Poetry

Staff Picks: Garvey's Choice

Reviewed by Alex G. 

Garvey loves reading and singing, but he's a little awkward and doesn't have too many friends. Even at home, his family doesn't quite get him. To cope with his feelings, Garvey turns to food as a source of comfort.

But when his best friend encourages him to join choir, Garvey may finally have found a place to belong and shine. 

Garvey's Choice is a beautifully written novel in verse. Nikki Grimes does a wonderful job of telling the story of a boy trying to relate to to the people around him and the way she writes Garvey's attempts at a relationship with his father is so real and, at times, heartbreaking. The poetry format of this novel make it a quick read and a great reading suggestion for reluctant readers.

Try Garvey's Choice is you like moving realistic fiction. 

A Short History of DADA

"Beautiful like the chance meeting on a dissection table of a sewing machine and an umbrella." —Compte de Lautréamont

Is it possible for an art movement to be anti-art? What would such a movement (anti-movement?) even look like? For the founders of DADA, which grew out of the aftermath of World War I in Europe, the answer is disruption—of society, of culture, and of art itself. 

Deep Lane

I started this morning reading poetry, and couldn’t have found a better book of contemporary American poems than Mark Doty’s Deep Lane. He writes about memory, love, and human connections. Masterfully, he encases most of these themes in strikingly beautiful nature poems.

How gifted Doty is describing things as ordinary as a deer in a backyard, when he writes ”a buck in velvet at the garden rim, / bronze lightly shagged, split thumbs / of antlers budding.”

He also celebrates humanity in everyday New York City: the three barbers he visited for ten years who suddenly disappeared, the one-armed man at the gym, his old friend, Dugan, who appears suddenly on 15th Street, “—why shouldn’t the dead / sport a little style?”

New United States Poet Laureate

Just announced: the Library of Congress appointed Juan Filipe Herrera as our latest national poet laureate. The child of migrant farm workers, Herrera is the first Latino poet laureate. As a child, he traveled up and down the state of California with his parents, and later attended UCLA with the help of a grant for disadvantaged youth.

At the age of 21, Herrera was inspired by the debut book by Puerto Rican poet, Victor Hernandez Cruz.

He also writes children's books and those for young adults. Check out our list of his titles.

Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World

It’s National Poetry Month, and if you want to learn more about the form, pick up this book. Hirshfield writes fine poetry imbued with a Zen calmness and childlike wonder about the natural world. Her prose is intelligent, well-written and informed by a great knowledge of poetry--both modern and classical.

But it’s her descriptions about writing poems that I like best. As she says, “Poetic imagination is muscular, handed, and kinesthetic.” She describes the poet’s reach into the world as “prehensile.”

According to Hirshfield, poets bring the world of the senses to the page, “In poetry’s words, life calls to life with the same inevitability and gladness as bird calls to bird, whale to whale, frog to frog.”

Once in the West

Several best poetry lists of the year include this seventh title by Christian Wiman, former editor of the well-renowned Poetry Magazine, who now teaches at Yale Divinity School.

His interest in theology and his experience as a person with a terminal disease bring a unique focus to his writing as these lines attest: “A soul / extrapolated // from the body’s / need // needs a body / of loss.”  In another poem “The Preacher Addresses the Seminarians” he shows the power of the right words to hone in, “I tell you some Sundays even the children’s sermon / --maybe especially this—sharks your gut // like a bite of tin some beer-guzzling goat / either drunkenly or mistakenly decides to sample.”  

As he did in his memoir My Bright Abyss about life after a bone marrow transplant, Wiman dives deep. There is no surface skimming for him.  Several poems celebrate his

Nostalgia, My Enemy

A great way to explore another culture is through poetry. This book, by one of the best living writers in Arabic, Saadi Youssef, does just that. It also provides beautiful poetry.

Youssef writes about all the traditional topics: love, nature, the changing seasons, and daily activities but he also describes his pain and anger at seeing the damage to his home country. In "A Difficult Variation" he describes his wishes for his native country, "Peace be upon Iraq's hills, its two rivers, the bank and the bend, / upon the palm trees / and the English hamlet gently dragging its clouds."

He writes deeply poignant poems about Iraq. In one he asks, “Is it your fault that once you were born in that country? / Three quarters of a century / and you still pay from your ebbing blood / its tax.”

Unpublished

Another Day in This Here Cosmos

If you’re looking for some interesting new poetry, go no further than Maureen McLane’s new book. Even the titles are inviting: “Another Day in this Here Cosmos,” “OK Fern,” “Tell Us What Happened in the 14th Century,” and “Morning with Adirondack Chair.” McLane writes often about travel, nature, love, but most importantly it’s all filtered through the lens of her mind. Her particular world-view is humorous and serious at the same time, and often feels edgy, new. There’s a sense that she does not take herself too seriously while at the same time, she writes in deep earnest.

One poem begins, “OK fern / I’m your apprentice / I can tell you // apart from your / darker sister.” It ends with a sincere request for the wild plant to tell the narrator what to do with her life. (We’ve all been there speaking to trees or inanimate objects.)

In “Levanto,” a beautiful travel poem, she says, “scant pines / stagger the Apennines / semaphoring….I am older / than the sea / in me.”

Give Children Words to Love...

“Poetry is a rhythmical piece of writing that leaves the reader feeling that life is a little richer than before, a little more full of wonder, beauty, or just plain delight.” - Aileen Fisher

Poet Aileen Fisher was the second person to receive the Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children presented by the National Council of Teachers of English to a living American poet in recognition of their work. The award was first given in 1977. But before then and certainly ever since, teachers have recognized that poetry is a marvelous form of literature to share with new readers, reluctant readers, budding writers, and, well – everyone! Like songs, poetry is meant to be shared aloud. The rhyme, rhythm and repetition that are characteristic of poetry help children hear the different sounds of language.

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