see if there are other audio books of poetry.

  11. It's funny but I love poetry when I was in elementary school -- and not just kid's poetry but Blake and Longfellow and Frost. Now I really never read it. I keep thinking I should return to poetry, but I never do.

  12. I loved reading your personal revelations, they're very true but hard to really grasp sometimes. This sounds like a great book and I love the idea of having poets read their own poems on CD.

  13. Wonderful choice, JoAnn. Thank you.
    I add my vote to those in favor of Mary Oliver; she's accessible, and quite moving. Hearing poetry is so different from seeing it on the page--it was meant to be spoken, after all. Sounds like a great collection!

  14. Nymeth - Thank you! I've just ordered The Ode Less Travelled from the library and should have it before the end of the week.

    Nan - I thought you might like this one! No poem has ever really spoken to me before. I'll definitely check out Mary Oliver.

    Margot - Good idea to check for other audio poetry collections! I'll have to see what and my library have available. I just love this poem!

    Beth F - Did you have a teacher that inspired you or did you just discover poetry on your own? I don't remember any kids loving poetry when I was in school, and my girls never really appreciated it either.

    Iris - You know, I almost didn't even post those 'revelations' because they seemed so simple. Listening to the CD was amazing!

    DS - Mary Oliver is most definitely on my list of poets to investigate. Listening to the CD made such a difference - can't wait to see what other audio poetry I can locate.

  15. JoAnn,
    I was never a huge poetry fan until I discovered Marie Howe in college and her book "What The Living Do." It is extremely accessible-not like some of the other stuff I read that I didn't understand at all (Ode on a Grecian Urn, for example...still don't get it.) Marie Howe's brother died of AIDS and most of the poems, but not all, have that as the subject. I am also a fan of Billy Collins.

  16. Bookin' It - Thanks for visiting. I will look for Marie Howe's book... really appreciate the suggestion!

  17. Thanks so much for sharing that wonderful poem. I'm glad that this book opened up the world of poetry for you. I just took a class that revolved mostly around poetry: reading it, writing it, and teaching it. Scary stuff. But I got through it and I learned so much. Not to mention, I became a more confident reader and writer. My advice to you now is to just explore. Go wherever your interests lead you. And enjoy it all even the painful poems that make absolutely no sense. Everything in poetry has a purpose.

  18. Jennifer - I think your advice is excellent! My plan is to spend some time browsing the shelves in the library and at B&N... this could be fun!

  19. I'm glad you finally came to that revelation about not every poem speaking to you. That's what I always tell my students when we discuss poetry. When they have to find a poem to memorize and perform, I always tell them the story of the student whose father forced him to recite "Wreck of the Hesperus" because that's what the father memorized when he was in middle school. Of course the kid did terrible because it wasn't a poem that he chose and it didn't speak to him. I had a similar experience with a student this year and he, too, did terrible.

    My students know how much I love poetry, but when they learn that there are poems out there that even I don't like, they tend to relax and allow themselves to be open to it a little more.

  20. Beth S. - I wish some English teacher had said that to me many years ago - although maybe one did and I had already tuned out because it was poetry. Oh well, better coming to the realization late rather than never..


Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! Be sure to check back, I always respond. Due to a recent increase in spam, all comments are moderated.


Related Posts with Thumbnails