Monday, April 02, 2012

Posted by Laurel Garver on Monday, April 02, 2012 14 comments

April has arrived and I know many of my pals are blogging ah to zed (ja, Buchstaben are way cooler auf Deutsch). I tip my hat to you all. But as fun as it sounds, I can't commit the time right now.

I've found a smaller bandwagon to hop aboard--National Poetry Month. The Academy of American Poets kicked off the annual celebration in 1996. Many schools and libraries participate. The goal is to introduce more people to the magic that is poetry. You can find out more about the celebration at www.poets.org.

What I hope to do this month is give a taste of the wide, wide world of poetry, which is nearly as diverse as fiction in terms of style and content. Because poetry is more than sentimental rhymes about daffodils or Emo angst-fests. Some poems tell stories, some sing, some pray, some paint pictures, some sweep your senses, some seduce you, some heal your wounds, some cut you to ribbons, some carry protest signs, some spit in your face.

I'll also introduce some helpful poetry lingo, with definitions.

In my post title, I allude to a poem you might have studied in school. [Allusion: a literary device that stimulates ideas, associations, and extra information in the reader's mind with only a word or two.] Here's the quote in context:

APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

--T.S. Eliot, "The Waste Land"

This total downer of a piece is considered one of the masterpieces of modernism. Eliot's book smarts get more intimidating the further you read. The opening epigraph [introductory quote from another source used to set a theme] contain Latin and Greek. Parts of the poem are in German, Dutch and French. He uses allusion heavily, referring to history and mythology; pop songs and opera; Dante, Shakespeare and numerous other authors. Some scholars have spent their entire careers unpacking this one poem.

And yet....

His cleverness wasn't always so unapproachable. In fact, he wrote a wonderful collection of poems for children the you might have seen adapted for Broadway. Here's a stanza from one of my favorites in Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats:

You ought to know Mr. Mistoffelees!
The Original Conjuring Cat--
There can be no doubt about that).
Please listen to me and don't scoff. All his
Inventions are off his own bat.
There's no such Cat in the metropolis;
He holds all the patent monopolies
For performing surprising illusions
And creating eccentric confusions.
At prestidigitation
And at legerdemain
He'll defy examination
And deceive you again.
The greatest magicians have something to learn
From Mr. Mistoffelees' Conjuring Turn.
Presto!
Away we go!
And we all say: OH!
Well I never!
Was there ever
A Cat so clever
As Magical Mr. Mistoffelees!


Just as the genre of poetry is not one flavor but many, so it is with poets themselves. Brainy guys can be silly; silly gals can be profound.

Let's have a wild and wondrous month exploring the many styles and shades of poetry!

Do you read poetry? Why or why not?

14 comments:

  1. I love poetry, but I don't red it. What you've posted...beautiful. But my problem is there are so many other things I want to read. I try to read 2 at a time as it is...I don't have much spare time. And poetry...just falls to the end of my list, despite how much I love it. Kinda sad, really. But I wish I didn't have to work. Just read and write...

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    1. If you have a smartphone, you might like the app linked on the poets.org site. For $2.99 a year, you get a poem a day sent to your phone. It's an easy way to get a little more poetry in your life.

      There's also the "Everyday Poets" site that puts up a new poem every day. See http://www.everydaypoets.com/. They publish only short pieces you can read in a few minutes.

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  2. I've been reading quite a lot of poetry lately. I need to get back to it, though, when I finally finish writing all my A-Z blogposts. Laurel, you are a fabulous writer! I loved this!

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    1. I know we are kindred spirits on this one, Angela. I hope to bring attention to some new writers I've discovered through my job and a lit magazine I subscribe to, Image Journal (which you would love and should totally be reading: http://imagejournal.org/).

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  3. I so look forward to following this, Laurel. I am trying to learn more about poetry. It stumps me. I am bored with it. But I feel I don't read the right poets, that I'm not in the right place. Because every once in a while someone will post a poem on their blog (like this) and I'm blown away.

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    1. Fellow poetry lover over here :) I'm happy you posted about The Wasteland. My brother is reading about it in right now and is venting about how intricate it is. Maybe they should give it to college students so it can truly be appreciated!

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    2. Melissa: I'm sorry you've had the misfortune to find mostly dull poems. I feel equally bored with certain forms and topics. I'll be sure to steer you towards some heart-thumping stuff this month!

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    3. Saumya: Eliot was one intensely brainy guy. Many people can't get into his work at all. I love the diversity of his oeuvre, though. And there is still a strain in some poetry circles (especially the academically-oriented journals) that love the kind of intertextuality Eliot used in "The Waste Land."

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  4. You're so right about the diversity in poetry. I do read it and for different reasons. As you probably guess, I love the old haiku masters. Among more modern: Yeats, Billy Collins, Lucille Clifton, Neruda, Oliver--oh, so many. :)

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    1. I am in awe of your haiku, Tricia. Distilling to those spare, crystalized images is really tough. I'm in more the Dylan Thomas vein when I write poems--lots of sound play.

      I'm glad you read so widely. There's so much amazing stuff out there!

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  5. I've always enjoyed poetry. It was a real treat to study in college because I was introduced to so many diverse poets. I love reading poetry when I'm feeling stuck on where to go next in my prose. Somehow the beauty and rhythm of poetry opens up new pathways of thought even in prose. Happy National Poetry Month!!

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    1. A broad education about poetry is such an amazing experience that opens one's horizons in every direction. I agree totally that reading (and writing) poetry is a good way to get one's verbal powers flowing. Poems often take bigger risks than prose can. It's a far more flexible genre. Being regularly exposed to it is very freeing.

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  6. Oh, ya, "Cats." Poetry is an excellent theme for April. I attended a poetry reading and presentation by a poet at our Senior Activity Center today - as a guest. I don't qualify, yet, for membership.

    Play off the Page

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    1. Mary: Lloyd Webber's Cats is correct. Since it's based on poems, small wonder it has no plot.

      I'd considered doing an A-Z on poetry but knew I couldn't post frequently enough. Too much else going on. LOL about the Senior Center. :-)

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