April: National Poetry Month

April 22, 2013

National Poetry Month 2013

By Amy Hackworth.

I was taking a writing class the summer I fell in love with Justin, and our first date ended on a stone bench in a rose garden where I read from a book my teacher had just recommended. As I read Albert Goldbarth, Justin listened with attention and appreciation for the carefully crafted words and images. It was all I could do to keep from kissing him then and there.

Although there is much about poetry that I don’t understand, there is plenty and more to love — the isolation of a single moment, unexpected and evocative images, and the fantastic volley and play of language. And although April may be two-thirds over, there’s still plenty of time to celebrate National Poetry Month (find 30 great ideas here!). Maybe you’ve been celebrating all month long anyway. Or maybe you haven’t read a good poem since high school. In either case, enjoy a little poetry today.

Poetry 180 is a great place to start. In 2001, during his tenure as United States Poet Laureate, Billy Collins (well known for his extremely accessible and often hilarious poems) created the website to offer “a selection of short, clear, contemporary poems which any listener could basically ‘get’ on first hearing — poems whose injection of pleasure is immediate.”

Collins hoped to help poetry find its way down from the ivory tower of overwrought explication and into everyday life with a no-pressure invitation to just listen, to hear the words and feel the images, and then go about your day. Although created for high schoolers, trust me — you’ll find treasures there. Start with Collins’s own poem “Introduction to Poetry” or the very short “Tour” by Carol Snow or Christina Pugh’s ode to the rotary phone.

Collins’s book by the same name (though with variations in content) is subtitled, “A Turning Back to Poetry,” and it’s the perfect way to do just that. (While you’re at it, enjoy 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Everyday and Billy Collins’s own collections Sailing Alone Around the Room or Picnic, Lightning).

So many other great ways to add poetry to your life:

- Designate and execute your own Poem in Your Pocket Day (We missed this year’s official date—April 18—but let’s all do this next year, ok? I love how Charlottesville, Virginia’s library celebrates!)

- Listen to great poets talk with Bill Moyers.

- Memorize a poem — find compelling reasons here.

- Plan to attend next year’s Dodge Poetry Festival. I’ve always wanted to go. Have you been? Tell me all about it! Watch footage from past years’ festivals here.

- Dive into Joyful Noise, Paul Fleischman’s Newbery winning, nothing-short-of-brilliant book of poems for two voices, with your child.

- Share darling poems and sweet illustrations from this anthology with your littlest ones or help your older children memorize poems from this accessible collection.

- Record and share a poem here.

- Listen and watch Billy Collins’s animated poetry at TED, and try to keep yourself from wishing he could come over for dinner and make you smile, especially when he reads that last poem, “To My Favorite Seventeen-Year-Old High School Girl.”

- Be inspired by my newfound role model Sarah Kay’s spoken word poetry and her beautiful outlook on poetry, courage, and life at TED and TEDx.

Judging by these comments on Carter’s post, I know at the very least there are William Carlos Williams fans among us. Who are other poets you enjoy? And what are the poems you love? Do you see yourself adding a little poetry to your everyday life, or is it already there, alive and well?

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 giulia April 22, 2013 at 10:52 am

i’m in high school so i read a lot of poetry for school and, of course, hate it. i hate having to count the syllables and summarize the meaning, list the literary figures used and look up all the words they used in 1200. i find it useless and i’m sure the poet wasn’t thinking “let me put an allegory there so that a student hundred years for now can write an essay on it” right?
however, every now and then i read a poem, i really read it, i don’t analyze it. and most of the times i love it. most of the times, when i read out of class i get the poet, even if he lived centuries ago. even though i don’t always i feel what he’s trying to say and don’t always understand why he is trying to say it, good poetry is so special i just have to like it.


2 Amy Hackworth April 22, 2013 at 11:57 am

Giulia, thanks for your comment! In the introduction to Poetry 180, Billy Collins writes that high school is often the place where good poems go to die for the very reasons you described! So glad that sometimes the light shines through. Isn’t it cool to really get someone from a poem they’ve written, even centuries ago?


3 Shannon { A Mom's Year } April 22, 2013 at 11:27 am

What a great first date! My husband wrote a poem for me when we were dating, and that was it for me. Signed, sealed, and delivered.

I love the Romantic poets and Robert Frost and Mary Oliver and Gwendolyn Brooks. And Dylan Thomas and e. e. cummings. Steve Smiths’ “Not Waving But Drowning” is my go-to poem for when I’m feeling way too overwhelmed by modern life. And Seamus Heaney’s “Scaffolding” is my favorite poem about marriage. (That charming Irish gent reads it himself here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNYBwF7lKLA)

Do you know Billy Collins’ poem “The Lanyard”? It’s my favorite poem in the world about motherhood. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNYBwF7lKLA

One last thing! Our favorite anthology is Caroline Kennedy’s A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children. So many of our favorite poems are in there, and the illustrations by Jon J Muth are incredible.


4 Shannon { A Mom's Year } April 22, 2013 at 11:29 am

*Stevie Smith (sorry, typing too fast)


5 Amy Hackworth April 22, 2013 at 11:57 am

Oh, Shannon, there’s something here we missed! I hope you’ll come back and elucidate!


6 Amy Hackworth April 22, 2013 at 10:47 pm

Oh good, the rest is here now. THANK YOU for sharing such great things!! Lovely!


7 KatieB April 22, 2013 at 1:24 pm

Two of my favorite poems.

Stop all the clocks, but off the telephone
WH Auden

Homage to My Hips
by Lucille Clifton

I had an English teacher friend that read a poem before the evening meal every night with her family. I love that idea.


8 Amy Hackworth April 22, 2013 at 10:47 pm

Awesome, KatieB. Thank you for sharing these! I love that idea, too.


9 Justin April 22, 2013 at 1:48 pm

This post makes me want to read some Albert Goldbarth poems.


10 Amy Hackworth April 22, 2013 at 10:48 pm

Ha! OK, let’s do it!


11 Lakshmi April 22, 2013 at 2:01 pm

How I adore “Introduction to Poetry” by Billy Collins!


12 Amy Hackworth April 22, 2013 at 10:48 pm

Oh, Lakshmi, isn’t it great?


13 KatieB April 22, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Stop all the clocks, turn off the telephone
by W.H. Auden


Homage to My Hips
by Lucille Clifton

Two of my favorites.

I had an English teacher friend who chose a random poem from a book of poetry and read it to her family before they ate dinner each night around the table. I love that idea.


14 Jenni Fisher April 22, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Wow Amy,
What a plethora of marvelous poetry ideas you have exposed us to. What fun. Thanks.

And can I just say that watching how you and Justin conduct your lives is poetry to me. Seriously.

I’m glad you found Sara Kay. I watch that every so often because I totally dig it. I’m glad you do too.

I’ll look forward to your next post,
Where you make the most,
Of your ability to weave a web of thoughts
and always make us think.


15 Amy Hackworth April 22, 2013 at 10:50 pm

Jenni Fisher, you’re the very best! Thank you for this.


16 Amy Hackworth April 22, 2013 at 10:51 pm

And so fun to know that you already love Sarah Kay, and yes, we’ll look up Mummy Slept Late and Daddy Fixed Breakfast. Thanks!


17 Jenni Fisher April 22, 2013 at 3:06 pm

PS Amy,
Have you ever read Mummy Slept Late and Daddy Fixed Breakfast by John Ciardi. Your boys would like that.


18 Shannon { A Mom's Year } April 22, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Hmm…I think because I included some links my message needs to be moderated. I’ll try again, but I’ll leave out the links–the videos are easy to find.

First of all, what a great first date! My husband wrote me a poem while we were dating, and that was that for me. :)

I love the Romantic poets, Robert Frost, Gwendolyn Brooks, Mary Oliver, Dylan Thomas, Stevie Smith (her “Not Waving But Drowning” is my go-to poem for days when I’m feeling ang-sty and completely overwhelmed by life).

And Seamus Heaney’s “Scaffolding.” My husband read it to me once after an argument. Needless to say, I forgave him. Watch Heaney read it if you can–he’s the most charming Irish gent in the world.

Do you know Billy Collins’s poem “The Lanyard”? It’s my favorite poem about motherhood–and again, if you can, watch a video of him reading it.

One more thing! Our favorite anthology is Caroline Kennedy’s A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children. So many of our favorite poems are included, and the paintings by Jon J Muth are beyond amazing.

Thanks for getting the ball rolling on poetry month!


19 Loni April 22, 2013 at 9:13 pm

What a fantastic post! And what a great reminder of how important poetry is….I have a book of the world’s 100 greatest poems in my bathroom; the pages are totally worn out. I have underlined, written in the margins, and pondered these great writings. But, I haven’t looked at it for a long time. That is going to change RIGHT NOW. I will go look at it. Thank you, Amy…you always inspire me and get me thinking!


20 Amy Hackworth April 22, 2013 at 10:49 pm

Wow, great! I love to hear that your book of poems has been so well loved and pondered. That’s inspiring!


21 Emily April 23, 2013 at 8:36 am

Thank you for this post. I studied poetry in college. It, poetry, has saved my life on more than one occasion (and likely on many occasions while in high school). Where to start with my favorite poets?

I love Lisel Mueller, particularly her poem Things:


If you’ve not encountered William Stafford-go buy his collected works immediately and read Assurance, a poem to comfort you in difficult times:


Marie Howe was a teacher of mine in college-she had been taught by the brilliant and accessible poet Stanley Kunitz, from whom she learned to write about that which scares you the most. She taught her students the same and she changed my life:

Her elegy for her brother who died is one of the most gorgeous pieces of contemporary poetry you can encounter:


Naomi Shihab Nye is another very accessible poet. I love her poems Different Ways to Pray


Finally, Robert Hass-pick up his collection Human Wishes and read this poem Tall Windows. Breathtakingly beautiful



22 Emily April 23, 2013 at 8:51 am

Also, oh my goodness how did I forget to write this! Elizabeth Bishop–hands down my favorite poet. Her collected letters are incredible. I recommend everyone read them. My favorite poems of hers are One Art, In the Waiting Room, and First Death in Nova Scotia.

Again-thank you so much for this post. It encouraged me to think of my favorite poets and poems and is a bright spot in my day so far.


23 Emily April 23, 2013 at 9:32 am

My comment with links also didn’t work. Too bad! Here are the poems I recommended:

Lisel Mueller: Things
William Stafford: Assurance
Naomi Shihab Nye: Different Ways to Pray
Marie Howe: What the Living Do
Robert Hass: Tall Windows

All life-changing/life-saving poems


24 Shannon { A Mom's Year } April 23, 2013 at 4:02 pm

This has been the funniest post with all of our comments coming and going! Oh, well.

Speaking of Naomi Shihab Nye, do you know her poem “The Art of Disappearing”? Sort of a battle hymn for artists. :)


25 Emily April 23, 2013 at 6:50 pm

I love The Art of Disappearing. I love so many of her poems. Some of her older collections are stored away in boxes in my basement and I might have to unearth them just to remember.


26 Joanie April 27, 2013 at 4:16 am

I love poetry and I discovered this through pinterest a while back – it’s beauty takes my breath away everytime. Enjoy, if you havent already ….

Anis Mojgani – come closer

Check out his other poetry as well – he is a beautiful wordsmith.

Looking up further spoken word poetry I came across this which I found to be very powerful.

Katie Makkai – Pretty (she does use the f word but in context)


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