Friday, April 9, 2010

Staff Pick - Poetry 180: a turning back to poetry

I'm a part time poetry reader: not a passionate fan but certainly not someone who is adverse to poetry's charms. I like National Poetry Month - each April I'm reminded that I should put my prose reading aside for a day or a week and try something a bit different. I like the challenge of reading poetry - it's kind of like a literary math puzzle. You might have to do a bit to figure it out, but in the end it's quite rewarding (and you feel like you've given your brain a much needed work out).

I think for lots of people its the puzzle that puts them off poetry - the understanding (or, more specifically the not understanding.) We're busy people, and reading is quite often something we do to relax, not to get a work out. If that's your reason for not normally reading poetry, then Poetry 180: a turning back to poetry might be a great collection for you.

Released in 2003, the poems in this anthology were selected by then US Poet Laureate Billy Collins. The role of Poet Laureate in the US is "to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry." In Collins' introduction to Poetry 180 he talks about his experiences speaking to groups of high school students about poetry. In events organized to celebrate poetry month he found that students were excited about poetry, but in terms of studying it in school they found it boring and confusing. He talks about people's perception that poetry is difficult and therefore not enjoyed. And so with Poetry 180 he aims to "assemble a generous selection of short, clear, contemporary poems which any listener could basically "get" on first hearing - poems whose injection of pleasure is immediate." I think with this collection, he has succeeded.

The poems in this collection are mostly short - a single page or less - and they focus on topics that you might expect from poetry (life, death, love) and some that you might not (carving a turkey at Thanksgiving, an ode to road salt in the winter and one called "In Praise of BIC Pens"). They talk about things you can appreciate and understand, in ways that aren't so difficult you find it frustrating, but with just enough challenge that they aren't simplistic. If you're a non-poetry reader and curious about poetry this April, it's a great place to start. You can borrow the book from the library, or visit the companion website which contains some of the poems from the book, and other selections as well.

Here's a few other poetry suggestions from Poets Laureate from the US and here at home:

wordrhythm: by Shauntay Grant: HRM's current Poet Laureate is well known for her spoken word performances and wordrhythm is an audio release that brings together poetry and music. Much of what we focus on in The Reader is (unsurprisingly) the reading of poetry and other forms of writing - but poetry is meant to be heard as much as it is meant to be read.

Lost Gospels by Lorri Neilsen Glenn: HRM's previous Poet Laureate has a new book from publisher Brick Books that was released this past February.

The Best Of It: new and selected poems
by Kay Ryan: a recent collection from the current US Poet Laureate.

Moneme: poesie by Pierre DesRuisseaux -- poetry (en fran├žais) from Canada's current Parliamentary Poet Laureate.

Interested in finding out more about Poets Laureate? Visit The Poet Laureate Map of Canada - a website that chronicles current and past Poets Laureate across Canada.

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