Sunday, April 30, 2017

National Poetry Month

In the US, April is National Poetry Month. To be perfectly honest, I did not read much poetry at all until recently. There were a few poems I read in high school English classes that made me want to like poetry, but any time I tried it on my own without the guidance of a teacher, I ended up feeling pretty lost. Why did those few Emily Dickinson poems resonate so much, while other ones (including other Dickinson poems!) left me scratching my head? Well, I don't fully know the answer to that question, but I think part of it was giving up too soon or expecting to always "get it" on the first try.

On a recent episode of the What Should I Read Next podcast, the guest poet made a really thoughtful point about poetry not being a type of literature we "consume" like we do a page-turning novel, but rather that we can contemplate (paraphrasing here.) I think I was doing a lot more contemplation when I studied these poems in school than when I tried to pluck a poem out of a collection on my own. My teacher didn't analyze those poems to death either (which can really ruin poetry for a lot of people), but she certainly helped us gain more insight and understanding about what we were reading.

So after a few half-hearted tries to read poetry on my own post-school, I mostly abandoned the idea until my son came along and I started reading "children's" poetry. And it kind of felt like a breath of fresh air. I love rhyming poetry which is so common in children's works. Of course, I love poets like Shel Silverstein who write specifically for children, but I've come to realize I also really love poetry collections that are curated/selected for a younger audience from the world of "adult" or "classic" poets. These poems tend to be about subjects particularly resonant for children and/or are just a bit simpler to understand. Well, I think they are also a really excellent place to start for adult readers intimidated by poetry who want to give it a chance.

National Poetry Month ends today, but I think I have more than one post in me on the subject! So I'll start now with a few collections I currently have bookmarks in that I've been enjoying:

Julie Andrews' Treasury for All Seasons: Poems and Songs to Celebrate the Year, selected by Julie Andrews & Emma Walton Hamilton; illustrated by Marjorie Priceman

This is by far my favorite of the books I'm listing today. It's a bright, colorful, and beautiful collection divided first by season and then by month. I've really loved reading this one to my son a little at a time throughout the year. I'm always looking for baby shower book gift ideas that aren't the same classics everyone else thinks of -- and I think this collection would be a really great gift. It covers all sorts of occasions throughout the year and in terms of holidays it includes Christian and Jewish ones as well as secular ones. There are also poems for Ramadan, Kwanzaa, and Chinese New Year.

I have the Audible audiobook in addition to the print which is narrated by Julie Andrews and her daughter. What I've listened to so far is so very lovely, but it's currently mislabeled as unabridged -- there are definitely poems in the print book that are not on the audio. Still a great listen though! I find poetry in general really great to listen to and a talented speaker/performer can help me understand and appreciate a poem better than just reading it on the page.

* * * * *

Days to Celebrate: A Full Year of Poetry, People, Holidays, History, Fascinating Facts, and More, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins; illustrated by Stephen Alcorn

Divided by month, this collection has some real gems in it. Overall, I'm liking the Julie Andrews collection better, but this is still a very nice collection to read throughout the year.

* * * * *

A Poem for Every Night of the Year, edited by Allie Esiri

I've liked some poems much better than others in this collection. I tend to read them a week or two at a time though, so I probably am going through them too quickly to really appreciate each one. I hope to revisit this in future years and think I will get more out of it each time. While published under a children's imprint, I think this one is aimed more at older kids or teens, though it can most definitely be enjoyed by adults. 
(P.S. It's published in the UK, so I got my copy from The Book Depository. 
P.P.S. While writing this, I came across what looks like a companion anthology coming out this summer! A Poem for Every Day of the Year with another gorgeous, complementing cover!) 

* * * * *

Poetry Speaks Expanded, edited by Elise Paschen & Rebekah Presson Mosby

 This one isn't a children's collection, but I think it's very well done in terms of helping you get a pretty good introduction to various famous poets and their work. I've only read one of the 47 poets so far and keep meaning to get back to it. The best part is the accompanying recordings of the poets reading their own work. Every poet has at least one recording, but not every poem in the collection has a recording, FYI.

* * * * *

If anyone has any poetry recommendations for me -- children's or otherwise -- please share in the comments!