A Poet’s Daffodil (Findern Flower). Image via Wikipedia
Every year, we come to the first Sunday in April, National Poetry Month, feeling like Mrs. Bennet—more than a little desperate to see the family secure by virtue of true love, willing to settle for marriage, and potentially guilty of promoting dalliance.
To true believers, it is unfathomable that people we care about do not care about poetry—deeply. It is nearly impossible to believe that just one stanza from Jane Hirshfield is not enough to explain all there is to know about the treasures in verse.
And when two people have loved each other
see how it is like a
scar between their bodies,
stronger, darker, and proud;
how the black cord makes of them a single fabric
that nothing can tear or mend.
From “For What Binds Us,” from Of Gravity & Angels. Copyright © 1988 by Jane Hirshfield
Equally impossible to believe is when people say, “It is just too hard. I can’t understand it.” No doubt there is much poetry that is too dense, too abstruse, and too convoluted for those of us who read for pleasure hoping to understand ourselves or the world better, but there are also contemporary American poets (and, for our purposes today, we’ll concentrate on the women among them) who write to speak of what it means to be a modern woman in this nation.
My husband likes to watch the cooking shows, the building shows,
the Discovery Channel, and the surgery channel.
Last night he told us about a man who came into the emergency room
with a bayonet stuck entirely through his skull and brain.
From “Marriage,” from The Kingdom of Ordinary Time. Copyright © 2008 by Marie Howe
Of course you understand each and every word of that, and when you get to the end of the nine-line poem from which it comes, you will have no trouble understanding the point—no pun, but challenge, intended.
One key to liking poetry is starting with the right poet. And seeking out sources where you might find her.
The Poetry Foundation website has been built for browsing. By subject, occasion, region (the U.S. is broken into seven different ones), and more. Not to trivialize, but if you can filter for shoes on Zappos, you can find a poem there.
Poets.org, the website of the Academy of American Poets (the creators of National Poetry Month 18 years ago) comes at browsing from a different angle. Its front page offers news, spotlights, videos, and audios to open doors to discovery.
There are dozens more sites that present samplings of poems and poets. Google is just waiting for you to search for them, but we have a few more things to say before you go.
There is a reason why Molly Peacock is high on everyone’s list of poets who bring art to daily life. In her 2002 collection Cornucopia one sees how wit can be used as watercolor when the artist is consummate. Her deft strokes indicate so much more than even an accomplished draftsperson could.
Friends are our families now. They act
with rivalry and concern, as sisters
and brothers have acted. They repeat the fact
of family without the far-walked blisters
From “Friends,” from Cornucopia. Copyright © 2002 by Molly Peacock
“Far-walked blisters of heredity.” We all have them, but it takes a poet to point them out.
Of course, it is a fool’s errand to come to the page in defense of any art form. This writer would drown in the Ring Cycle. Our friend the history professor goes through an art museum the way a bull goes through a rodeo chute. The variety of forms of expression are vast and wildly divergent—as are the spirits of women and the tastes of humanity. It is April, though, a month for poetry’s missionaries to go out among those who worship at other altars, bringing the word that meter, form, song, and syntax can be a haven in times of need and a cathedral in times of rejoicing.
We turn to Marianne Moore for the last word, as so many have before us. She has summed it up in her poem, “Poetry,” as well as anyone could. She endures in these lines as so many others do in theirs.
I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
all this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
it after all, a place for the genuine.
From “Poetry,” from Others for 1919: An Anthology of the New Verse, edited by Alfred Kreymborg.