I’ve always found poetry a little daunting. As in fiction (I suppose as in everything), it seems that there’s this serious club for poetry-writers and appreciators – and once you’re in, you know all of the drill. And just as it doesn’t seem sufficient for people who say they love novels to say, “I really love Dr. Seuss, he’s my favorite.” I’ve always been shy of telling serious-poetry-people, “I really like e.e. Cummings/Sylvia Plath/someone-else-sort-of-predictable, (s)he’s my favorite.” As a result, I haven’t done much exploring of the genre. I fear judgment. I know that’s stupid.
But in honor of National Poetry Month, I attempted an excavation. I decided that perhaps there isn’t some huge thing to ‘get’ about the abbreviated medium, that even those of us who think they prefer long narrative can worm their way into the secret club. So, here’s a dilettante’s rangy list of poems and poets I think are worth your attention – especially if you, like me, know nothing about poetry. Note: this list is nothing if not a jumping off-point.
1. New favorite number one: Matthew Dickman. Matthew Dickman is half a set of twins, and his brother Michael is also an astonishing wordsmith. Matthew writes a fair amount about love and relationships (as ya do). In fact, here’s my favorite snippet from his poem, “Love.”
We fall in love at weddings and auctions, over glasses
of wine in Italian restaurants
where plastic grapes hang on the lattice, our bodies throb
in the checkout line, bookstores, the bus stop,
and we can’t keep our hands off each other /until we can–
Sigh…and here you can find Dickman reading from his poem “Slow Dance.”
2. The young up n’ comer, Emily Moore. I discovered her in a back issue of The New Yorker, where I fell in love with the first stanza of her poem “Auld Lang Syne.”
Here’s to the rock star with the crooked teeth,
the cellist, banker, mezzo bearing gifts,
the teacher with the flask inside her jeans—
those girls who made us sweat and lick our lips.
Also a schoolteacher and one third of an alt-country band (Menage a Twang), you can hear Moore discuss her background in this nifty interview.
3. Daniel Beaty. Specifically, Daniel Beaty’s “Knock, Knock.”
In a particularly kick-ass high-school class, this video was my first introduction to slam poetry. Beaty is a jack-of-all-artsy trades. He works as a writer, composer, actor and singer. I love this piece for its rhythm, its sense of punctuation, and its aggressive emotion. Watch the performance here.
4. Throwing it back: Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems. His odes to New York City conjures this very old-school, sense of sixties’ metropolitan live. Plus, his most famous poem “Having a Coke With You” is one of those perfect-descriptions-of-love dealios. You can find the video version of the poem here.
5. And the veteran, Rita Dove. And thank you, internet, for leading me to former poet laureaute and Pulitzer Prize winner. Dove’s poems tend to encounter American history and (more recently) ballroom dancing. Here is a snippet from her piece, “Canary.”
Fact is, the invention of women under siege
has been to sharpen love in the service of myth.
If you can’t be free, be a mystery.
Here you can find Dove reading from her collection, American Smooth.
Help! I set out to list five poets, but now the omissions and oversights seem glaring and horrible. Where is Ben Lerner, or Pablo Neruda, or Langston Hughes? What about Louise Gluck? People of the poetry club, help a buddy out. Please-oh-please comment with suggestions and favorites! Because it turns out, you guys? Poetry is pretty friggin cool.