Perusing approachable poetry
With World Poetry Day on March 21 and National Poetry Month starting Friday, students have plenty of opportunities lately to delve into the world of the written verse.
World Poetry Day brought poetry to Twitter. The holiday coincided with the fifth anniversary of the social networking site’s first message and inspired users to write poems under 140 characters under the tag #poetweet.
Poet and professor Dean Rader also recently released his list of the 10 best poets for the San Francisco Chronicle’s website, which might initially seem to offer an ideal reading list for first-timers.
Yet, with choices like Dante for his epic poem, “The Divine Comedy,” or Emily Dickinson, who Rader claims is “the most dense” major poet, it may not provide easy reading for newcomers.
The Oracle suggests a few, more accessible poets worth reading and where to find new poetry today.
Los Angeles resident Charles Bukowski’s work remains popular with college students because of its approachable, all-lowercase form and poems that deal with sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling and lousy jobs.
Many of his most memorable poems involve these vices – the sprawling, 20-part “Horsemeat” details Bukowski’s experiences at a horse track and his observations about the grotesque spectators.
Yet, Bukowski is capable of haunting power, seen in pieces like “Oh, Yes” and “Dostoevsky,” where he imagines the Russian author’s near-execution by a firing squad. Joyce Carol Oates even called him “the Walt Whitman of Los Angeles.”
“The Pleasure of the Damned” collects nearly 600 pages of poems from 1951 to 1993 and offers a good starting point rather than immediately delving into his dozens of other poem collections.
Using the same all-lowercase style as Bukowski but in wildly varying ways, e.e. cummings remains an intriguing and readable poet despite his avant-garde reputation.
The collection “Selected Poems” helps a little by dividing cumming’s work into sections with headings like “The Poetry of the Eye” and “Targets of Satire.”
Poems like “l(a” and “r-p-o-p-h-e-s-s-a-g-r” play with line spacing, order and form in a way that may initially be confusing. Yet “i carry your heart with me” is a sweet, simple poem that most readers can probably understand on the first read.
If nothing else, cummings’ poems are typically short, either allowing the reader to move on to the next poem or encouraging multiple readings.
John Keats stands out among the long list of great English poets from the 19th century and earlier.
His poems are now mostly found in collections with unremarkable titles like “Keats: Poems,” but the natural, romantic tone of poems like “Ode to a Nightingale” is unmistakable.
Keats’ work saw a slight resurgence in popularity after the 2009 film “Bright Star,” which stars Ben Winshaw as Keats and centers on his romance with Fanny Brawne, the subject of his love poems.
The movie resulted in a glossy book called “Bright Star: Love Letters and Poems of John Keats to Fanny Brawne” that may provide another good place for students to start.
Rader’s choice for the best poet of all time offers passionate poetry, widely accessible in both his native Spanish and English translations.
Neruda is perhaps best known for his romantic collections “Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair” and “100 Love Sonnets.” His “Sonnet XVII” in particular contains evocative turns of phrase like, “I love you like certain dark things to be loved, secretly, between the shadow and the soul.”
Yet the Chilean writer was
also political, in works like his Latin American history poem collection, “Canto General,” and playful in writing odes to objects such as his socks. Neruda’s influence can be seen throughout pop culture, whether it’s an opera based on his life or references on “The Simpsons.”
Poets in the technological age
Though technology has made it somewhat harder to discover new poets, who now have countless outlets to post their work, poetryfoundation.org helps limit the options with full poems, news and promotions.
Actress Amber Tamblyn promoted Vietnamese poet Lin Dinh on the website by posting, “I have a lot of love, in general, for you, surrounding you, feeling you up after math class in the janitor’s closet” – a sense of humor that prepares readers for Dinh’s poetry collections.
The Poetry Foundation even offers a free poetry app that matches feelings like “insecurity” and “passion” with subjects like “nature” and “work and play” to find poems that combine them.
If you’re looking for the most accessible poetry possible, you can keep checking Twitter for #poetweet, which continues to get new mini-poems roughly every hour.