On Poetry

National Poetry Month: An Introduction

By posted at 4:44 am on April 3, 2009 2

I like poets. At Iowa, they wore the best jewelry, they hosted read-aloud Shakespeare parties (alas, I never attended); some of them went shooting (I mean with real guns); many drank too much, fell in and out of love easily, danced well and terribly, talked John Donne. One poet I know kills turkeys for money. Another has impeccable finances and a mythic mother. In my worst days, I think fiction writers are merely diluted poets – heavily, and erroneously, diluted. Why do we need all these words, when a poet, with fewer, can say it better – or best?

I’ve heard many bookish people proclaim that poetry scares or bores them, and I can’t understand it. Poetry is so pleasurable, so moving. Before going out, I love to say to Patrick, “Let us go then, you and I/ When the evening is spread out against the sky/ Like a patient etherised upon a table.” When I am annoyed, I consider “Purple Bathing Suit” by Louise Glück, with its final lines: “…I think/ you are a small irritating purple thing/and I would like to see you walk off the face of the earth/because you are all that’s wrong with my life/and I need you and I claim you.” A single word, said three times, can bring me to tears: “blackberry, blackberry, blackberry.” (Oh, Robert Hass, you slay me!) I find that when I need to revitalize my own work, and recall what words can and will do, I turn to poetry. One of my favorite novels, Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red, is written in verse.

And yet, I don’t read poetry regularly, and I rarely seek out new collections. Why not? Why has poetry retreated to school lessons and a thing for other poets to enjoy? It doesn’t seem right.

So this:

April is National Poetry Month, which means… I’m not sure. At The Millions, it means getting to know some very fine contemporary poets who have keen insight on all matters related to poetry. Over the course of the month, both emerging and established poets will share their thoughts. We will listen, and maybe take poetry with us, come May.

This post will be the index for the series, and as we add our guest poets’ contributions to the site, we’ll link to them from this post. You can bookmark this post to follow the series from here, you can just load up the main page for more new poetry posts appearing at the top regularly throughout the month, or you can subscribe to our RSS feed and follow along in your favorite feed reader.





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2 Responses to “National Poetry Month: An Introduction”

  1. Sonya
    at 6:28 am on April 3, 2009

    Those lines from Louise Gluck are fantastic.

    I too do not understand why poetry should be so sidelined, feared, "ghettoized." (Reminds me of Jon Stewart's latest shtick, i.e. "That just can't be right!") I am a prose writer but worked for a poetry org for a while and saw how markedly more communal poets are than prose writers — by necessity, I think. Or that's what the poets often told me, i.e. they are definitely not in it for the money or potential celebrity– the people make it worthwhile.

    I have my poetry-deprived upbringing and education to thank for the fact that I have no fearful baggage about poetry; I come to it unmediated and receptive, and that's an amazing thing. I encourage my fiction students to read poetry regularly, because an ear for language is one thing that simply cannot be taught; it must be ingested and absorbed.

  2. Anonymous
    at 12:10 pm on April 3, 2009

    YES! "Meditation at Lagunitas" is my favorite poem, and those words are devastating and wonderful.

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