Have you run out of ‘Tiger King’ episodes? Bored with gaming? Tired of the same-old-same-old on the radio? Here’s an option for you, provided by poetry’s special month.
April is the month the US celebrates poetry. Poetry used to be a big deal for Americans. Children often memorized it in school. Many of us still love this genre, but more of us have lost interest, largely because poetry became such a moneymaker for liberal arts degree mills. As academia fully acquired just about every aspect of poetry, from poetry chairs to magazines and grants, poetry distanced itself from many Americans. Sometimes it’s hard to understand why certain poets famous among the literati are considered talented.
The good news is there’s ample poetry out there for just about everyone, if you know where to find it. My family enjoys poetry, and we enjoy reading it aloud to one another. What better time to read something inspiring or thought-provoking than this Coronavirus period we’re experiencing?
I’ve selected some poems and some poets in case you’re adventurous enough to explore them. I have so many favorite poems it’s impossible to list them all here. These are a few that fit the times.
One poet I didn’t know until I began to look for poems is Filipinio poet Regie Cabico. His “Mango Poem”, according to the government, “was inspired by documents within the National Archives related to the Philippine-American War (1899–1902).” You can read “Mango Poem” at the National Archives where there’s also an overview of the war. I love this poem. I’m not Filipino, but it resonated with me because of the persecution of my ancestors.
There’s another poem I’ve enjoyed reading many times. It wasn’t one of his favorites, but W. H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939” sets the mind on a very long journey. The poem admittedly gets a bit heavy-handed, but that’s okay because after all, it’s about Hitler breaking all those promises he made and ramming his troops into Poland on that date. You can read interesting brief notes on the poem at the Modern American Poetry site. I’m not objective about Auden, so I’ll confess I consider him one of the greatest poets to ever walk the earth.
Another favorite poet is Jennifer Reeser whose mastery of form is formidable. Few can touch her talent, and she is without a doubt the most gifted Native American poet in the country in my opinion. You can learn more about Reeser by visiting her website, or by reading her book Indigenous. The poems in that collection, spoken in the voices of her ancestors, transcend place and time, and in so many ways, are the voice of the conquered throughout history.
Speaking of ancestors, my own faced much trial and tribulation first conquered by Romans and by various others in later times, but the Irish and certain others such as the Anglo Saxons held onto our culture even after it became Christianized, often at the point of a sword. A favorite of mine is Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf. There’s more on the oral epic tradition that shares much with today’s spoken word poetry at the Center for Hellenic Studies. Project Gutenberg has a very interesting collection and commentary on ancient Irish poetry.
The current crisis in the United States and in many other countries right now, the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak, isn’t the first and won’t be the last time we are challenged by nature or man. As you might expect, war has often been the go-to subject for poets. David Lehman has penned an essay “Peace and War in American Poetry” with emphasis on epic poetry. Lehman wrote, “War was the first subject to quicken the pen of an epic poet.”
When it comes to war, most are familiar with the poem “In Flanders Fields”, John McCrae’s formal poem that lends itself so well to the ear you can easily memorize it. The poem seems a simple construct. It is anything but.
During these troubled times, try something different. Make yourself a favorite beverage and head outside to read some poems alone or with others in your household. There’s never been a better time to try something different, and the experience is free. Poetry has its special month going on, and thousands and thousands of poems are at your fingertips via the Web.
You can sample some of my own poems here at the IAS Coffee Break page.
(Kay B. Day/April 7, 2020)
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