Reading Through the Stacks: 2. Maya Angelou’s first book of poetry

Join me as I read my way through the poetry section at the main branch of the Oakland Public Library!

First of all, I can’t talk about this book without mentioning how fun this 70s sunset is on the cover–bold, interesting, and really quite simple. I think this library copy is probably a first edition.

By the time Maya Angelou (April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014) published her first book of poetry, she’d already published her first memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969). Angelou is known as a memoirist first and foremost (which is fair since she wrote seven of them), but I’ve always associated her with poetry. My first exposure to Maya Angelou was in middle school–the other 8th grade English class read her memoir–but I discovered her when my dad brought home Beauty Shop (2005), with its memorable oration of ‘I Rise.’

Angelou was an activist and a storyteller in diverse mediums from dance and stage to autobiography. Her poetry is less central to her career, even though she published a lot of it and it was widely read particularly because of its subject matter. She used her experience to bring a voice to the experiences of Black women in the United States through almost every piece of writing and work she created.

Angelou was also a prolific and widely-read poet, and her poetry has often been lauded more for its depictions of Black beauty, the strength of women, and the human spirit; criticizing the Vietnam War; demanding social justice for all—than for its poetic virtue. Yet Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie, which was published in 1971, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1972.

from Poetry Foundation: Maya Angelou

Her poetry is really approachable since it has a musical quality with a steady beat. She uses repetition to great effect. She plays with expectations constantly, changing the rhythm of a line or to bring home her message and she often uses common phrases or simple rhymes to tease out darker subjects, such as in the lines below.

“When I think about myself,

I almost laugh myself to death,

My life has been one great big joke,

A dance that’s walked

A song that’s spoke,

I laugh so hard I almost choke

When I think about myself”

from “When I Think About Myself”

This was such a welcome book coming after the boring boring boring Shakespeare essay. It was emotional and immediate, and I really enjoyed it. I’ll be looking for a collected works of Maya Angelou to add to my poetry collection.

New Series: Reading Through the Stacks: Possibly the Most Boring Thing Written about Shakespeare?

This series is being born out of a dangerous whim, which I can only attribute to the temporary giddiness of a new library card.

Upon seeing the (truthfully rather average sized) poetry collection at the main branch, I was seized by an impulse to read from one end of the poetry section to the other. From A to Z (if, in fact, it ends in Z).

I don’t think I’ll like everything. In fact, I know I won’t. I started with 3 books, and I only enjoyed one. But I do have some (snarky?) things to say about them, and I thought if I’m taking myself on this (admittedly arbitrary) journey, you might enjoy coming along for the ride.

Along the way I hope we will discover some fantastic poetry from throughout the ages. Most of it will probably be bad. But that’s where the thrill of the hunt comes in!

Why read bad poetry? You may ask. My answer to this is that as a relative new comer to this genre I want to read as much and as widely as I can to really get a feel for what’s out there, who came before, who’s writing now, and what I actually like. And since I don’t have to shell out for volumes I don’t like, I’m hoping to build my library with only poetry volumes I can’t wait to reread.

Even if you don’t like poetry, I hope this series inspires you to delve into something you’re interested with new eyes. Maybe you’ll find a book here that intrigues you, or maybe you’ll start your own challenge for yourself!

Or maybe you’ll just have fun reading while I complain about terrible books. There’s something for everyone on this journey.

So we might as well get to it.

This book still has its old library checkout card. I may be one of the only people to have checked out this book since the late 1950s.

Book 1: By Avon River by H.D. Hilda Doolittle Aldington (1949)

H.D. (September 10, 1886 – September 27, 1961) was a modernist poet known for free verse and imagist style associated with poets like Ezra Pound. She married a poet named Aldington, which is why she was cataloged at the beginning of this alphabetical journey. There’s a clarification of that written in pencil on the title page. It seems off to me that she’s cataloged under her married name instead of her pen name, especially since her career was already well underway by the time she was married.

Themes: Shakespeare and Renaissance poetry

Published for Shakespeare day 1945, this book has a short section of verse inspired by Shakespeare. Like 25 pages. Most of it is centered on The Tempest and even more squarely focused on one offstage character, Claribel, who sets the plot in motion but never gets a real voice in the play. Her poetry delves into the relationship between the poet and Claribel and her relationship to the rest of the play and its characters. She becomes kind of a haunting, distant presence, but one who has a lasting impact even though the mention of her is fleeting. I really enjoyed the second poem, “Rosemary” the best, which alternates form, points of view, and theme in the different sections.

Read through again, Dramatis Personae;

She is not there at all, but Claribel,

Claribel, the birds shrill, Claribel,

Claribel echoes from this rainbow-shell,

I stooped just now to gather from the sand

“The Tempest” by H.D., from section IV

While the verse gives voice to Claribel, the remainder of the book (about 70 pages) is an essay discussing Shakespeare’s contemporaries and their writing. It’s a lot of names and dates and quotes, which I (mostly) skimmed, but some of the discussion of themes especially mortality were interesting. Mostly it was a total snooze, especially since H.D. really never bothers to make an argument or get into why it’s important to look at Shakespeare in this context. It reads more as an associative catalog with some interesting quotes.

She never had a word to say,

An emblem, a mere marriage token,

Nor even trod a rondelay

Or watched a play within a play

With other ladies–and yet–

I wonder when the time was short,

And he had said farewell to court,

And pondered, fingering the script

Can this then, really be the last?

If he remembered Claribel.

“Rosemary” by H.D., from section IX

Ultimately, not the most promising start even with the rather interesting verses about Clairbel, but the next book will make up for it. Stay tuned.

Have a favorite Shakespeare play/line/character? Have you read H.D. before? Let me know in the comments!

July Update

It has been… an interesting few months.

Blogging and writing was pushed to the edges as buying our new home took over every waking moment.

We didn’t realize how many pages would make up the housing disclosures (over 600). We did not know we would need to read these in 24 hours (which I did) We were not expecting our offer to be accepted. We were not expecting to need to do paperwork on demand, to close so quickly, or for Paul to get covid right as my birthday trip loomed on the horizon.

Our first planned international trip since the pandemic and my friend and I had to go by ourselves. I camped out at the new, very empty condo on a blow up mattress for a week before hand. Paul was kind enough to pack my bag and I delivered groceries.

The main pyramid Chichen Itza

A tough week, but nothing lasts forever. Since I got back we moved our apartment one carload at a time over the bridge and back again. We’ve slowly started to accumulate some furniture.

It has been a process to get back to writing. Delving into work waited until the kitchen, closets, and bathroom were unpacked. But now I have started opening my notebooks, cracking open my books.

Yesterday I picked up my new library card for the Oakland Public Library. And with that, the move is official.

I am planning on creating some new series, blogging more about poetry, travel, film, exploring this new city, adding more baking for bookworms posts, and possibly sharing as we make and find new things for our home. If there’s something you’re interested in reading about, please let me know.

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books with Hands on the Cover

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

I actually have two TBRs. I have the one that I keep on my phone through Story Graph and the stack of books I own. When I buy a book off of my digital TBR, I take it off the list. This is the easiest way I’ve found of making my TBR available for my family to browse for gifts–they don’t have to worry about buying me a book I already own. And it means that at the library or when shopping I don’t have to sort through it either.

That does mean however, that there is always wayyyyyy too much to read. So for this cover prompt I decided to see what commonalities I could find between the covers I own. The answer was not that much, but after some sorting I realized that there are a lot of covers with hands. Some are disembodied, some are suggestions (gloves for example), but these are covers that have hands featured in some way.

I wanted to write a short discussion/analysis of what’s on the covers and what they’re achieving because although you maybe shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you can still learn a lot from it!

Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende – The cover photo by Marcia Lieberman features a young woman holding a garment of some kind in one hand and the control for a camera in the other. As if this is the moment before a photograph rather than a moment captured in one. She’s the subject of the reader’s gaze but clearly the reader is the subject of hers as well. It’s a creative and arresting image.

Cleopatra Dismounts by Carmen Boullosa – The stylized art deco version of an Egyptian painting really draws attention to the hands with the stiff, geometric angles. This photo was taken by E. O. Hoppé, who was a German-born British photographer starting in the early 1900s. Egyptian revival and costume were becoming more popular in the 1920s, which makes total sense if you think about how Art Deco and Egyptian painting both value a stylized geometric and decorative style. On the cover this is echoed by the golden suns. The archival photo lets the reader know that the story is likely to take place in the past, but that the subject is a living, breathing person in three dimensions.

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter – Angela Carter’s novel features what we can only assume to be an aerialist, but with no visible means of support, an almost fluid grace (that reminds me of Elastigirl from The Incredibles), and her position within a decorated frame, we seem to be looking at a circus poster rather than the performer herself. I think this cover adds to what I’m sure will be the magic of the book, and the sharp edges of the performer’s nose, feet, wings, and fingers let us know that the story will not be as light in tone as the effortless pose and fluffy cotton candy pink might suggest.

¡Caramba! by Nina Marie Martinez – In what looks like an old travel poster or postcard, a woman hold a red bird in the palm of her hand. It even matches her fingernails. Because of the way the blue splash is positioned, her hand almost looks like it’s been severed from her body. It adds a little bit of surrealism to the cover and mystery. Especially when coupled with the blue bar that’s been put across someone’s eyes in the bottom corner. From this picture I definitely get a sense that nothing is exactly as it seems.

The Medieval Kitchen: A Social History with Recipes by Hannele Klemettilä – Interestingly, although the title mentions the kitchen, the cover painting chooses to focus on an important feast, showing that medieval kitchens probably would rarely have been the focus of art or commemoration. This is a reproduction of a page from a medieval Book of Hours, produced in about 1380 for the Duc Jean de Berry. This page illustrates Jesus’s first miracle, turning water to wine at the wedding at Cana. Hands had special status in medieval art (you can learn more from this pdf from a Getty exhibit) and the hands here can be read symbolically, but I won’t go into it or we’ll be here all week. I especially like the hands that mirror each other on the left hand side of the portrait. This picture illustrates the centrality of religion and feast in a lord’s medieval kitchen.

Poemcrazy by Susan Goldsmith Woolridge – The photo on the cover was taken by Lincoln Clarkes in 1988, and it manages to feel much older than that as if a Victorian or Edwardian woman has simply decided to take flight. It’s a not entirely carefree pose, as with one hand she reaches up to grasp her hat. Her look is less joyful and more enigmatic, but her limbs are powerfully stretched. This is a woman who has made a leap–perfect for a book on writing where you are taking a leap into your imagination and then taking another leap onto the page.

Now for the disembodied hands!

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey – This cover has a lot going on. The image of the hand echoes the title in a really beautiful way. You’ve got the disembodied hand with this interesting multicolored aura and an all seeing eye. It’s not on the palm like we might expect from a hamsa, this makes it feel more unexpected and fresh, and of course it allows the hand to be partially closed to cross the fingers in a lie. In this book we might expect an unreliable narrator, some play with genre, and a little irreverence. And we learn all that from a fairly simple but striking graphic.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro – You might be wondering, if this hand is attached to a body, why did I put this hand here? It’s because of the way the photograph has been disassembled and surreally reassembled. There are actually three hands on the cover and they don’t appear where you’d expect them to be. The left gloved hand is almost in the center, and the high contrast means your eye is drawn to it right away. It shows a hint of this person’s identity but also shows that something is fractured or fracturing. It’s super intriguing to me, especially the way part of the image is flipped.

True Biz by Sara Nović – The attention to the hand on this cover makes total sense when you know that it’s about sign language in the deaf community. I really like the patterns and different colors on the fingers echoing the different colors of the letters, as the hand is really representing those different letters in the alphabet. It draws attention to the meaning of each hand position and each gesture. I’m not sure what conclusion to draw from the fact that it’s the right hand on the left side of the cover. I didn’t expect that and only discovered it when I made the same shape with my hands.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters – A dark vignette reveals an empty pair of white kid gloves, photographed by Jeff Cottenden. The emptiness really suggests a kind of absence or loss, even as the gloves seem to be embracing each other. The gloves also hint that this is a historical novel as gloves haven’t been in vogue for some time. It’s a fairly simple image but it’s very evocative.

Do any of these covers catch your eye? Do you have a favorite cover that features a hand? Have you read any of these? Let me know in the comments!

Looking for a New Hobby? 5 Reasons to Try Solo Role Playing Games

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been dipping my toe into the world of tabletop role playing games (TTRPGs), and I honestly can’t believe it’s taken me this long to discover how much fun they are.

When it comes to games, I am definitely more of a board game lover. I don’t particularly like combat in video games– I find losing/dying stressful. I was worried that Dungeons and Dragons would feel like that.

Instead I discovered how fun it could be to roll dice and tell a story together. I’m so used to writing alone, it’s amazing to sit around a computer screen (sadly not a table), and hear people’s creativity flow through their characters.

And as I’ve gotten involved in the genre, I’ve seen that there’s way more to it than just the big title games. There is room for everyone and every interest in role playing games, and I love finding small creators that are creating their own worlds, experimenting with mechanics, and that have evocative and interesting artwork.

I’ve been exploring smaller zines and one category within role playing games that I really enjoy is solo games. Mostly these take the form of a journaling experience where you pretend to be the character and react to different random elements. Some of them are less games than meditation exercises and journaling prompts.

I’ve had the opportunity to start amassing quite a collection of them on itch.io after supporting some social justice bundles, and I thought it would be fun to share reviews of the games. But why would you want to play a “game” like this in the first place? Here are five reasons to try solo games!

You’re New to Role Playing Games and Want to See What It’s All About

Although solo RPGs often don’t have the same structure and mechanics of games like D&D, a lot of people have told me what actually makes them nervous about RPGs is the role play. It’s the improv and having to be a character. If this is the part that concerns you, solo games let you learn to inhabit a character, come up with creative ideas, and get a feel for world building without the social pressure of a bigger group. And also there’s less time commitment–only what you want to give to it.

You Need Some Inspiration

I like to use solo RPGs to inspire my poetry. I think of it a lot like writing prompts that let me experiment with new ideas and forms of expression. But solo RPGs can be used to inspire all sorts of creative expression. You can use it for fiction and writing inspiration, but also for visual arts to explore characters, settings, or feelings. You can let it inspire costuming for an event, reorganization of your home, or let it inspire some self-care. Whatever your medium and preferred form of expression, role play allows you to try out different ideas and decisions in a low-stakes way while providing enough structure to encourage creativity.

You Want a Chance to Journal and Reflect

Expanding on the self-care and self-awareness idea, solo RPGs allow you to consciously take time to write and reflect. Use your character to explore a problem you’re having with a friend–from the friend’s point of view. Use a world that is complex and harsh to discover your own resilience. Or use a cozy setting to give yourself a moment of calm and an opportunity to process. I really think role play can be a great way to get to know yourself and the journaling focus of most of the solo games really brings that home.

I would advise you to be really gentle with yourself though–journaling is an opportunity for growth and recognition–but can also be a lot to deal with emotionally. Check in with yourself as you play. In group sessions we talk about what makes people uncomfortable–what are lines not to cross. Solo play should be treated the same way.

Your Regular Group is Taking Too Long to Meet Between Sessions

Maybe you already play a TTRPG with a group, but life is busy and it’s hard to coordinate people’s schedules. Solo games let you role play between sessions, letting you be creative and further develop your improvisational skills. And since you can role play as whatever character you like, it can also be a way to explore the character you play regularly.

You Love Stories and Want to Create Your Own

Playing games is all about interacting with a story and an environment. If you’re a reader of this blog, it’s probably because you like stories. Books and films are great, but the story is already written and you’re inhabiting it. Games allow you a little more agency. While video games often require a degree of hand-eye coordination and specific literacies to play (ones which I sorely lack), RPGs allow you to explore new worlds, ideas, and characters with few materials and skills that readers already have–they are interactive stories but you don’t have to start writing from scratch.

Do you play RPGs? If so, what do you enjoy about them? If not, is there something that makes you hesitant to start playing?

Top 10 Tuesday: 10 Bookish Items to Add to My Collection

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

So many delightful bookish things are out there…it’s really a pity I live in a studio apartment at the moment. There’s not much room for collecting things (even when they are adorable). But these are 10 items I think would be worth the space!

I have some bookish socks already because they are an excellent stocking stuffer and friends and family tend to get me them as gifts, which I love. I would definitely add these library card socks from Out of Print to my collection.

Typically I have a hard time with perfume. I tend to be allergic to a lot of things and have to be really careful with what scents I pick to not end up with an instant headache (like I just did recently after I thought the Lush perfume I bought was fine.. whoops). But I’ve never had a problem with the perfume from Black Phoenix Alchemy. I bought one perfume and two samples from them and I can wear everything without headaches!

While not all their perfumes are bookish, many are directly inspired by books or poems like their Alice in Wonderland collection. Others are inspired by dark, gothic, or magickal themes or films (be aware that some are more risque than others and may not be appropriate for under 18). There are so many fun scents and they’re reasonably priced, but they make limited batches so be aware that the scent you want may be out of stock. My favorite perfume I’ve tried so far is Bess, which is:

“Inspired by the tragic, ill-fated love of Queen Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester. This is our modernization of a 17th-century perfume blend favored by British aristocracy: rosemary, orange flower, grape spirit, five rose variants, lemon peel, and mint.”

The biggest problem I have with this company is that their website is extremely difficult to navigate! They organize by collection rather than scent or scent profile. I would start under the “beloved favorites” section or just browse and see what rabbit holes you fall into…

Obvious State designs beautiful minimalist prints, postcards, notebooks, and more out of Portland Oregon. As someone who is…ahem…obsessed with notebooks, I’m always looking for more. These recycled beauties are small enough to fit in a purse or a pocket.

This is the Women Writers collection.

50 postcards based on commissioned book plate designs? Yes, please! I use postcards for their obvious purpose, but I also use them as cards, hang them on my walls, and generally love looking at them.

Okay so this is not a particularly minimalist selection, but when you love Jane Austen–why not dress up like Lizzie or Emma?

A lovely cotton regency dress made to order from Recollections Dresses on Etsy (note that it does have a zipper, so not historically accurate but it’s so pretty and I don’t have to sew it!)

When in doubt I don’t think you can go wrong with a From the Page literary candle. I particularly like their definition candles. How to choose between abibliophobia and bibliophagist?

The fact that I have nowhere to put this diorama when I’ve finished doesn’t make me want to complete this kit any less….

I also am a sucker for a good literary pin, like this simple bookstack from Etsy. And I’m always on the lookout for more stickers to add to my water bottle or more literary tshirts.

What are your favorite bookish items in your collection? Any of these items catch your eye? Let me know in the comments!

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Poets I’m So Excited to Read

You think you’ve read a lot of poetry for your degree and from whenever you’ve picked up a random collection…. and then you start reading established poets talk about poetry and you realize that the scratch you thought you’d made has in fact left no visible mark at all. Some of these poets I’ve known about for a long time, some I’ve recently discovered, but they’re all poets I’m hoping to spend more time with in the near future!

Mary Oliver

I bought her book on writing metrical poetry, but except for the odd poem here or there, I’ve never read her poetry! Born in 1935, she recently passed in 2019. Her work mostly deals with nature (which may explain why I’ve never gravitated towards it before).

Ada Limón

Host of the Slowdown Podcast I talked about last week, I first heard about Limón when I was reading Natalie Diaz’s work, Postcolonial Love Poem (which is fantastic, by the way) because they are friends and write letters to each other. Limón’s poems are more personal and often written in free verse–she might be a good poet to start with because I bet your public library has one of her collections!

Gwendolyn Brooks

Won the 1950 Pulitzer Prize, the first Black author to do so, and all around she was an extremely technically accomplished poet who wrote about things that were important to her and the Black community at large. Her poetry is firmly rooted in the world. I bought her collection on a trip into the City, so I really have no excuse not to jump into her work.

Jorge Luis Borges

I haven’t read nearly as much Borges as I would like to in any genre, but I definitely haven’t delved into his poetry. I found a copy of his selected poems in a used bookstore with the original Spanish and the translations. My Spanish is not nearly good enough to understand them fully in the original, but having them there to just read aloud and listen to the music is going to be really helpful. Many of the same themes he deals with in his fictions and essays (the nature of time for example) are in his poetry as well.

Basho

Easily the earliest poet on this list–Basho was a master of haiku in 17th century Japan. I learned about him while reading up on Japan, and I want to explore more of his work. The wonderful thing about haiku is that it’s short but it gives you plenty to think about. You can read a few with your morning coffee and let the images swirl around all day.

Danez Smith

Smith is a poetry slam veteran, so that means voice and rhythm are at the forefront of their work. I’ve heard wonderful things about their collection, Homie, and I can’t wait to read it!

Langston Hughes

Harlem Renaissance poet extraordinaire, I’ve only read of few of his poems from Poem a Day and in anthology–I’ve got some major time to spend with this poet. Although he wasn’t always well received in his own time by critics, he sought to portray the working class community really honestly with all its joys and sorrows.

Nikki Giovanni

I just learned about Giovanni during a poetry group meeting. Her poem served as inspiration for the evening’s writing prompt. The poem was so playful and energetic, and I can’t wait to read more.

Carol Ann Duffy

This Scottish poet is really well known for her love poems and her feminist stance. She writes poems with really strong voice.

Frederico García Lorca

Lorca was a 20th century Spanish poet who used images of Spanish culture to explore ideas of love and tragedy. He’s also known for his use of magical realism and incorporating folklore.

Do any of these poets catch your eye? Have you read them? Is there a poet you’ve recently discovered? Let me know in the comments!

Book Curses from the Dark Ages

There’s a lot of things in life that we just can’t control–like if the friend who borrows your favorite book will actually read it in a reasonable amount of time and return it. But if you’re really worried about book thieves, you can take a leaf out of the medieval scribe’s book (only figuratively though or…ahem…curses). Nothing takes the fun out of book mayhem like a little curse.

I really enjoyed reading about these in my history of the book class and thought you might enjoy them as well.

This one comes from a great post about cats in medieval monasteries. Apparently they got up to all kinds of hijinks, including walking and even peeing on unfinished manuscripts. Every book took hours and hours of work and would be extremely valuable–certainly not a disposable item. I also like that the reader, while cursing the cat, also advises not to leave valuable manuscripts in the way of those pesky felines.

Here is nothing missing, but a cat urinated on this during a certain night. Cursed be the pesty cat that urinated over this book during the night in Deventer and because of it many others [other cats] too. And beware well not to leave open books at night where cats can come.

from the Cologne, Historisches Archiv, G.B. quarto, 249, fol. 68r

Here’s another curse, this time from the monastery of San Pedro in Barcelona. It’s a bit more graphic about what fate awaits potential thieves who try to steal (or forget to return) precious books:

“For him that stealeth, or borroweth and returneth not, this book from its owner, let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with palsy, and all his members blasted. Let him languish in pain, crying aloud for mercy, and let there be no surcease to this agony till he sing in dissolution. Let bookworms gnaw his entrails…and when at last he goeth to his final punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him forever.”

Does a book curse seem like a legitimate way to keep book shenanigans at bay? Or is that going a bit too far? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Ways to Start Reading Poetry

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

I’ve recently been devoting more (read most) of my time to reading and writing poetry. While I’ve been reading for years, I consider myself a novice in the poetry world. There’s. Just. So. Much. Out. There.

I know a lot of readers don’t really know where to start with poetry. Let’s face it, poetry no longer tops most bestseller lists. Before I devoted a lot of time to poetry I might read a handful of collections a year, but there are some ways to get into the wide ocean of material a little more quickly that I’ve found helpful and you might too!

Start with Poem a Day – If you’re not sure how much time you can devote to this huge field of work, poem a day is a great place to start. You get one poem emailed to you a day, week day poems are generally chosen by a guest editor and feature a huge variety of poets from all different backgrounds in different styles. They have an audio clip for you to hear the poem spoken, a little background, and a link to the author’s book. This is a nice little daily dose. Weekends feature classic poets.

Try a poetry podcast – in the same vein, I really like the poetry podcast called The Slowdown. It’s about 5-10 minutes and is a similar daily dose of poetry.

Decide when/where to start – Poetry has been going strong for….millennia. In pretty much every country. You might think about finding poets who correspond with times and places you’re interested in or ones that you inhabit. You can learn more about a particular place and time or discover new ways of seeing your own. If you’re interested in American poetry, I think it’s helpful to start out with Dickinson and Whitman so you get the sort of baseline, but this isn’t a class and there’s no right or wrong way to get started. Start with a poet from where you live or where you want to live. Personally I like to jump around quite a bit.

Start with what you know and like – Everyone has genres that are most appealing to them and that can be comforting. There’s poetry on every subject in so many different styles. If you like an author and they also write poetry, that might be a good fit. Or maybe you love music and want to see how that’s explored in poetry. There are horror poems and western poems and romance poems. Knowing your favorite authors in prose can make it easier to find new poets.

Find an anthology – There are a lot of them out there. Some are published yearly, others cover different periods or styles. Your library is sure to have a few. Find what you like by reading a lot of different things. I find that these make great in between reading for a waiting room, a bathroom, or anytime you have a few minutes. If you buy your own copy you can underline lines you like and make notes.

Use your library – Find contemporary poets in the New Books section or take a walk through the poetry section and see what catches your eye. You can sample from different books without having to commit to anything.

Don’t worry too much about what it “means” – When you’re in school poetry is supposed to have meanings and answers. Don’t worry about not knowing what something means. Let it wash over you, and by that I mean listen to the way the words sound, the feelings they provoke. A good poem is a lot like looking at a painting, there’s a lot you can know, but you can also just experience it. Poems are often ambiguous and you bring meaning to them.

Find a journal – A lot of journals publish poetry and prose and art–all kinds of things. I’ll go through journal suggestions in a different post, but these are great publications to support and you get to read lots of different things, often very affordably. There’s a journal out there for everyone.

Go back to the last poem you loved – Maybe you haven’t read poetry since you were a child or a teenager. What was the last poem that moved you? Go back to it and think about what it was that you liked about it. It’ll probably lead you in fun directions.

Don’t be afraid to sample and not finish – You don’t have to read poetry collections from start to finish. Read something here or there and let it buzz around in your head for a while. It’s not like DNFing a novel (which you should also not feel bad about in my opinion), the stakes are low.

BONUS – I’m happy to make custom recommendations as well! Let me know what kinds of things you like reading in the comments and I’ll give poetry suggestions!

Do you enjoy poetry? Do you have a favorite poet? Let me know in the comments!