“I hate poetry.” That’s what one woman said as she sat down at our poetry open house on April 5. We’d set up the center of the library as a coffee house, complete with refreshments. It’s the adult book group’s annual homage to National Poetry Month.
However, the woman who more than once said she hated poetry was soon laughing with everyone else at Tom Frank’s performance of his original “I’m an Organic Gardener” and Sean Bell reading his poem “The Evolution of Mattresses and the Devolution of Man from the Fall of Adam to Modern Times.”
That’s the thing about poetry. There’s something for everyone.
“The only poetry most of us ever read was in high school, and then because we had to,” writes Roger Housden in his book “Ten Poems to Change Your Life.” “There is an aura of formality and high culture still surrounding poetry that can make it seem pretentious, and irrelevant to our daily preoccupations.”
Housden asserts, however, that poetry in its many forms can speak to everyone. “Great poetry can alter the way we see ourselves. It can change the way we see the world,” he says.
Consider Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird Singing: Poems and Lyrics, 1965 – 1999.” It was the book group’s choice for their April meeting, and several people read from it at the open house. Hearing the lyrics without the music for some was difficult. For others, it was the first time they had really listened to what McCartney was saying. One person shared they heard “Yesterday” as never before.
Why she had to go, I don’t know, she wouldn’t say.
I said something wrong, now I long for yesterday.
The poems that are my personal favorites express what I’ve seen, heard, and experienced. It can be as simple as sounds I love expressed by another: “The only other sound’s the sweep, of easy wind and downey flake,” writes Robert Frost in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”
It can be as heart wrenching as the pain of divorce. Claudia Emerson’s collection “Late Wife” captured the darkness I felt after my own divorce and gave me courage in knowing I was not alone in what I was experiencing. The words connected me with the poet, and I felt understood and validated.
My favorite poems paint pictures and tell stories that enthrall. I’m thinking about Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott,” a ballad based on Arthurian legend.
Willows whiten, aspens shiver.
The sunbeam showers break and quiver
In the stream that runneth ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four gray walls, and four gray towers
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.
My other favorite poets include Mary Oliver and Billy Collins.
At the poetry open house, Nancy Brunelle, who writes under her maiden name Vandenburgh, read a poem she’d written in honor of her brother-in-law at his death. It ended, “So, sing your song, and dance your dance, and let your laughter ring, for I am in your memories, and daffodils in spring.”
Poetry has the ability to transfer words through the mind to the heart and the soul. It can meet us where we are, and take us to new places. It can stir emotions, validate our experience, open us to new understandings, and, yes, make us laugh. In poetry, there’s something for everyone.
If you’re not sure where to begin, or you’d like to explore someone new, come browse our National Poetry Month displays in the library.
Milton Public Library Director Susan Larson writes Book Bits as a monthly column for the Milton Independent. Previous issues include:
Photo by Susan Larson. Pat Godburn reads a poem at Milton Public Library’s 2018 Poetry Open House on April 5.